Give free expression to (a strong emotion). Source: Google.
We all know what venting is. It’s letting go of frustrating emotions. Voicing a rant of complaints to a trusted friend. Blowing off steam. Why do we do it? Because life is frustrating as hell sometimes. Work pisses us off, our partners frustrate us, and life can throw us a seemingly endless volley of shit balls that we can’t seem to dodge anymore.
When it gets be be too much, sometimes we vent our frustrations to someone who will listen to (or put up with) them, whether that’s a trusted friend, a Microsoft Word file, an employee at some business, or the ultimate bastion of anonymous griping: the internet.
Why do we vent? Because it feels good. We feel better after letting it all out.
However, letting it all out can have a significant downside. We hurt people. We create conflict, We bring more ugliness into the world. And, in some cases, we do nothing to solve the real problem.
So that leads to the BIG QUESTION: Is venting useful? Or is it at best a waste of time and, at worst, a detriment?
The short answer: It’s both.
To Vent or Not to Vent?
I’ll never forget hearing about Russell Crowe’s brushes with anger, in particular an incident where he threw a phone at a hotel clerk, cutting him below the eye. When he was interviewed and asked about this and other incidents, he showed no remorse for his behavior and then offered up the thing that I’ve heard many times, that you can’t just let that stuff bottle up inside. You have to get it out.
From then on, any respect I had for Russell Crowe dissolved into nothing. Why? Because he used the need to “vent” his frustration as an excuse for his shit behavior, believing it was justified and even for his own good health.
Not all venting involves violence or even strong anger, obviously. But this Russell Crowe incident illustrates a challenge we all face: the need to deal with our frustrations and discovering the best way to go about it.
It IS good to deal with anger and difficulties and not them them fester. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that.
Venting, By Itself, Solves Nothing
Yes, I said it. Venting solves nothing. In some cases, you feel better afterward as you release that pent-up frustration, but guess what? It will come back to haunt you the next time life doesn’t go your way. Not only that, but every time you vent your irritation about your job or your annoyance at your partner’s money management problems, you’re basically lobbing garbage at those listening to you. You risk damaging a relationship with a colleague by venting too aggressively. You tax your friends and partner, who grow weary of being your dumping ground. To people you don’t know well, you sound like a whiner. And, if your venting comes with a side of anger management issues, you risk being an abuser and criminal.
You see, venting is like a drug. It feels good at the time, but eventually the physiological and emotional effect it has will wear off and you’re left with the back end of that high… the withdrawal or hangover. Not to mention any damage you’ve done to others. A drug only offers a short-term solution, and you will never stop needing that drug.
Moreover, it’s a common misperception that venting is necessary to one’s mental and physical health, that you have to “get it out” a la Russell Crowe. But Russell Crowe is a meathead who believes this because it benefits him and allows him to continue abusing his massive privilege as a large, white, celebrity male. And, Crowe-bashing aside, research doesn’t support the need to let it out. Studies have shown that blowing off steam in a harmful way like that can often increase feelings of anger and rage, and does nothing to prevent the rageful feelings from recurring. In other words, anger begets anger.
I know this from my own experience. I’m prone to temperamental outbursts, too. When I vent my anger, I feel even angrier. It builds, like tossing fuel on a raging fire. Eventually, when it’s over, that high of relief does come, but it exacts a price in the form of remorse and damage done to whatever thing annoyed me in the first place. Plus, I feel like an idiot. One of many reasons Russell Crowe’s actions irritate me so much is that I can (sort of) relate — I know what that kind of frustration feels like, but I am able to abstain from harming others verbally or physically because I CHOOSE to. There are feelings and there are actions, and they’re separate things.
Everyone vents. But in my experience, women and men vent in different ways. In many cases, women tend to vent their annoyances to friends or family members, talking about their micro-managing boss, their irritating sister-in-law, or their boyfriend who won’t pop the question over lunch or a glass of wine. This is so common among women that it’s almost a stereotype.
However, men vent too. Not as often to their friends or family, many of whom will chastise them for it (after all, men aren’t supposed to complain, right?)… but in many cases by taking out their frustrations on others or venting anonymously on the internet. Go through the comment section of any well-known website and the most angry, trollish comments are typically from men. I know I’ve encountered a few of them here.
Women’s venting sounds more like complaining, and men’s more like anger and threats, but in the end it’s the same thing. They have a problem and they have no clue what to do about it.
So, What Now?
Often, people think of this problem as an either/or scenario: keep it all inside or let it all out. But neither of those is healthy.
Instead, find a way to vent your feelings and annoyances as a way to not only release them, but as a way to begin dealing with them and, if possible, solving them. Vent to a trusted friend or associate in a non-aggressive way. Explain your annoyances. Ask for that person’s advice or perspective; or, if you don’t want advice, ask for them to just hear you out while you problem-solve. Yes, you’re problem solving here. Venting can be the first step in the problem solving process.
Talking about frustrations can help you get to the root problem and, eventually, to a first attempt at coming up with a solution. That solution may be as simple as changing your attitude about your annoying job. Or, maybe it means talking to your boss about your concerns. You may decide to at least start looking for other job options, even if you aren’t sure you want quit. You may decide things are so bad that you’re going to up and quit.
Some people, especially men, blow off steam through sports or hobbies. This is also a healthy way to deal with frustration, especially if it’s a problem with no immediate solution. For women, a little self-care in the form of a yoga class, a hike, or hot bath can help.
Whatever it is, vent with the purpose of working through problems in a productive way, not just spewing your frustrations on others so you can feel better for an hour. Me? I vent by writing. When things get bad, I write out all that’s pissing me off on the computer. Eventually, patterns start to emerge and so do potential solutions. I like this method because it doesn’t harm others, nor does it tax my loved ones. Sure, now and again I’ll call up a good friend or share something with my husband… but I wait until it’s something important, something that’s too complicated for Microsoft Word to handle.
Overall, venting can be a good thing or a bad thing. If done in an appropriate way and with the goal of solving a problem, venting can be the key to a better life.