Does Venting Help?

calvin-yellingI think a lot of us believe that “venting” will help us feel better but does it? defines it as giving free play or expression to an emotion.  Although I would add common use would be a negative emotion – feel free to vent happiness or joy anytime as this is unlikely to hurt yourself or others. What we are really saying when we vent is that “I have all these overwhelming emotions about something/someone and I don’t know how to make sense of it right now” and what we really need when we vent is help in regulating these emotions, that is help to make sense of it all and support to get back on track.

Unfortunately what we often get is a response that people think is helpful, agreeing with us or worse feeding into the negativity with examples of their own to support it.  While the person who is venting may feel validated by this response “see so and so agrees with me” this response does nothing to shift the negativity and may actually provide positive reinforcement to the venting, ensuring it becomes a tool in the armoury of defences that prevents them from getting to and addressing the real source of their emotional pain.  If you, or someone you know, vents a lot ask yourself what is really going on under all that noise? Or I could call it mouthing off because what tends to happen (and especially if the venting leads to emotional flooding) is that things are said that are not really meant and then damage is done that has to be undone – especially if you are venting to the person who is the source of the pain.

So does it help? From what we know from neuroscience about how the brain works would suggest that no amount of venting is helpful.  What gets fired gets wired and when you are venting regularly about a topic your brain will very quickly associate that topic with negativity regardless of the facts.  In addition, if you go so hard as to emotionally flood, you are filling your body with things like cortisol, the stress hormone and adrenalin the fight or flight hormone which again reinforces the negative by putting the body on high alert when the topic comes up.

Having said that, venting with the purpose of making sense of the emotional overwhelm can be useful if it leads to help in regulating these emotions and support to get back on track.  Writing in a journal can help, as you begin by venting but soon calm as writing slows the process and the words on the page can help draw out what is really going on.  Knowing this can provide the understanding you need to help yourself or seek the right help to get back on track. Writing on a facebook page or in a chat room for others with the same issue rarely helps as you will elicit the agreeing response which will not help you move forward.  A support group can help as long as venting is dealt with appropriately. If it’s not you will find a room full of people who agree with you but you won’t move forward.

As most people vent to their friends I suggest that if you are going through emotional turmoil such as grief or relationship breakdown or rebuild, that you chose your support team wisely and even provide them with a script of what you want them to say back to you after you have finished your vent.  So for example in the case of rebuilding a relationship that is going through a hard time select your person that you vent to and provide them with a script like “I understand you are having a bad day but your intention is to rebuild this relationship and ten reasons you are choosing to do this are [list 10 positive reasons]…” This will calm the negativity and allow you to refocus and think more clearly about what you really need to get back on track.