When someone or something hurts or angers you, is there a value in venting?
Some social scientists and conflict management experts think venting is counterproductive, entrenching anger and resentment. However, in my own experience, venting can be valuable as long as there are careful limits and boundaries around it.
When is venting valuable?
For myself, if I vent once or twice to a trusted friend or colleague, without self-judgment, it helps me release the angry excess energy and move on to the next steps. I also encourage my clients to express and process these negative feelings first. They sometimes fear they are bad or wrong for having resentments or negative feelings and try to stuff them down or leap over them and go directly to the “good stuff” like forgiveness, kindness, and collaboration. But ignoring what I’m truly feeling at that moment makes any protestations of forgiveness ring hollow.
When does venting become dangerous?
If I repeatedly vent about the same issue over and over, if I want to keep complaining about it to everyone I know multiple times and still don’t feel done, then this is a warning sign that I am stuck. The repetition of grievance is harming rather than helping me and I need to do inner work. I need a process to understand why it was so triggering, and somehow reframe and let go, topics I have written about in a number of previous blog posts.
I pay attention to these same warning signs with my clients. If they are holding on to the anger and the negative story with no respite or shift, then inner work on emotional triggers, attitudes, letting go, and changing the narrative is crucial for progress and resolution and appropriately standing up for one’s self.
Safe ranting—a helpful technique
One particular technique I have used successfully myself and with some clients, is ranting in a safe way. I encourage clients to write a very angry, even obscenity-laden, rant far from any send button, or record an unfiltered rant using the dictation/note function on their phone. It can be highly repetitious, emotional, and illogical. Then, they can share it with me or a trusted friend and after that delete it or rip it up. These rants are never meant to harm, nor to send to the person you are angry with. They are intended for inner use, to release the negativity and whatever is blocking compassion, productive conversations, and appropriate actions.
It still isn’t easy to move forward with difficult people or situations, but fake-acting calm and burning with resentment doesn’t work. Even insensitive people generally see right through it!
Venting is a tool, and like all tools, it can be used well or poorly. The key is to temper the venting with boundaries and self-awareness.
Note: This article first appeared on ConflictRemedy.com Jan 16, 2022