Venting can be a healthy way to express frustration, but when it becomes toxic, it creates a cycle of negativity that’s hard to repair. Though it feels good to vent in the moment, toxic venting creates significant anger and resentment that is unhealthy for you and your relationships.
On the other hand, healthy venting helps you to heal and move forward. By reasoning things out with someone else, you gain clarity on what’s happening. Confiding in someone often lessens the pain because you feel supported. You avoid getting stuck in all that negativity.
What is Toxic Venting?
Toxic venting feels like an attack on someone’s character. Whether you are the one venting, or you’re listening to someone else do it, this communication makes the other person out to be “the bad guy.” This type of bad-mouthing becomes an intense form of gossip.
With toxic venting, the person gets fixated on the other person’s faults. There is no rationale, only targeted rage. Instead of feeling momentarily upset, the venting mimics contempt, which according to The Gottman Institute for Couples Therapy is the single best predictor of divorce.
Examples of contempt include:
- Name-calling, put downs or criticisms that hit below the belt
- Acting like the other person “is beneath you”, lazy or stupid
- Making comparisons to another person or implying they don’t deserve you
- A lack of accountability for your part in the situation
But toxic venting isn’t just about complaining. It’s telling the same story repeatedly from a victim’s point of view. This behavior fuels gossip and resentment which can make them difficult to give up. Unfortunately, some people feed off of a juicy story!
Those who learn this type of behavior as children, may rely on it a way to get attention. Listening to family tell negative stories makes an impact on how we view conflict. These negative stories become almost entertaining, but unfortunately, at someone else’s expense.
Primary Examples of Toxic Venting
- Repeatedly criticizing someone’s character but rarely acknowledging their good qualities
- Complaining about what others do but never admitting your own behavior
- Implying that someone is less than, stupid or worthless in any way
Each time the person re-tells the negative story, the emotional intensity makes it harder to forgive and move forward. Over time, this can impact physical health and create stress-related illnesses.
Living in the negative story feels draining even though temporarily it gives us energy. Over time, people who are emotionally healthy become repelled by the behavior. Some may distance themselves as a way to avoid having to listen to it.
What is Healthy Venting?
When venting is healthy, the boundaries are clear; you are expressing frustration to get support and seek solutions. It’s not a free-for-all to say whatever you are thinking out loud. There are firm limits that don’t get crossed.
Healthy venting acknowledges frustration while not getting stuck in the feelings. When the person vents in a healthy way, their focus is to get relief, not to be right. The person can communicate what’s upsetting without blame or condemning the other person. While this may include some complaining, it’s not the primary focus. Healthy venting addresses what’s not working while brain storming solutions.
Tips for Healthy Venting
- Reaching out to trusted friends to reason things out
- Expressing yourself through “I” statements which keeps the focus on feelings
- Acknowledging anger and other emotions without getting into character attacks
- Writing in a journal to express yourself without being censored
When done constructively, healthy venting helps you recognize what needs to change in order to seek solutions. Making an effort to see things from the other person’s point of view tranforms the story. For instance, instead of getting increasingly upset, you start to empathize with the other person. You can hold two different points of view rather than being right.
Healthy venting provides a sense of emotional release and connection because you feel heard. Acknowledging your upset in a healthy way makes it possible to resolve issues without damaging the relationship. That way, everyone wins!
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Michelle Farris is a marriage and family therapist in San Jose California. She works with individuals, couples and offers online courses. She specializes in anger management and healing codependent relationships. She’s a therapist who “walks her talk” and supports others in transforming habits that hurt. She writes a blog on how to build self-esteem, set healthy boundaries and build relationships without sacrificing yourself. It’s the power of accountability and unconditional support that helps you move forward, let go of the past and truly heal. Visit her website to Get Free Access to Michelle’s Resource Library.