Monday, July 18, 2011

No Venting Zone

A study has found that venting to a friend while feeling stressed often makes you feel worse, rather than better. The study was conducted at the University of Kent in England and focused largely on those students with perfectionist traits.

Here's what they found:
"Of these, using social support, denial, venting, withdrawing, and self-blame made students feel worse instead of better, the researchers determined. The more the students used these strategies to cope, the less satisfied they felt at the end of the day.

In contrast, the more students used positive reframing, acceptance and humor, the better they felt at the end of the day, the study found."

It's pretty clear that denial withdrawing and self-blame would make any person in any situation feel worse. But venting? Aren't we all part of that post-Victorian era generation that considers venting to be a positive thing so that we don't hold onto things for years until one day we explode? Aren't we also that pro-active group of people who deals with issues head on instead of resorting to violence, gossip or ignorance? How can venting be so bad?

The funny thing about this study is that they conclude that positive reframing, acceptance and humour are the better ways to deal with issues. But all of these things happen AFTER venting- and they are often the results of venting. If we don't talk about the things that bother us, we are a lot less likely to reframe them, accept them and laugh at them.

Any one of these things taken on their own is probably not helpful without the act of venting. And here's why:

Positive reframing- today my boss yelled at me and made me feel like crap for something that was actually his fault. Let's reframe: today my boss paid attention to me. If I said the second part to you without saying the first part, you may actually think that I had a good day when I had a bad day or that my boss is a fair and competent person who values my work. You would be wrong.

Acceptance- I accept the fact that my boss yelled at me for something that was his fault. Well, I'm glad that's over with. Now I can go on with my life.

Laughter- Ha ha ha.

See? None of those 3 things really works without venting.

I think that the main problem with this study is the fact that they may not have the same understanding of what venting is that the rest of us do. Venting, for most people, is not just a question of verbally throwing up on people by spilling out everything under the sun that bothers us. In fact, it can be a constructive way to get at things and analyze them: what bothers us, why it bothers us, and why we shouldn't let it keep bothering us. It is, in fact, a sort of therapy, and a good one at that.

Venting make us feel normal because people tend to agree with us that we're the wronged party in life. They also tend to agree with us that some people can be really stupid or that certain situations can be really bad. As well, it often leads to a reciprocal exchange in which we realize that we're not the only wronged people or that we're not alone in our feelings. It creates empathy and understanding, if it is used positively and if it helps us let go of the issues or emotions that are driving us crazy.

So venting doesn't always lead to solutions. That doesn't mean it's counter-productive. In fact, many of our little life situations don't get resolved. They either go away, sort themselves out, or we can make little choices to change them, like ignore them. Or we can think in relative terms and learn what we should let go of and what we should hold onto. It's part of picking our battles in life.

If I can think of one thing that won't help me when I'm stuck in a rut, or having a bad day, it's keeping it to myself and letting it fester like a sore. Sometimes it's just better to grab a drink and talk it out.

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