Venting Can Be Super Healthy Until 1 Common Pitfall Gets in the Way

Photo: Getty Images/Rafael Elias
Is there anything more gratifying than leaning into a novelesque text-message venting session? Based on my own inbox and tendency to complain, the answer is probably not. But as much as we get a feel-good release when we're grumpy with our boss, feel gossipy about your cousin's bridal behavior, or completely over a friend's relationship drama, venting has a major snag when it comes to getting things done. That is, there's a strict time limit when you should stop complaining and start thinking.

Let's talk about what happens when we go on a long, unhinged, "Ma'am, this is a Wendy's" type of rant. You're complaining to your co-worker about how your supervisor asked you to stay late the other day. You're going on about how they probably hate you and they're trying to ruin your life, steeped in negativity. But while it may feel like torture to be kept late, we don't have the full picture of what's going on.

Maybe your supervisor heard from his supervisor that you're on the way out if your output isn't better, in which case he totally has your back. Venting to a third party is going to paint your manager in a poor light, and it's not going to solve the problem. That's the key here: It's not going to solve the problem. What happens when you lean too hard into this cycle of venting is that you become more inclined to just complain.

"It feels good to vent, but venting can get someone deeper into a negative hole," says psychotherapist Jennifer Silvershein, LCSW. "I encourage clients to give themselves 60 to 120 seconds to vent, and then transition into problem solving."

According to Silvershein, when we have a solution focused mindset we solve problems quicker and smarter. It keeps us out of the perpetual vent cycle, and the more positive and clear we can keep our mind, the quicker we will resolve the issue. The outcome is a Bermuda Triangle of sorts, because it traps you. Straight, unfiltered venting can can villainize people we really love or at least respect, and whomever serves sounding board to your rant is only likely to reinforce your negative image of them—and nothing changes or gets solved.

That said, you don't have to commit to a full complaint cleanse if you need to get something off your chest. Trust me, we all deserve a moment to vent, so let those feelings out. But when your two minutes are up, shift to figuring out why you happen to be having a problem, and maybe talk to the problem-causing person to their face.

Speaking of which, here's a three-step plan to stop your constantly complaining friend from confusing you with their therapist. And if you have a "sticky mind," psychs explain how to stop assuming the worst.

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