There’s a school of thought that says venting about a negative situation to someone will help you deal with it. It’s important to note that I’m not talking about reaching out if you are struggling, I’m talking about bitching sessions and wallowing in mutual hatred.
Contrary to the idea that venting helps you get something off your chest, many studies have found that it is actually detrimental. Venting usually finds its roots in the workplace, but it also often spills out into personal life.
Here’s a couple of reasons to re-think before you start that rant.
Venting makes you re-live the stress – Whilst telling the story of what made you stressed or angry, studies show that you actually relive a big proportion of that emotion. So if you vent to someone, you extend the negative impact that the initial incident had on you. The emotion can also transfer to the other person, particularly if it’s someone that care about you, making them experience the same negative emotions.
Venting can make you loose perspective – Re-telling a story can easily make the reality more extreme than it actually was. The tone of voice that you use to replay conversations might change, you might choose to highlight particular historical events that give a biased context, and you might infer reactions from other that correlate with your own. All of this combined might give the listener a distorted impression of the situation, which they are bound to agree with you on. This potentially false reinforcement can make you loose perspective on what actually happened, and prevents you from reaching a rational conclusion or looking at how your own actions could have been different.
Venting can damage the relationship – Constantly venting to your nearest and dearest means that you are spending less time enjoying one another’s company. You also run the risk of jumping in and venting about your own day without stopping to ask about how the other person is doing. Worse still, you can present yourself as an unlikeable or unkind person which might change the other person’s opinion of you.
You might vent to the wrong person! – This is especially true in the workplace. A conversation you might have assumed (or have been told!) is in confidence might turn out to be not the case at all. If someone bitches to me, I don’t consider myself special, I assume that they are probably talking about me to someone else. Even if you have a confident, you might touch on a subject that they don’t feel they can keep to themselves, or unknowingly persecute someone they hold in high regard.
So is there an alternative? Discussing difficult situations helps you better deal with them at the time and prepares you for future scenarios, but you don’t have to vent to get this benefit.
Keep a balanced view – Be objective when you are recanting the scenario. What did you do that might have been interpreted negatively? Were you being reasonable? Is there any history that is actually relevant or is it a stand alone event?
Ask for advice – Instead of seeking affirmation of your own outrage, ask what the other person would have done in a similar situation. Seek to hold a constructive dialogue rather than a one-way rant and ask for the other person’s perspective.
Discuss the why – Don’t be afraid to acknowledge what your emotions were (we can’t control these!) and go on to discuss your behavior and thought process. Why did you react the way you did? Why did others? Is there a deeper lesson you can learn from a negative experience? Sometimes this only comes out when you vocalise to someone else.
My partner and I were both going through quite negative patches at work a year or so ago, and were finding that our evenings were filling up with on another’s vents on various things that had happened during the day. We both reached a point where we were no longer supporting each other, we were just releasing negative energy.
We made a pact that we would only discuss things if we actually wanted to learn from and dissect a situation, and no complaining was allowed! Not only was the time we were spending together much more enjoyable, we found that we were better able to leave the negativity behind.
Are you guilty of venting? Have you ever had a vent backfire on you?