As far as I can tell, I’m not the complaining type. Yet ever since I began the weekly chemo-treatments nearly a month ago, I’ve felt the impulse (need?) to open up and let off steam more than usual.
Since the start of the pandemic and the lockdown here in Manila, every Saturday at 5:30 pm a group of six friends get on Zoom for what we call our Sundowner. Each of us brings a snack and a beverage of choice to our 90-minute chinwag session.
We are a diverse group of women, aged from mid-50s to mid-70s, with a few European long-time Asia-residents and a couple of Filipinas; all of us with substantial globetrotting experience. Each week we run the gamut of whatever topics appeared on each of our radars, often leading to practical group advice and help or just holding space for each other.
This is one place I get to vent about my discomforts and concerns without judgement.
I try not to whine too much about my bodily aches and pains (I mean, it gets boring even to me!); neither do I want to hog the conversation. But sharing my real feelings, beyond “I feel okay,” opens me up to be seen and supported.
I certainly feel that way when others in (or out of) the group share their gripes and discontents. It seems to me that hiding our upsets and frustrations robs others of the chance or ability to gain a deeper understanding of what’s going on with us, while openly sharing both triumphs and disappointments is an invitation to show kindness and compassion. It makes everyone feel better and more connected.
For some, like me, unreservedly expressing painful or intense emotions can help to release them.
Just scream! You vent, and the body just feels good after a good old yell.Carol Burnett
For others, not so much, I guess.
Some people can vent their anger, take a breath, and let it go, but I wasn’t one of them.Paul Allen
The science on venting is interesting and aligns with my own observations. I’m totally on board with the concept that our emotions inform us. When we feel anxious or angry or sad, we need to pay attention, get to the bottom of what is disturbing us, and find the best and safest way to proceed.
Yet, flying off the handle is no better than repressing our emotions.
Like all bitter men, Flint knew less than half the story and was more interested in unloading his own peppery feelings than in learning the truth.John Cheever
Psychological studies reveal that venting about a disturbing or traumatic event alone can be harmful and in effect extend the emotional discomfort. That’s not what we want.
What seems to be the magic balance is to use our venting to make mental sense of our emotions and the experience, and sharing with caring listeners who offer new perspectives can help us do just that.
That balance includes not becoming a burden on our family and friends by turning into a broken record of endless grumbles and moans without learning and moving forward.
Suffering is traumatic and awful and we get angry and we shake our fists at the heavens and we vent and rage and weep. But in the process, we discover a new tomorrow, one we never would have imagined otherwise.Rob Bell
Today the group got an earful from me. And you know what? I felt better after our Sundowner than going into it. How amazing is that?
How do you express your painful emotions? Do you have a place where you can safely vent? Is it important to you?
PS. I like this perspective and summary:
Sweating the small stuff is OK, but exercise your complaints lightheartedly. Seek out humor in your whining. Be humble. Be self-aware. If you allow yourself to sweat the small stuff—and I think you should—then you also must force yourself to be detail oriented. If you allow yourself to sweat the small stuff, then you must try your hardest not to sweat the big stuff. That’s the deal we are making in this chapter. I will declare that it is acceptable to complain every once in a while, and you will agree to do it only with the small stuff and not the big stuff. I am giving this advice because venting is extremely healthy. And it is also good practice for self-awareness. Venting about the little things provides you with perspective on how silly and unproductive complaining really is. At the same time, we should recognize that pent-up frustration can have real consequences and be detrimental to our mental health. I firmly believe that allowing yourself the space to complain every once in a while about the little things frees up mental bandwidth to deal with more consequential life events. It is a frustration-release valveDan Crenshaw
Fortitude: American Resilience in the Era of Outrage