If you’re upset, feeling down, or have a mild case of the blues, you might need to vent
Freud theorized that repressed emotions could cause psychological symptoms, while Aristotle advocated release or catharsis of negative feelings. But lately, it’s more popular for newspapers, researchers, and experts to report that venting when you’re angry doesn’t actually help assuage your anger. But what about venting when you’re all those other emotions that sometimes cause anger but aren’t: sad, upset, depressed, frustrated, or hurt? And what if by venting you can get them out of your head and set them free?
Then, we’d argue, venting works. When Mel of The Clothes Make the Girl posted a vent-filled list that wasn’t angry but instead went over items that caused her frustration, sadness, disappointment, and more, she received a flurry of responses for her readers—all sympathizing and supportive. The rare study by a team of psychologists at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) does support venting, showing that sharing a venting moment helps make sadness and anger less intense. It also states that verbalizing feelings (even if it’s just to yourself) is a type of free talk therapy.
The key difference in Mel’s approach to venting is that she posted her feelings as a way to express and acknowledge them—and then move on. She says, “That way, the whiny emotion gets the attention it wants, but I don’t get mired in the muck along with it while it throws a tantrum.” That’s the antidote for Freud’s repression and the definition of Aristotle’s catharsis.
There are, of course, more ways to express sadness, disappointment, guilt, and other emotions than writing or blogging about them. Studies have shown that drawing or other forms of art are actually more effective than writing, though writing is usually the most accessible. For some emotions, like frustration, exercise can be particularly effective.
What’s essential, however, is to acknowledge emotions—also known as venting—to yourself, your pet, your journal, or perhaps a close group of friends, and then move on. Bringing the emotions up and setting them free is the powerful thing, whether you call that venting or not.