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We all need a witness to our experiences. We want someone to truly hear us, see us, and understand us.
Communication is complicated in the best of circumstances. There are times when we all need to vent. Venting relieves stress. It makes you feel better in the moment. It is a short term solution to what can be deep-seated or long-term problems. It is better to vent negative emotions than to keep them suppressed where they build into volcanic eruptions. Depression can be caused by unresolved anger turned inward.
Understanding why, when, and how people vent can help you manage your response to it, whether you are the one venting or the one being vented upon.
1. What pulled the trigger?
The first part is to look at why you need to vent. What emotion is driving the need?
w Anger is a response to having physical or psychological boundaries violated. The threat can be real or perceived. It can be an attack on your core needs, insecurities, sense of fairness or justice, or an aggravation of unhealed psychological wounds. The stronger the emotion, the more likely the trigger is primed by one of your wounds, your deepest needs, desires, insecurities, and fears.
w Betrayal can be real or perceived violation of relationship boundaries. It can be as mild as an unexpressed expectation not being met to a serious breach in the emotional contract of a relationship. It could be a confidence shared indiscreetly. It could be someone not defending you or supporting you when you needed them to. It could be more serious: financial or sexual infidelity. Any time trust is broken, you feel betrayed.
w Pain can be physical or psychological. It can be slight or soul-crushing. Chronic physical pain can make you lash out, even unintentionally hostile. It can be cry for help. Emotional pain can be real or perceived. Hopelessness can make people clingy and more needy than ever before. They need some reason to keep going, to overcome the relentlessness of the condition. Whatever your normal emotions might be, dealing with pain can exacerbate them.
w Fear can make the calmest person feral. Disabling illness cuts to the core: physical vulnerability, isolation, abandonment, inability to provide our basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, and physical safety).
2. How bad is it?
There are small frustrations throughout the day and major wallops delivered by life in the form of calamity and disasters. On a scale of one to ten, are you at Def Con 1 or Def Con 10?
3. What is your subliminal goal?
w Witnessing: do you simply need to give voice to your feelings in a safe place?
w Empathy: do you need to hear that someone gets what you are going through?
w Reassurance: do you need to hear that all will be well?
w Solidarity: do you need to hear that someone supports you and will be there for you when you need them?
w Validation: do you need to hear that your feelings are justified or that your understanding of the situation is accurate?
w Direction: are you looking for guidance in how to deal with it?
w Action: are you asking for help with something specific? Do you need the person to do something specific? If so, be clear about what that expectation is.
If you do not get the kind of feedback you are looking for, you might need to figure out what it is you really need to hear then ask the right question in a clear and direct way.
4. Who is the appropriate person?
There are those lucky enough to have a strong safety net of people surrounding them to talk to, commiserate with, and draw strength from. It may be friends, family, social groups, or spiritual groups.
Others have limited resources. They may not have a safety net and are in greater need of assistance.
The right support people can offer insight, suggest solutions, or provide a sounding board. This means the person should be someone you trust, someone “safe.”
The person pulling the emotional trigger might not be the right person to vent to. Total strangers are not appropriate receptacles.
w Can they hear you without taking it personally?
w Can the person truly listen or are they likely to frustrate you further?
w Your physician and other medical personnel are not your therapist.
w Certain personality types tend to sizzle then scorch rather than deal with emotions as they come up and communicate anger in healthy ways. Passive-aggressive people are more likely to find stealthy ways of sabotaging or hurting others when they experience negative emotions. Others flare up at every hair-thin trigger. They may not be able to process in a way that is constructive.
w Some people transfer their emotions, accusing those closest to them of feeling what they cannot admit to feeling themselves.
If they fear abandonment, they accuse others of ignoring them.
If they feel unlovable, they accuse others of not caring.
If they feel inadequate, they accuse others of belittling them.
If they feel anger, they accuse others of attacking them.
w Some people take even the blandest analytical statement as a personal attack. Others do not pick up on even the clearest signal that something is wrong.
In terms of venting negative emotions, it is especially important to do so at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people. Friends and loved ones can usually be counted on to comfort you … but not endlessly.
Before venting, ask the person if they have the time to talk to you. They may not have time or be in the right frame of mind.
If you spend all of your time together venting your frustrations and anger, you quickly wear them out. They will start avoiding you. No one wants to be your toxic dumping ground. When you have a chronic condition fraught with daily frustrations, your need to talk about it can overwhelm those closest to you.
Friends and family may not be the most objective people to talk to. So, what are the alternatives?
w Journaling: Sometimes a pen and paper, keyboard and screen, or recording device can be your safest confidant. You can write down/speak your uncensored feelings.
Journaling gives you time to cool off. It helps you frame your feelings and gain perspective. If your first reaction is to say hateful, hurtful things, it is better to put those words on paper - then hit delete or burn them.
Journaling can be a safe repository for your fears, your despair, your pain. Writing the words allows you to express the deepest, darkest, most unlovely pieces of your soul without fear of judgment or reprisal. The act of release is healing for you, without hurting others.
w A spiritual advisor: Whatever your belief system, reaching out to someone who shares it can be a good source of comfort and encouragement. They are not always trained in psychology, but can be an objective, empathetic listener. Their advice might not be entirely unbiased.
w An in-person support group: Talking to other people going through the same experience can be healing. They get it. These are usually led by people trained in psychology or at least healthy group dynamics. They can offer local resources. You can make new friends with shared interests.
w A virtual support group: Talking to people who share the same the challenges can be informative and encouraging.
No one likes spending time with Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer. It is one thing to vent, cleanse, and move forward feeling better. It is another to wallow endlessly in your unhappiness. If all you do is complain, you may be shunned or deleted from the group.
Misery loves company. Be careful that your negative feelings are not being fed and stoked by people rather than alleviated. The wrong group can offer a distorted view of reality. They may feed off of drama and discord.
Be careful who you confide in. The world wide web is full of predators. thieves, and identity thieves. In the virtual world, everyone wears a mask.
There are many crackpots out there ready to sell you the latest “snake oil” or worse, tales of miraculous recovery from this one simple ingredient that doctors don’t know about. Take any piece of advice with a grain a salt and discuss them with knowledgeable people before attempting it.
w A trained therapist: There are times when you need to speak to a professional who is trained to evaluate your situation and offer serious help. If you experience erratic emotional swings, overly heated emotions, or get stuck in a specific emotional state, you need treatment that only therapy can provide.
If your symptoms are caused by medications, only a specially trained psychiatrist can address the chemical imbalance.
If your living situation was toxic to begin with, you should consult a professional. Abusive situations require professional intervention.