Why Can’t You Just Listen? The Rules and Regulations of Venting

August 22, 2012  |  

Venting can be like telling a really good joke.  You know how it feels when you’re talking to a captive audience and you’re building up to your big moment. But all of that can go wrong when someone latches onto a key word, interrupts you and starts going off on their own tangent.  Doesn’t it feel like the air has been let out of your balloon? All you can think is:  “I was just talking…”

That’s how people feel when they’re in the process of venting, but it’s magnified.  You know those times when you’re just extremely upset, overwhelmed, and you call someone because you’ve been holding it in.  Tears are brimming in your eyes, and when your loved one answers the phone, your voice starts shaking as you say:  “Do you mind if I vent to you?”  You feel their compassion for you as they give you the go ahead, and then you start telling them about the frustrating misadventures of [insert your name here].  Then, within your first 20 words, you are brutally cut off with a barrage of demands on what you need to do to change your situation.

As in any civilized society there are rules to just about every scenario of conduct, and yes, there are rules to venting.  Reader, can we vent about venting?

Now, venting can be a very emotional and vulnerable moment for some.  You’ve been holding in your feelings, like the aforementioned balloon, you feel like you have too much air in you and you’re about to pop.  To preserve your durable yet fragile shell, you attempt to let out some of the air that’s been bending you out of shape.  So, when a person begins to let all that hot air out, it’s frustrating when someone tries to stop them.

First, let’s discuss this whole interrupting thing.  When a person is venting, they’re doing so because they feel like their voice has been ignored.  They might have been in a situation where they tried expressing themselves, but people talked over them or dismissed their feelings.  When a person is venting to you and you interrupt them, you’re pretty much validating how other people have treated them, the same treatment that made them need to vent in the first place.  It makes them think that they’re not worthy listening to and that doesn’t feel good.

Second, let’s talk about the emotional affect it has when said interruption happens while you’re spilling your guts to a person.  When you’re in the middle of your rant, and someone starts talking over you, doesn’t it seem to multiply the feelings of frustration that you’ve already had?  I like to call it emotional blue balling.  Like a man, when they’ve been teased and almost brought to the point of no return just to have the person their with get up and walk away, it’s painful. (Well, I’ve been told, I don’t know.)  It’s the same for a person who’s in the process of letting their heart out when someone just cuts them off.  You’re already dealing with the frustration of your original state, and now you’re  dealing with the let down of thinking you were about to finally let out some emotional steam just to be rebuffed.

Now, let’s go on to the useless demands and suggestions.  Now, there’s a time and a place for everything, and when a person is in the middle of expressing how they feel, cutting them off and telling them what to do is not helping them, okay?  First, there could more details to their situation that would be making your current demands null and void.  You telling them to go off on their boss, when they’re about to tell you that they’ve been fired is a little pointless.

Also, telling them what they need to do (as if you’re in their situation) is an emotionally degrading feeling.  It can sometimes make the ventee feel like the Bill Dautrive of the group.  The person might not need to be saved.  They might already know what they need to do to get their lives back on track, they just want to let off the steam of their former situation.

Now, if they ask for advice, or they’re done with their rant, then it’s fine to say:  “Hey, I think I might know something that might help.”  But until that moment presents itself, just have an open ear.

Finally, to the ventee, there are rules too.  If you feel like you need a vent, the moment the person answers the phone, don’t just burst into a barrage of “woe is me.”  Ask for the permission first.  Give people a heads up that you’re about to unload your baggage.  Also, if they decline because they have their own things going on, don’t still try to force it on them anyway, or get mad.  Everyone has their daily crosses to bear.  Try someone else, or get it out by writing it down on your own.  But trying to force someone to hear what you have to say is only going to cause resentment between you two.

Now you know, and knowledge it power.  Now that you’re accountable, let’s do a little better, okay?

Kendra Koger always has an open ear for people to vent to.  Vent to her in 140 characters or less on twitter @kkoger.


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