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Is venting (to a friend about a problem) healthy?

By September 30, 2008 - 12:50pm
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"Venting" gets such a bad rap, and can be seen as gossiping or just "being negative", and I'm wondering if there is a good side to blowing off steam and just venting to a friend?

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If you are a part of an online community you will often see VENT! as the topic or in the subject line along with something else and I find that it's generally the same topic and same issue almost every time, which translates in whining, for me.

I'm with Anne here - 'venting' can be good, it beats keeping it all inside but be careful who you speak to and whom you speak about. Physical exercise can be as good or better than a verbal rant.

Isn't it hard when a friend 'vents' about her husband and boyfriend continually and then wants to double date with you and you are left thinking "why? you say terrible things about him!" ...then there they are at the restaurant, all smiles and cuddles. A week later, your pal is back to calling him a jerk. This kind of mindless venting puts the listener in a very uncomfortable position.

As Alison said - some action is also required. Verbalizing our fears and concerns is important, and issues can be seen more clearly, especially if the listener can also provide some feedback, if that is desired. But if there is no subsequent action, it's redundant.

October 1, 2008 - 12:23pm

Maybe whether venting is useful or not also depends on the relationship between you and the person you're venting to.

To a trusted best friend, who understands you, empathizes and generally will offer an ear and possibly some good perspective, I think venting is both safe and productive. It gets the edge off, it lets you breathe, and the very act of sharing our frustrations with someone reminds us that we're not alone.

But if you're venting, for instance, to an office mate about a boss, that's not as productive, and may haunt you later. If you're venting about your significant other in a hurtful or gossipy way, you won't feel very good afterward. Or if you're venting to someone who can't be trusted to keep your words to themselves, you're probably hurting more than helping yourself.

I'll tell my best friends just about anything, and it helps me to move on. But other than that, it may be better to just go to the gym and pound out that frustration in a workout. When the endorphins kick in, you'll be in a much better place.

October 1, 2008 - 8:25am

My grandfather used to tell us a story like that one, too.

There's venting, then there's stepping the fine line over to whining. Whining serves no productive purpose, whereas venting allows you to blow off steam - even think through the situation you're venting about.


September 30, 2008 - 6:21pm

I guess the answer is: it depends how what you do AFTER the venting that matters most!

Mary Steinhardt, professor at the University of Texas (website below, if you are interested in learning more) discussed in our graduate courses some great insight in two ways of coping:
1. Emotion-focused coping
2. Problem-focused coping

Emotion-focused coping includes venting, crying, distracting ourselves (sleeping, exercising, eating, working on another project). Venting, and these other coping mechanisms, definitely have their place, and can help you blow off steam, gain perspective, and feel calmer to move onto the next step: problem-focused coping.

Problem-focused coping moves away from "just venting", and actually puts your words into action. Did any ideas come from talking about your problem? New insights? A new way to look at the problem (reframe) or new perspective? Are you able to change the problem, or do you need to let it go?

Bottom line: venting is OK (even healthy!), as long as it leads to action and is followed by problem-solving. Venting with the "correct" unattached, uninvolved person can help avoid situations where this talking can lead to "gossip", for instance, you may want to avoid venting with a co-worker about another co-worker.

I love this so much, I have to share this inspiring story:

The Two Wolves

An old Cherokee was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said, “A battle is raging inside me…it is a terrible fight between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, sharing, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The old man looked at the children with a firm stare. “This same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too.”

They thought about it for a minute, and then one child asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee replied: “The one you feed.”

September 30, 2008 - 1:08pm
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