Who hasn’t felt lighter after venting to a friend? Humans are not meant to be corked bottles; there are great mental, emotional, and physical health benefits in expressing our feelings and letting them out. In addition, our listener may provide clarity and perspective that we are unable to see while we are “in the moment”, thus helping us solve the problem.
Psychology Today, while it does not ignore the positive attributes of venting, indicates that the more we vent or complain, the better we may become at it (Seltzer, 2014). It could be easy to slip into the habit of venting instead of taking the action necessary to address the issue. In addition, repetitive venting may strain our relationships with others as the continuous exposure to another’s troubles can be emotionally taxing on the listener.
So, at what time does healthy venting turn toxic and unproductive?
The answer can be found if we honestly reflect on our words, actions, and thoughts.
Michele Farris with The Daily Positive states that as soon as our venting becomes toxic when it turns into personal attacks on others. Specifically, “Those who learn this type of behavior as children, may rely on it a way to get attention. Listening to family tell negative stories makes an impact on how we view conflict. These negative stories become almost entertaining, but unfortunately, at someone else’s expense.”
I found myself in this exact situation last week. I was venting about a frustrating behavior of another and realized that I had moved into petty, unrelated criticisms. The person I was speaking with was laughing and adding to it, finding amusement in my insults and negativity. It was unnecessary and guess what? My frustrations were still there, compounded by feelings of shame for acting like a high school mean girl. No problems were solved.
In addition to honestly assessing our words to others, it is also important to consider our own role in the story and responsibility to the situation. Did we say or do something that had a negative impact and helped create the annoying and stressful result? What could we have done better? Self-reflection may be the toughest part in defining where the line is between venting and toxicity, as it involves asking ourselves the hard questions and facing answers we may not like.
Seltzer, L. F., Ph.D. (2014, April 2). 6 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting | Psychology Today. Retrieved October 4, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evolution-the-self/201404/6-virtues-and-6-vices-venting
Farris, M. (2019). How You Can Avoid Toxic Venting. Retrieved October 04, 2020, from https://www.thedailypositive.com/how-to-avoid-toxic-venting/