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!
Avoid causing unnecessary conflict. When we re stressed, we often let our emotions get the best of us, which can lead to unnecessary conflict and a higher likelihood of venting. In my upcoming book, I discuss a powerful strategy for avoiding unnecessary conflict. Here s what to do: The next time you feel stressed and begin to react verbally, pay close attention to your tone of voice. Is it sharp? Is it negative? Do you raise your voice? Try to reframe your mind so that you are more approachable and have a warmer tone. Why not throw in a relaxed smile as icing on the cake? Try to ask questions before proposing solutions. And celebrate diverse and creative viewpoints.
Great points! I agree that voice of voice makes a huge difference. Being angry doesn’t mean we can’t be a little louder than normal – but having realistic expectations are important. The goal is not to frighten or intimidate. I love your point about reframing your mind. Thoughts influence mood in a big way! Thanks for reading!
This is amazing and I never knew that our venting can be so toxic for our other half of us. I want to change my negative input it has on my family, my friends, and myself because it is not doing me any good at all. I mostly vent with anger, because I’m frustrated and etc. I BELIEVE I CAN CHANGE IT!!!!
Hey Christina, powerful energy for positive change in your words! That’s awesome. Wishing you well and hope the resources here are helpful for you on the journey.
I have a 4year old boy and he’s in foster care for know but when he comes to my visits he’s only clam f or a sertin amount of time .Than he comes out of the blue and says meanful things to me . Like I don’t care about you. Or he’ll call me a curse word. Sometimes he runs away from me or doesn’t listen to me. How do I vent my feelings without being angry because of what he said to me
Thanks for your message and I send love to you and your little boy. It may help to take time for yourself alone to process what’s going on, in terms of a) how you feel when those situations arise, what it triggers in you, your thoughts and emotions and b) also processing for yourself what might be going on for your little boy as to his experience, what is going on in his world, where the upset within him is coming from, and how this expression may be trying to communicate a deeper experience he is having. Often it can be helpful to get an external professional to the situation to help you work through that, e.g a counsellor or therapist that you can speak with. By being able to get a higher, broader perspective and have time to honor your feelings and get those processed, you’ll be able to show up in those moments with your little boy from a calmer space inside of yourself. That will help you in being able to be with him as he lets out his upset and his experience, and to a) not feel so triggered if you’ve already processed your thoughts/feelings outside of that situation and b) if triggered (naturally its upsetting seeing your child upset), being able to hold space for him while you also hold space for your own feelings too, because of having “done the work” with a counsellor or therapist or trusted friend/family.
Children have big feelings just like we do as adults, and in their little worlds, those big feelings can be extremely hard to contain without the context or cognitive ability to process what is going on for them.
In the depths of him and you is love, and on the surface when there are challenges, there can be big feelings that don’t look like love. Those are calls for healing, and calls for love, seeking ways to find ourselves again and reconnect. I hope that you’ll be able to get some support in person with a professional who might be able to guide you through processing things, and I’m sending much love your way.