“Give him the wiper!” Such were my college roommate’s fervent instructions from the passenger seat as a car cut me off in traffic. “Excuse me?”, I said. “You know, the wiper!”, she said as if I should know about this. I didn’t, so she explained. “The wiper” is the straight-laced cousin of the infamous middle finger. When behind the wheel and enticed to make an angry crude gesture due to the actions of another driver, someone employing “the wiper” would simply click their windshield wipers on and then click them off again after one “wipe,” trading a flip off for a flip on and off. I tried it, and it made me feel better. It also made me laugh…which made me feel even better.
This clever tool, imperceptible to the offender, was useful in dispelling road rage, and several years later I found it to be especially helpful following a breakup. There’s no avoiding an ex-boyfriend in a small town, particularly when said ex drives a red car. I could see that thing coming for miles, and it stirred up all sorts of angry feelings. How could he drive around so shamelessly as if he hadn’t just broken my heart? Soon after these thoughts began, I’d hear my roomie telling me, “Give him the wiper!”, and I would, and I’d feel a little better, a little lighter. Sometimes I’d chuckle because of the ridiculous nature of the practice and because I felt like I knew something he didn’t know, a happy secret.
What was really going on here was something called catharsis. Catharsis is basically any action—such as a quick flick of windshield wipers—that allows emotion—like anger—to be expressed, which in turn causes tension to be released. The action gives the emotion a place to go, and that place is away from oneself. I don’t know about you, but as an upstanding member of society and particularly as a Christian, sometimes I need to be reminded that expressing emotions, even negative ones, is healthy. I’ve learned that anger and sadness don’t simply disappear into the universe given enough time. They may lessen in intensity, but they will dissipate into my thoughts, words, and actions, affecting my work, health, and relationships.
We don’t need to spend all of our time and money on counseling in order to exercise good emotional hygiene—though I consider counseling a worthy investment. There are plenty of simple ways we can express negative emotions constructively, experiencing the immediate benefit of cathartic release and long-term bonuses of peace of mind, increased ability to be present, and general pleasantness to others.
Here are some of my favorite practical outlets for emotion:
- Journaling - That notebook and God won’t tell a soul, and guess what? They can handle your junk.
- Conversation - Verbal processing with a friend can help you feel heard and understood. Vent to a mature friend who neither lets you plot murder nor condemns you for wanting to do so.
- Exercise - Fitness junkie or not, I bet that like me you’ve occasionally been so mad that you just had to do something physical. Don’t punch a wall; go for a run.
- Crying - This may be more of a necessity for girls than guys, so, ladies, if we’re crying just to cry, let’s make sure to spell this out for any men in the vicinity so they know they’re not in the doghouse and we don’t need to be sent to the nut house.
How have you experienced catharsis? What’s your go-to for expressing negative emotion in a healthy way? Tell me in the comments.