Ever been so mad, frustrated, or upset you just pop off, blow your stack, vent some steam? Think back on a time you vented some negative feelings. Was it helpful, or did it cause you problems? How did you feel about yourself afterward?
While the science has not yet reached a consensus, the evidence suggests that that venting may not be as helpful as many of us believe it to be. There is much research that supports the claim that venting is not a healthy way to release anger, though in specific circumstances it may provide some benefits for regulating emotion. It seems to depend on how you vent, as people may vent in many different ways, from writing a lengthy Facebook post to punching holes in the wall.
Movies and TV shows might have you believe slamming a fist into a wall or punching bag is a normal, safe way to release anger — after all, you are not hurting anyone. But punching a wall is not a helpful way to deal with anger. Not only will you hurt your hand and potentially damage property, but you might also even get angrier.
One study found that venting to a 3rd party (someone who was not involved in the situation that provoked the emotion) could help you feel better, and even more so if their responses were reinforcing (emphasizing internal and controllable causes, such as the offender’s naturally toxic personality) rather than reinterpreting (emphasizing external and uncontrollable causes, such as circumstantial factors). Most of us have probably had the experience of being on the receiving end of these rants and may have witnessed for ourselves how after cycling through the usual responses of ‘oh really’, ‘wow’, and ‘that sucks’, the venter becomes more calm.
However, the same study suggests that when venting by engaging directly with the offender themselves, the response received plays a crucial role in either fueling or abating the venter’s anger. If the offender reinforces, for example by ascribing the situation to the offender’s own characteristic behavior, it may be unsurprising that this can act to exacerbate the venter’s anger and escalate the situation. Alternatively, offenders who reinterpret, for example suggesting a consideration for their perspective as well as environmental circumstances, can ease the frustrations of the venter.
Research has shown that the difference between positive and negative venting can be focused on the ways in which the person hearing the vent responds, both through speech and action…When people vent, they may not need a verbal response. They want someone to listen.. SOLER is an acronym used in the counseling discipline to teach body language that conveys active listening.
S – stands for facing the individual SQUARELY, which means that you are facing the person, both head and body.
O – stands for OPEN posture, which means arms are not crossed.
L – stands for leaning toward the person.
E – stands for maintaining EYE CONTACT.
R – stands for RELAXED in the other behaviors listed.”
- “6 Virtues, and 6 Vices, of Venting” – Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, Psychology Today, April 2, 2014
- “Is Venting Good for Us?” – Future Minds Lab, November 27, 2019
- “Punching a Hole in the Wall Is a Big Deal” — Healthline, October 27, 2020
- “The Psychology of Venting” – Dr. Charity Kurz, Thought Hub, March 16, 2017