Apr 232018 2 Responses

Do We Really Need to Vent?

It feels second nature. Rather than exploding at our co-worker, we take a friend to lunch and tell them what we’ve been dealing with. Instead of screaming at our children, we call our spouse and let them know what we’ve endured. In lieu of physically confronting someone, we find a third party and gripe about what we’ve experienced. It’s called venting. Much like one has to vent a fireplace so that the smoke doesn’t build up in the house, we have to vent our negative emotions so they don’t build up inside of us.

The process can be useful. (See: You Hurt My Feelings)

We need to be heard and seen. Whenever we endure difficult situations without the feeling of support from others, we languish. It is a human need to know we are not alone…that we are seen and understood by others. When we vent to a spouse, friend, or co-worker, it helps validate our experience and feel known.

Talking can put things in context. Sometimes just talking about something makes us feel better. It’s one of the overlooked aspects of therapy. People think, “How can talking about my problems help?” But then they leave a counselor’s office feeling better simply because they talked about the problem.

Venting is necessary…sometimes. While it can be a useful process, we often overvalue the return of venting and misuse the process to our own detriment. We think it’s helping, but in many instances, it’s hurting our relationships, hindering our growth, and hampering our emotions.

The Downside of Venting

While we know the upsides of venting, we often are ignorant about its negative influences.

Venting often denies personal responsibility. We vent about others. We don’t complain or gripe about what we’ve done wrong. We do so about what others are failing to do right. The problem is that negative situations are rarely onesided. In most scenarios, we have a responsibility in the situation we are complaining about. When we vent, we focus too much on others (whom we don’t control) and too little on ourselves (whom we fully control).

Venting feels like problem-solving, but it’s not. Venting is deceiving. The process feels productive. We think we are thinking through problems, talking through situations, and brainstorming outcomes. But in reality, venting is rarely moving a situation forward. In most cases, it’s just rehashing what has happened without figuring out what action steps can be taken.

Venting deepens the frustration. The biggest problem with venting is that it unknowingly deepens the frustration. We often see what we rehearse. If we wake up every morning and meditate on a topic, we will see that issue in nearly every circumstance of our day. Whenever we continually rehash the same situations with people, we are unknowingly fixating the circumstances in our minds. Rather than freeing us from a circumstance, it more firmly burdens us.

Don’t Whine, Work

While it’s acceptable to vent on occasion, a far better approach is to actually work on problems. Rather than complaining to someone who can’t do anything about the situation, approach a friend or mentor and give them permission to speak into your life. Instead of fixating on the actions or failures of others, discuss what actions you can take regarding the situation. (See: Find the Privilege)

A key question to ask when you find yourself talking about others is “can this conversation help the situation?” If the conversation is about others and your answer is no, don’t talk about it. Don’t whine to your friends about how hard your job is. Don’t complain to family about others. Have every conversation you need to have in order to fix a situation, but don’t have any conversation that doesn’t move toward a solution. Freely discuss your feelings and actions, but be restrained when talking about others.

Instead of venting, try another approach. Seek the good and name it. Find the blessings in life and regularly tell of them to others. When venting is replaced with praising, radical changes take place. By regularly rehearsing what is good rather than what’s bad, we train our minds to seek the good. The process primes our expectations for good things. The problem with venting is it makes it far more likely for us to see bad things and to overestimate their impact in our lives. When we savor the good it makes us more able to see good things and be empowered by their presence in our lives.

Do we really need to vent? Maybe. But we don’t need to do so nearly as much as we do. Instead, we need to find every way possible to honor that which is good and to multiply it in our lives and the lives of others.

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