Psychology is one of those subjects that everybody likes to think they know something about. We love to go around diagnosing our friends and co-workers, both to make sense of the world and to make ourselves feel like we're smarter than they are.
But like any science that makes its way into the pop culture, a lot of the "common sense" statements we hear every day are so wrong that they border on raving idiocy. Such as...
6"If You Let Your Anger Out, You'll Feel Better!"
You always hear people talk about how "cathartic" an experience was and how much better they feel, or you'll hear them say things like, "If you keep your anger bottled up, one day you'll just snap!"
In fact the "about to go crazy because he can't express anger" character is a mainstay in television and movies (see that Simpsons episode where Ned Flanders finally loses it, and every movie where a renegade cop fires his gun into the air instead of unloading on the bad guy who just killed his wife).
Things like squeezing stress dolls, screaming into a pillow, hitting a punching bag and strangling a kitten are all practices that we've seen offered as healthy alternatives to walking up to the fish counter at Farm Fresh and drowning the clerk in the lobster tank.
A lot of actual therapies have been constructed around this idea, and they all basically encourage you to curb your anger by feeding a knuckle sandwich to a punching bag, to prevent you from doing the same to your boss. It makes sense, right? Why throw your wife against the refrigerator when the casserole she under-cooked will shatter to pieces in a much more literal, and satisfying way?
Why it is Bullshit:
Research says it doesn't work. Expressing your anger, even against inanimate objects, doesn't make you less angry at all. In fact, it actually makes you want to get pissed off. Imagine if Bruce Banner walked around all day looking for an excuse to hulk-out, but replace the embarrassing shredded pants with friends and loved ones who are legitimately terrified every time his favorite sports team loses.
See, we humans have these things called "habits." When we do something, and it makes us feel good, we want to do it again... and more often. This is why you don't see a lot of Buddhist monks throwing bricks through storefront windows on their path to enlightenment and Lifetime original movies spend more on broken casserole dishes than on acting. The rush of anger is addictive as hell, and letting yourself lash out as a means to control your anger is like drinking to control your urge to drink.
And that's bad news, considering there are lots of situations where you don't have an inanimate object to take it out on. If a person gets entrenched in the habit of beating the living shit out of an inanimate object every time they get upset, heads are going to roll if they can't excuse themselves from a meeting to go chokeslam the tank on the break room water cooler.
5"Just Believe in Yourself, and You'll Succeed!"
The "self-esteem" thing has been hammered into our brains for decades, based on the belief that high self-esteem types achieve more in school, make and keep more friends and, in general, function better as a member of society.
Pretty much every single high school movie is a huge proponent of this theory. The fat, dumpy pariah, tired of years of depressing abuse, digs deep down and discovers his/her own self-worth in time for the big dance/game/senior trip. Then the entire student body takes notice of this radical change and raises this loser up to the most popular kid in school (roll credits to a Green Day song).
Numerous training programs and self-help books take this idea and run with it; promising that building self-esteem is the key to overcoming obstacles and failure. Even elementary schools jumped on board and started giving self-esteem classes to kids, because as all Americans know, the key to happiness is constant rewards for little to no actual accomplishments.
Why it is Bullshit:
This seems to be one of those deals where they've confused correlation and causation. Rather than thinking, "Maybe kids with high self-esteem feel good about themselves because they get good grades in school and have lots of friends," they decided that it's the other way around, that they succeed because they have self-esteem. So they tried to teach people to feel good about themselves for no other reason than pure entitlement, figuring the actual reasons for feeling good about themselves would follow at some later date.
This results in some kids having too much self-esteem, a breed of human that scientists classify as "douchebag." [See Figure 1.1]
We're not kidding. Research shows kids who have an inflated sense of self-worth become aggressive when their sense of superiority is called into question, leading to a more damaging fall for little Billy when he realizes what a loser he is (whereas fat Ralph already knew himself to be a loser and is therefore immune to disappointment).
We're certainly not experts, but it would, you know, seem like the solution would be to teach the stuff that leads to success (like social and communication skills, better strategies at dealing with stress, etc.) and just let that lead naturally to success and thus self-esteem, rather than just bypassing all that and going right for the self-esteem part.
Mr. Miyagi didn't teach the Karate Kid to believe in himself. He taught him how to kick people in the fucking head.