We’re all irritable at times—some of us more than others. It often feels good to let it all out, whether we’re upset at the loss of a loved one, angry at friends or family, or worried about the state of the world.
That’s because discussing our feelings relieves stress while also bringing us closer to the people we share them with and giving us a sense of belonging. We feel seen, understood, and encouraged when we open up about our inner selves and people respond with sympathy.
However, the term “sharing” encompasses a wide range of communication methods. Is it true that some people are healthier in the long run than others? According to science, it all depends on how you share and how people react to you.
Frequently expressing our emotions to others may make us feel worse, especially if we don’t find a method to gain some perspective on why we’re feeling this way and take efforts to relieve ourselves.
Why do we complain?
Our emotions are important sources of information, signaling that something is wrong in our environment and that we should pay attention to it. Anger, fear, and grief help us prepare to confront someone who is abusing us, hide from danger, or seek consolation from friends.
Sharing our feelings allows us to acquire insight into what’s driving our negative emotions and avoid future problems. Simply expressing what is bothering us to another person can sometimes assist to clarify the problem and identify the emotions involved. Alternatively, if we find ourselves in emotional whirlpools, our confidants can give fresh insights and excellent guidance.
It feels fantastic in the moment when we get stuck in a ranting session because we’re connecting with other people. However, if all we do is vent, we are neglecting our cognitive requirements. We can’t make sense of what we’re seeing or understand what we’re feeling.
So, while venting can help us form supportive relationships and make us feel better in the short term, it isn’t enough to get us through. Others who merely listen and empathize with us may unintentionally prolong our emotional distress.
The Negative Aspects of Venting
For many years, psychologists believed that unpleasant emotions such as anger had to be physically discharged. This sparked a craze to “let it all out,” with psychologists advising people to beat soft things such as pillows or punching bags to release pent-up emotions.
However, it turns out that this form of emotional outpouring is more likely to aggravate than than alleviate anger. This is because enabling people to express their anger causes them to relive it in their bodies, strengthening the brain pathways for anger and making it easier to become furious again. Studies have indicated that venting rage (without effective feedback), whether online or vocally, is often ineffective.
The same can be said for grief or anxiety after a traumatic event. While we should seek help from others around us at tough moments of loss and sadness, reliving our experience without finding a means to calm ourselves or find purpose may prolong our suffering.
People who worked with trauma victims for a long time encouraged them to “debrief” later, talking through what had occurred to them in order to avoid post-traumatic stress. However, a randomized controlled trial indicated that approach was ineffective, owing to the fact that debriefing does not assist people separate themselves from their trauma. Similarly, students who vented their concern after 9/11 experienced increased anxiety for up to four months longer than those who did not. “Focus on and venting of emotions was revealed to be particularly predictive of longer-term anxiety,” the study authors write.
The same thing can be accomplished by venting on social media. Researchers at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University questioned students following horrific shootings on their campuses to explore if voicing their emotions on social media helped them recover. While students believed that venting was useful, the more they vented, the higher their post-traumatic stress and depression scores became.
Carefully speaking and listening
Venting can have a negative impact on our audience in addition to making us feel worse.
While we expect that our caring friends and family will listen and sympathize with us, it can be unpleasant to sit with someone who frequently vents and appears to be wallowing in emotion without learning from their experience. Being with someone who is locked in a cycle of rage, fear, or grief can be exhausting for listeners, who may wind themselves “catching” the emotions.
Repeatedly venting over and over again can cause friction in social relationships.” “There’s a limit to how much your friends, your listeners, can hear.”
It takes a combination of empathy and sympathy, as well as the patience to wait for the proper opportunity to offer perspective.
“Depending on what they’re coping with and how strong their experiences are, people will differ,” he says. “It’s critical to be aware that some folks may want additional time before they’re ready to move from venting to thinking.”
Venting with discretion
There is a better method to vent. They are recommended guidelines to follow:
1. Be cautious when venting on the internet
While sharing our feelings on social media can make us feel better in the time and help us find supportive allies, the results can be mixed. For one thing, negative emotions spread fast online, which can lead to a herd mentality, which can lead to bullying or trolling—especially if you blame a specific individual for your feelings. While it’s uncertain whether venting on the internet is a good or harmful thing in general, it may prevent you from gaining the perspective you need to go on.
2.When it comes to venting, be judicious.
There are a variety of approaches of dealing with painful emotions, and not all of them require the involvement of others. Some people can obtain perspective on their own by writing down their ideas or meditating to detach themselves from them. Change your environment, to help you process emotions and reduce ruminating, which could otherwise keep you locked in an emotional whirlpool.
3. Prompt others to provide perspective when you’re venting.
You may be engaged in a loop of “co-rumination,” a reliving that can keep you locked, if you find yourself ranting to someone without your feelings diminishing (or possibly getting worse). You can break free by asking the person to take a step back and help you reframe your experience by asking, “How should I think about this differently?” or “What should I do in this situation?” This will prompt them to share insight and reassure them that you’re searching for more than just a sympathetic ear.
4. Consider who you’re venting to
Before complaining to someone, ask yourself, “Did this person truly assist me the previous time we spoke, or did they just make me feel worse?” You may become more emotionally agitated if someone is there for you but does not tend to extend your perspective. It may be beneficial in the long term to be more selective about who you vent to.
Overall, venting is beneficial since it helps us cope. We can feel better in the long term and keep our relationships strong if we can get over the letting off steam stage.
Venting has a purpose. “It has self-beneficial aspects in terms of meeting our social and emotional requirements. We just need to figure out the right dosage and make sure to deliver cognitive reframing as a supplement.”