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Are you venting or are you complaining about your problems?
We are told that venting is often a helpful tool to find emotional support and validate your feelings. It’s a means to tell a friend, family member, or someone in your support network that you need emotional support with something difficult that you’re trying to navigate.
Complaining, on the other hand, is considered to be a negative action that can strain your relationships, worsen your mental health, and make you feel miserable.
What’s the difference?
It’s a matter of perspective.
Complaining and venting are similar. They are so similar, in fact, that they can be interpreted differently depending on who you ask.
For some people, any kind of venting is just complaining. These people are often portrayed as emotionally unavailable, insensitive, or just harsh; but that isn’t a fair assessment. The truth is that not everyone processes their emotions in a similar way. They may view venting as complaining because they experience no emotional catharsis or relief from airing out their problems.
The person may also be in a position where they know that venting will not offer any kind of relief. At some point, some people just get tired of talking about what’s going on with them because they know that talking isn’t going to make a difference for them. A couple of examples are people with mental illness, people living in poverty, or people with trauma scars that they are still trying to work on.
For example, if you live with a chronic mental illness, it can get really exhausting talking about it, because you know that talking about it isn’t going to change it. And then you also have to deal with idiotic statements like “get more sun,” “think positively,” or “you need religion.”
Talking about it may not be a good option with some people. Everyone’s emotional landscape is different. Some people can’t provide this kind of emotional support because it’s just not something that is natural to them.
In this section, I used the phrase “talking about it” in a specific way. Talking about it is not the same thing as psychotherapy. Psychotherapy is not “talking about it.” Instead, it is the clinical process of helping people with mental health struggles to find peace, and learn effective ways to manage and resolve those struggles.
Do not mistake “talking about it” with your friends and family with therapy. They are not the same thing at all. If you are trying to work toward actual resolution and solving your mental health problems, talking about it is not a replacement for psychotherapy.
Venting serves a purpose for emotional resolution.
The act of venting is used as one way to reach an emotional resolution.
For example, let’s say that you have a terrible at work. You woke up on the wrong side of the bed, the people you had to deal with were angry and obstinate, your boss was in a foul mood, and you have all of these deadlines staring you in the face. You’re anxious, angry, and overwhelmed and you just need some way to get it out of your system.
That is where venting comes in.
You may sit down and talk with your best friend, romantic partner, or even a counselor about the garbage day you had just to blow that negative energy out of yourself. You talk about it, you get it out of your system, and you’ll likely feel better because you’re not bottling it up inside of you.
Complaining, on the other hand, doesn’t really serve a purpose. A lot of times people just complain in circles. They aren’t looking to be heard or any kind of emotional resolution. They are just going around and around with their problems. They may even end up making themselves more anxious, angry, and upset because they just stay focused on the problem and spinning it over in their mind.
And that’s where rumination comes in.
The harmful effects of rumination.
Rumination is a word used to describe dwelling on a negative, disturbing thing. The person typically won’t stop thinking or talking about it but will instead keep going over it in their mind. People with anxiety or other mental health conditions may struggle with rumination more than others.
Why is rumination a bad thing? Well, not only does it lead to complaining, it also serves no positive purpose in keeping your mind and emotions healthy. Instead of expressing their difficult emotions with the point of finding relief from them, the person is flagellating themselves with the problem and often making it worse than it needs to be.
To go back to the previous example, hard times at work often means hard times at home if you can’t leave them at work. Still, you have to learn how to shut it off and leave it at work or vent it off so you don’t ruin the rest of your day or days off. This sort of thing is called “compartmentalization” and it’s a skill that everyone should work on so all the positive and negatives don’t bleed in together.
Rumination occurs when you are no longer thinking productively about a problem. It is reasonable to think about a problem to try to find a solution for it. That’s normal. What is not normal is to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about a problem, coming up with a potential solution, and then just going back to thinking about the problem.
There comes a point where you just aren’t going to have new ideas about it. And while it can be helpful to talk about that problem to get another perspective from someone you trust, there’s no great point in bringing it up over and over and over again even though you’ve already talked about it. There’s no point in thinking about it all day and all night once you’ve been clued in to a potential solution.
Granted, that is much easier said than done. Again, several mental health problems can cause this to happen whether you want it to or not. A lot of people experience rumination who would like nothing more than to not dwell on those problems because they already know what the problem and potential solutions are. Still, their brain stays fixated on it.
A good way to avoid complaining.
Complaining and venting typically require some kind of listener. An easy way to avoid complaining is to just ask the person you’ve been venting to if they feel that your venting is a healthy thing or not. Chances are pretty good they’ll be able to give you an answer on whether or not you’ve been complaining too often.
You may also want to consider asking the person who you vent to whether or not they are willing to listen to you vent. Assuming they are generally supportive, they may be able to clue you in on whether or not you’re talking about the thing too much.
The additional challenge for you is to maintain your balance with these people. A supporter may tell you that they feel like you’re ruminating on a particular thing. You’ll have to be the one to not take personally and be willing to continue to talk and listen to that person.
Some people take any criticism of their venting as the other person saying, “I don’t want to talk to you at all,” which may not be the case. They may have already heard you vent about your less-than-stellar romantic partner twenty times and are just over it.
So pick your battles. Sometimes you should vent, sometimes you shouldn’t. If you find yourself excessively venting about the same things, you may very well be complaining.
Do you struggle to hold back when all you want to do is complain about things? You’re not alone. But there is a better way.
We really recommend you speak to a therapist to get your thoughts and worries out in a healthy way. Why? Because they are trained to help people in situations like yours. They can help you to look at, analyze, and address your problems and challenges rather than dwelling on them.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
While you may try to work through this yourself, it may be a bigger issue than self-help can address. And if it is affecting your mental well-being, relationships, or life in general, it is a significant thing that needs to be resolved.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues that they never really get to grips with. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You may also like:
- How To Vent To Someone When You Really Need To
- 20 Healthy Coping Skills: Strategies To Help With Negative Emotions
- 10 Harmful Effects Of Bottling Up Your Emotions (+ How To Stop)
- How To Compartmentalize Your Emotions And Thoughts
- 12 Ways To Stop Thinking About Something