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Ethan Kross
Ethan Kross

Does Venting Your Feelings Actually Help?

Greater Good Magazine 6/21/21

We all get upset from time to time—some of us more than others. Whether we’re sad about the loss of a loved one, angry at friends or family, or fearful about the state of the world, it often feels good to let it all out.

That’s because sharing our emotions reduces our stress while making us feel closer to others we share with and providing a sense of belonging. When we open up our inner selves and people respond with sympathy, we feel seen, understood, and supported.

But “sharing” covers a lot of different modes of communication. Are some healthier than others, over the long run? Science suggests that it depends, in part, on how you share and how people respond to you. Expressing our emotions often to others may actually make us feel worse, especially if we don’t find a way to gain some perspective on why we feel the way we do and take steps to soothe ourselves.

Why we vent

Our emotions are valuable sources of information, alerting us that something is wrong in our environment and needs our attention. Whether we need to confront someone who’s abusing us, hide to avoid danger, or seek comfort from friends, feelings like anger, fear, and sadness help us prepare to meet the moment.

But if feelings are internal signals, why do we share them with others?

“We want to connect with other people who can help validate what we’re going through, and venting really does a pretty good job at fulfilling that need,” says researcher Ethan Kross, author of the book Chatter. “It feels good to know there’s someone there to rely on who cares enough to take time to listen.”

Sharing our feelings also provides an opportunity to gain insight into what’s causing our difficult feelings and avert future upsets. Sometimes, just verbalizing what’s bothering us to another person helps to clarify the situation and name the emotions involved. Or, if we get caught in emotional whirlwinds, our confidants can provide new perspectives and offer sound advice, says Kross.

Unfortunately, this latter part of the equation often gets lost in the shuffle, he adds.

“When we get stuck in a venting session, it feels good in the moment, because we’re connecting with other people,” he says. “But if all we do is vent, we don’t address our cognitive needs, too. We aren’t able to make sense of what we’re experiencing, to make meaning of it.”

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