Venting keeps you stuck

Venting about your problems, issues and frustrations can be addictive at times. When someone is willing to listen to you complain about your troubles, you might feel relieved and validated.

But if you keep harping on what’s wrong with the world and do nothing to change or improve it, venting becomes old. It’s tiring for others to watch you fly off the handle or listen to you repeat the same stories about how crappy life is.

Although screaming and yelling can be quick ways to release rage, they can harm your health and your relationships. Mind-body research shows that venting your anger increases rather than lowers stress, and ratchets up blood pressure and adrenaline levels.

Because stuffing down your emotions is not healthy either, expressing them in a calm and direct way to your loved one, trusted friend or therapist helps. This type of venting too, however, has its drawbacks if all you do is complain and don’t change what is within your reach.

Venting often keeps you stuck and drags down others around you because:

Venting brings out the negatives.  When you complain about a person or situation, you dwell on the negatives and find it hard to see any redeeming qualities.

Do you have colleagues, roommates, friends or family members who nitpick and grumble about work and rarely or never have anything positive to say about it?  While it’s normal to talk about the downside of work and other aspects of life, venting highlights the negatives and filters out the positives. Too much of it leaves you feeling helpless and hopeless. Negative beliefs can impair your actions and, ultimately, worsen your situation.

Venting encourages you to be a victim.  I once had to terminate a coaching relationship with a client because she was stuck in victim mode and did not want to get out of it. Up front, I explained that coaching is not therapy and that the focus is to solve problems, not rehash them.

At the end of each session, we would agree on what she could do to improve her situation. But at the next session, she always had excuses for not doing her assignments and explanations for why they would not work. Then she would proceed to complain about the same issues, again and again.

Finally, after several sessions, it dawned on me that venting was a crutch for her. She just wanted to complain about the sacrifices she had made and how unfair things were. Venting reinforced her victim mentality and playing the victim was her way to manage her environment. I came to realize she needed a therapist, not a coach, to help her deal with her past.

Because she didn’t really care to make changes – at least not at that time – I felt utterly drained after each session. So, after much reflecting and getting feedback from other coaches, I decided to end the relationship. The termination was ugly, but had to be done.

Venting reinforces anger and aggression.  Feeling anger when you are (or think you are) wronged or mistreated is natural and healthy. The way you express your anger is what makes the difference.

Letting out your anger by shouting at others, breaking objects, slamming doors, stomping, and engaging in aggressive outbursts can add fuel to the fire and build pointless barriers in your relationships.  In that sense, venting not only harms you but also harms those who receive it, observe it or can’t escape it.

Instead of venting, you can:

Reframe the situation. Viewing your predicament from different angles can help you unlock from your whining and complaining mode. Your accepting setbacks as opportunities to learn and grow will help you face your difficulties, recover from your frustrations, and move forward in a wholesome way.

You have the power to change how you think about and interpret a situation. Look for ways to keep your sense of humor and let go of taking yourself too seriously.

Own or drop the issue. Whatever problem you have, own it or drop it. The blame game takes up the energy and time you need to solve, improve or get out of your dilemma. If you need to complain before you own or drop the issue, set a time limit.

Last week, I was sitting next to my sister on our airplane flight when she began venting to me about a recurring issue. I listened to her intently without saying much. When she realized she had been going on for several minutes, she stopped herself cold and said, “If I ever go on about this after two minutes, stop me.”

Setting a time limit prompts you to stop complaining, take ownership, preserve your resources, and focus on what you can do to accept, minimize or change the problem.

Find your center. When you vent, it’s often because there’s so much anger bottled up inside that you have to release it. But if you have an anchor that allows you to embrace reality, be present with what you feel, and take healthy action in the face of frustration, you become less reliant on venting.

Train yourself to stay grounded through meditation, breath work, mental activities or physical exercises that channel your focus and energy. Finding your center in the midst of chaos will help you process your feelings and maneuver through complications without constantly needing to vent about them.


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Photo by: Masayuki Takaku, Another side of yukita