Is your venting good or bad? Take the quiz

We've all done it. Someone asks how your day was and it all spills out in an emotional torrent of frustration, fear or indignation. You come out of your venting bubble to see the other person looking at you in shock. Whilst I felt so much better, I'm not sure about them! So let's see if your venting is good or bad.

1. When I vent about a particular issue or person, it's only once as a way to voice my concerns. I look to fix the problem as soon as possible.
2. I seem to hold on to issues for a while and I'll spill to anybody who will listen.
3. I have to vent to deal with [insert person], as they have the problem, not me.
4. I don't vent, I just raise my concerns. Ok I might raise the same concerns constantly, but its the only way I can cope.
5. I just need to tell my side of the story before they do. I told all of my friends so they understand the issues. At least I can be honest every time we catch up and I update them how the issues aren't being resolved.

So what's good and what's bad?

Julia Case-Levine from Quartz notes, 'Venting to friends, in the form of a rant, long text message, or string of expletives, can feel like the emotional equivalent of releasing a pressure valve–allowing negative energy to escape from our system. But venting endlessly about a problem can be more like letting smoke up through a chimney —while some of the bad feelings are expelled, there’s a fire being stoked underneath that doesn’t quite go out, generating more smoke. Indeed, the venting itself is the problem — the thing that keeps the fire fed and going.'

So does that answer it?

If you answered yes to question 1, it's good venting. Once or twice is ok, as long as it helps you resolve how you're going to fix the issue, or at least pushes you to raise it with the person involved. If you answered yes to the other questions, it's bad. Even if you cloak it another way, like expressing oneself, or call it complaining, bitching, moaning or whining, it's all the same. With no action to a new outcome you just make the situation worse in your mind, while the other person is oblivious to the issue! 

So how do you stop venting?

Martha Beck calls it 'confronting the duck', a reference to the movie Julie & Julia. If you haven't seen the movie, Martha explains. 'A young amateur chef sets out to make every recipe in Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. One of the most daunting recipes requires boning a duck, and the heroine puts it off until, finally, she draws courage from Julia's words: "You may think that boning a duck is an impossible feat.... Don't be afraid. Take your knife; confront the duck." 

Get some paper and start by writing "Here's what's really bothering me." Then vent like a steamship having its gaskets cleaned. Pour everything onto the page— your anger, your disapproval, your venom and spite. Include details about your adversary's intellectual failings and personal hygiene. If you don't hold back, this pen-and-paper vent fest should let off enough steam to help you think more calmly. 

Now you’ve got that off your chest, you're in a position to plan your duck confrontation in more detail. Get a new piece of paper.

First, write down exactly what's bothering you — not vague complaints like "You never pay attention to me!" but clear specifics like "When I'm talking, you're always looking at your phone." List as many specific complaints as you can. 

Next, write how these troublesome things affect you. Instead of the wild insults from your initial rant, simply describe the way you feel and react in the problematic situation. For example, instead of "You're ruining my life!" you might write "I've been so pre occupied by this that I spend a lot of time feeling angry and unhappy." Don't cast blame, just describe what's happening. 

Third, write down exactly what must change for you to feel better, the way you'd like to be spoken to, and so on. Finally, write down exactly what the consequence will be if the change you want or need doesn't occur. Again, this isn't a punitive measure. It's more like saying, "I need to drink liquid every day or I'll die of dehydration." Not a threat, not a complaint. Just a simple, factual statement. 

Now it's time to confront your duck. Arrange for a conversation with the person you're hoping you will change. This will be scary — if it weren't, you'd have done it long ago instead of venting so much. To get yourself through the fear, close the vents. Draw on the full power of your frustration, your outrage, your convictions. 

Because you've clarified exactly what you want and what you'll do if you don't get it, you can afford to communicate peacefully, without panicky defensiveness.

For example, screaming "You're a junkie, Bob and I can't take this anymore!" is far less powerful than quietly reading a classic intervention letter: "Bob, I can't go on watching you take drugs. It's affected my life because we no longer share positive experiences, and I'm afraid you'll either die or end up in prison. Unless you go to rehab, I won't interact with you anymore." Yelling at a teenager about homework isn't as effective as explaining: "When you don't do your homework, I worry about your future. I can't force you to do this stuff, but if you don't, I can't protect you from the consequences." 

This kind of confrontation doesn't need to be violent because it carries the weight of truth. You mean business. All that energy you once vented is now contained in constructive action. You won't always get what you want. Sometimes you'll get the emphatic closure that comes from realizing another person or system is insane. But sometimes you'll be heard, understood and respected by people who will take your feedback and use it. Even if nothing changes, you'll be left with more inner peace because at the very least you will have acted instead of having merely talked about acting.'

So happy venting that once. You're welcome to go and vent what a terrible post this was, or send me an email and let me know how I could improve it too.