5 Times Venting is Helpful—& 5 Times It's Harmful

5 Times Venting is Helpful—& 5 Times It's Harmful

When does a harmless vent session go too far?

Calling all Sex and the City fans: Remember the Season Two episode where the show’s stylish lead, Carrie, breaks up with her fateful love interest Mr. Big—again? Cue her nonstop rants and complaints, which all fall on the tired ears of Carrie’s best friends.

When Carrie’s friends notice that the venting doesn’t seem like it’ll stop anytime soon, they give her a much-needed intervention, along with a suggestion to visit a therapist.

“Isn’t part of the whole breaking up process that you get free reign to whine to your friends," Carrie asks.

“For about another ten minutes,” her friend Samantha eventually responds, cutting Carrie’s venting session short. (#sorrynotsorry).

We’ve all been Carrie at some point, right? We’ve dealt with some frustrating event—a breakup, a bad job review, just one of those “off” days—and felt the need to vent about it. While venting seems like the ideal solution after a frustrating moment, it’s helpful to keep in mind when venting can also be harmful. Below are some examples of when venting can go either way.

VENTING IS HELPFUL WHEN...

IT'S CATHARTIC 

Whether your preferred method of venting is squeezing a stress ball, hitting a punching bag or simply talking to a confidant, expressing your frustrations seems to elevate your mood and purge feelings of negativity. Expressing yourself makes it easier to let go of negative emotions, which is always welcome, as opposed to bottling up your anger.

iT LEADS TO IMMEDIATE GRATIFICATION 

Let’s say you just had a bad meeting with your boss at work and you need a moment to vent to your trusted work bestie. Pulling your friend aside for a lunchtime chat (preferably in person and not through work emails) can make you feel better in a matter of minutes.

IT LEADS TO SOLUTIONS

Emotions will inevitably fuel your initial vent session. But what happens next? New York Magazine writer Melissa Dahl suggests that shifting your mindset away from your emotions and towards finding a solution to your problem is effective when venting. 

“Isn’t part of the whole breaking up process that you get free reign to whine to your friends?"

IT WELCOMES DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES 

If you’re venting to your friends, they’re bound to offer their own perspective and advice on the situation at hand. While you’re entitled to your feelings and opinions on the matter, hearing the perspective of someone who wasn’t originally involved may be enlightening and helpful. {click to tweet}

IT DOESN'T CONSUME ALL OF YOUR ATTENTION

Wouldn’t it be perfect if venting completely erased any semblance of the original source of frustration from your mind? In reality, that’s not always the case. Nonetheless, when venting actually gives you some relief, that problem no longer consumes all of your attention and allows you to shift your focus to other matters. On the other hand...

VENTING IS HARMFUL WHEN...

IT WELCOMES MORE AGGRESSION 

Dahl recalls a former work friend who vented to her about his frustrations with his boss throughout the day. After leaving the company, the friend wondered if he really hated his boss as much as he said he did or if venting about him riled him up even more.

The ideal outcome of venting is a cathartic release of frustration. {click to tweet} Our moods are supposed to be elevated after venting. However, if venting only enhances aggression and stress, it’s no longer an effective tool. 

IT'S DESTRUCTIVE 

According to research from psychology and communication professor Brad Bushman, “in essence, venting is practicing how to behave aggressively.” While we’d like to believe that venting always eliminates our frustrations, Bushman’s research proves that it can pave the way for even more aggressive thoughts and behavior. If your preferred method of venting is perpetuating your aggression to the point where it continues to negatively affect your behavior afterwards, it’s not the most effective way to handle the situation.

IT PRESERVES NEGATIVE ENERGY 

When Carrie continued to vent to her friends in the aforementioned Sex and the City episode, she wasn’t doing herself any favors. Instead, she was continuing to reflect on the frustrations of her breakup, thus harboring that negative energy. When negative energy affects other parts of your life—work, friendships, family, etc.—it becomes an even bigger problem. 

When negative energy affects other parts of your life—work, friendships, family, etc.—it becomes an even bigger problem. 

IT REVEALS TOO MUCH

For example, venting at work is a slippery slope. Picture this: You’re venting about the way your boss critiqued your performance in a recent meeting to your closest work friends. You mention everything—what projects you were working on, who you were working with, and all of the specifics, including confidential information. While you may trust your work friends, it’s not okay to divulge confidential information with them. The same goes for outside the workplace. When venting leads to revealing private information, that venting session has gone too far.

IT'S AT THE WRONG PLACE

Impromptu venting sessions with friends can happen anywhere: shopping malls, cafes, the cafeteria at work, etc. While you may trust your friend with the private details of your conversation, do you trust the strangers around you, too? If the information you’re sharing has the possibility of getting into the wrong hands or being heard by curious but uninvited ears, that private vent session is not actually private at all.

Nonetheless, we all have our preferred methods of venting our frustrations—and rightfully so. However, it’s important to keep in mind when venting is actually helping and when it’s doing more harm than good.

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What are your thoughts on the pros and cons of venting?