Sometimes, “venting,” or airing our grievances, gets a bad rap. Negative connotations are associated with expressing unpleasant experiences or unhappy feelings. And while there may be a fine line between cathartic release and spewing cynicism and insensitivity, I tend to advocate that the act of sharing can be a healthy mechanism for both parties involved.
Benefits for the venter:
Clinical psychologist Leon F. Seltzer discusses catharsis in his 2014 article published in Psychology Today. Venting frustrations (anxiety, anger or sorrow) often provides cathartic release.
“The immediate feelings of relief derived from such letting go can hardly be overstated,” Seltzer said.
He notes how self-expression can elicit much-needed comfort as well. “Doubtless, at some point in your life you’ve benefited from the comfort and consolation of another person’s supporting and validating you when you shared some distressing experience with them. Just in itself, self-expression feels good. But what can help you feel even better is being listened to by someone who genuinely seems to care about you. For through their warmheartedly ‘getting’ your discomfiture and commiserating with you, your frustrations feel all more rightful and legitimate.”
Positive psychology encourages a positive approach to life, resiliency in the face of obstacles and adjusting perspective in order to do so. Yet, acceptance is integral in order to move forward. Acceptance that, yes, life can knock you down. Acceptance that harsh realities do exist; realities that are beyond your scope of control. It’s healthy to acknowledge less-than experiences and acceptance is key.
It could be challenging to examine a situation when you’re deeply engrossed in the matter. Sometimes an outsider’s point of view can be grounding and helpful.
“If you’re too emotionally entangled in what happened to you, you can’t think very clearly about what you may still be able to do about the situation,” Seltzer said. “The mere act of venting to a compassionate other has its own gratifications. There are times when your friend might be able to suggest potentially productive actions, that in your agitated state, might have never occurred to you.”
Benefits for the other person:
When a friend or family member confides in you, connection, in that moment, is forged. You also realize that you’re not alone — their struggle is your struggle. Their story is your story. Some truths are universal.
Focusing on another’s problem, in turn, forces you to get out of your head and direct energy elsewhere, away from your own troubles and stressors.
In some instances, listening to someone else’s strife revitalizes your perspective and encourages gratitude. It’s an opportunity to count your blessings, to grasp the bigger picture.
Sure, exerting complaints and venting our woes can be perceived as a nuisance, but the act of venting can benefit both parties. The venter can experience catharsis, acceptance and insight, while the other individual can hone in on connection, focus and perspective.