Many of us love to vent, to feel that sweet release after ranting about something that’s made us angry. But when we do decide to let off steam with our friends or colleagues, is it actually any good for us?
“Venting has a place. It can be constructive,” says psychotherapist Sophie Robinson-Matthews. “It can be useful, in the moment, to get something off your chest so you’re not burying it and bottling it up.”
This is because people have an innate desire to talk and be heard, explains Yvette Addo, a BACP-registered counsellor. In therapy, for example, clients talk about how they’re feeling and they may express anger, sadness, or frustration. This is, essentially, venting – they’re given room to explore what they’re feeling.
In that sense, venting can be good for us – but only when done in a safe, constructive and supportive manner. There’s a fine line between the cathartic release of getting something off your chest and what Addo describes as “spewing” – being spiteful or insensitive.
Plus, dwelling on those negative feelings for too long can be damaging. We’ve all been stuck in a swirling cycle of negativity before. Nothing good ever comes from it – and studies have even linked it to depression. Issues arise when venting is used the only method a person uses to express their emotions.
Who you vent to matters
The matter of who we vent to is equally as important as how we vent. We need to trust they’re not going to share what we tell them.
We also need to make sure that person helps us vent constructively. Otherwise, they can perpetuate a negative cycle by colluding with us, says Robinson-Matthews. Therapists are a popular option – but you don’t have to always turn to a professional.
A friend who is trusting, honest and wants what’s best for you will do the trick. The person should also be a good problem solver so they can help you find an answer to the issue(s) you face.
“Venting has a place. It can be constructive.”
So, how do you do it constructively?
Once you’ve found the right person for the job, take five minutes to get whatever it is off your chest. Sound out your frustrations. Deflate any angry energy.
Then, turn your head to problem-solving, alongside the person you’re with. “There are times when [they] might be able to suggest productive actions, that [you] might not have considered due to your emotive state,” says Addo.
Go through a few questions: What was that vent session all about? How can you stop it from happening again? Has it happened before? Take a step back, too – is there a bigger picture, here?
“Often we vent because we feel it’s about us in some way, or we feel personally sidelined or attacked,” Robinson-Matthews explains. “But usually there’s a bigger picture involved and it’s not necessarily as personal as it feels in the moment. Anyone who can help us see the bigger picture and problem-solve is good.”
But remember, while venting can be a good way to help you bond with friends and colleagues, you should make sure you speak about positive things as well in your interactions with them. Don’t build a bond on negativity.