When we experience emotional intensity, we need to go into the feeling (vent) or go away from the feeling (distract) to re-establish mental regulation and bring the intensity down a few notches. This post focuses on going towards feelings by 'letting off steam''-- commonly known as 'venting' -- about our issues with someone we have a relationship with, like a partner or a friend, or a coworker, even a therapist.
Sometimes when we vent, we feel relieved afterwards, but sometimes we feel even more worked up. Catharsis is not garaunteed by venting, so what makes the difference?
It is important to consider several things: 1) how often am I venting? 2) what kinds of things am I venting about most often? and 3) what are healthy boundaries around venting?
HOW OFTEN DO I VENT?
If you are venting on a regular basis (daily, weekly, etc.), venting may not be the best exercise to address your emotional experience. Why not? Well, quite simply because if it were helpful you would not be doing it so frequently. Clearly, the venting process is not addressing the issues that are going on within and around you related to your distressing experience so more strategies are needed.
What you can do instead:
- Journal about your feelings and ask yourself "what do I need to keep move forward?"
- Review your boundaries: Did I miss one? Is one of them not working anymore? Am I saying yes or no too much? Am I too dependent on talking to explore my issues?
- Consider going away from the feeling a bit to calm down, mindfully distract yourself and regroup (distraction can be done mindfully, but that is a different post I suppose, (here is a resource for you).
- If you are struggling with ongoing issues, see a therapist or other mental health advocate to explore underlying issues provoking emotional disregulation
WHAT AM I VENTING ABOUT?
If you are venting about the same topics over and over, you are stuck, Talking about an issue over and over agian is not helping you, and you are likely to be exausting your social network by making them listen to the stuckedness.
- Identify the issue that has you stuck, be specific
- Determine if it is something you have control or influence over, or not.
- Ask yourself what you are willing to do to change even one small thing about the issue
- Consult with a professional if you cannot find anything positive to do about the issue
If you are venting about different topics but doing so regularly, especially with the same people, you need more emotion processing tools. Here are a few to consider:
- Source your feelings internally, like what brain process is this feeling related to? Expectations? Belief? Memory? Attitude? Mood? Thought Patterns? Habits?
- Mindfully match your self care activites to particular emotions if they sooth that feeling
- Non-identification is when you remind yourself you are not your feeling and it will pass, give that a try and allow yourself to be many things, not just the feeling of the moment
HOW DO I VENT HEALTHY?
Venting can be used mindfully to bring the intensity of an emotion down enough for you to either move on or do more work with that experience in a calmer state. To do this mindfully you need to establish some boundaries with venting as a tool. Consider the following:
- Ask for consent before unloading on someone and take no for an answer gracefully
- Consider a time limit on the topic so you don't wind yourself back up, like 5 minutes
- State exactly what you are looking for from the listener so it feels supportive
- Have a way to wrap up a venting session that is positive and affirming, hold yourself to it or ask for your listener to hold you to it
- And if you have trouble moving on or wrapping it up, excuse yourself to do some journaling or self care
EXAMPLE: "Hey hon, I am really upset about something that happened at work today. Can I vent to you for a couple minutes and get some reassurance that I am a good person?" "Great! When I say "But I am working on it, that means we can stop now and focus on other things. If I don;t stop, please remind me to do so."
IT IS OKAY TO HAVE INTENSE FEELINGS AND I CAN CALM MYSELF SO I CAN MEET MY NEEDS.