Can venting ever be “productive”?
Is it ok sometimes to just “wallow” in our feelings?
Yes, of course.
As many of you who’ve worked with me for a while already know: I believe that there is a time and a place for everything. Everything fits somewhere, sometime, somehow.
We can relate to wallowing and venting with compassion, consciousness, and clear intentions, recognizing them as temporary aspects of a developmental journey, or we can find ourselves stuck in unconscious, repeating patterns that ultimately do more harm than good.
What makes the difference?
First, let’s recognize and name some of the negative connotations that many of us associate with “wallowing” and “venting” in our cultures. “Wallowing” tends to bring to mind self-indulgent, victim-like states, whereas “venting” tends to bring to mind a more self-entitled and righteous internal state. They represent two poles of a disempowered state. On the one hand we are “one-down,” a victim of our feelings, and on the other hand we are in a “one-up” state of self-expression and indignance.
The Experience of Wallowing
When we toss around in our feeling-states in an unproductive, stuck, and self-entitled ways, it can be because parts of ourselves just want to be “little” and “taken care of.”
Perhaps we have some unmet needs for nurturance, support, and empathy. Perhaps we are longing for more permission from ourselves and others to just feel how life feels without the pressure to do anything about it. Perhaps we are tired of the relentless pressure to be productive, useful, or effective all the time.
We roll around in our feelings in messy and muddy ways, living in the belief that our personal present-moment suffering gives us the right to be absolved of adulting – just for a while. When we are fully immersed in wallowing, we’re not that interested in relief or forward movement yet, and some part of ourselves sometimes even gets some relief from being “emotionally disabled” for a while.
The next step is self-connection and self-empathy.
When we have been numbing out from our feelings for too long, it can be helpful to give ourselves permission to simply feel whatever is wanting to move through us. The upside to “wallowing,” when done with the intention to heal, become aware, or move through something gracefully, is that we can use it to give ourselves permission to feel, to be aware of our feelings, to slow down and get present to whatever is wanting to emerge within us. We’re no longer repressing, suppressing, or glossing over what was previously unfelt. We find words for our feelings. We feel them, acknowledge them, and process them.
The Experience of Venting
Venting is often a form of emotional discharge and is often done in unskillful, indirect, or aggressive ways. Sometimes we use venting to simply entrench a disconnecting and self-righteous position or to try to form alliances with some people against other people, which has a negative, fragmenting, and destructive effect on trust and relationships. However, venting can be a very helpful counter-move to self-silencing. If we don’t give ourselves permission to express ourselves and have a habit of holding ourselves back and keeping it all in, then venting can be a good way to get more aware of all that wants to come up.
The next step is responsible self-expression.
Remember that venting can give us some permission to know where we stand, what we think, where our pain is, and what may be deeply important to us about any given situation or event. If you need to vent about something in order to get more self-connection and clarity, go ahead and vent to a neutral third party with the clear intention of getting more conscious, clear, and empowered. Then, practice taking your newfound awareness to the person involved in the most kind, honest, direct, and gentle way possible.
The Experience of Self-Empathy and Self-Compassion
While unconscious and reactive wallowing and venting often have harmful effects on ourselves and others, our self-empathy and self-compassion practices help us to stay conscious and compassionate with ourselves and others in more fruitful and life-affirming ways.
So, when you find yourself stuck in cycles of wallowing and venting as you try to move through painful situations in your life, give yourself full permission to wallow in your feelings and to vent out all your anger, with two important caveats:
Don’t harm yourself or others. Remember, feeling your feelings and letting them move through you takes courage and wisdom. However, amplifying your feelings and using them as an excuse to harm yourself or others is destructive and leads to more suffering, not less. Likewise, talking through your thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and needs with supportive people can be a helpful step in organizing your inner world and getting more clarity and self-connection. However, getting attached to your judgments, criticisms, and evaluations of wrongness in the world simply leads to more fragmentation, disconnection, and relational pain.
Treat wallowing and venting as a developmental step in your journey, paving the way for you to take the important next step into deeper (self) empathy. Ultimately, remember that all you’re really trying to do is to meet deeply legitimate and life-affirming needs that you have. Put your attention there. Are you longing for more self-connection? Acceptance? Understanding? Clarity? Hope? Keep your focus and attention on your feelings and needs, along with a deep commitment to constantly be refining and updating your habitual strategies into those practices that are actually more closely aligned with what you’re needing and valuing.
Wallowing and venting are novice forms of self-empathy and self-expression. Remember that they are just steps along the way to a much more generative and satisfying way of being, where we practice
feeling our feelings,
connecting with our needs and desires,
grounding ourselves in our values,
greeting ourselves with empathy and compassionate self-connection, and
sorting through our internal material to surface the essence of what needs to be communicated to others in kind, direct ways.
These are the essential wisdom practices we reach for as we nurture life-affirming and sustainable relationships with ourselves and others.
I’d love to hear from you!
What helps you break the spell of venting and wallowing as you move into the more courageous practices of feeling your feelings and connecting with your deeper needs? What supports you in this journey? What gets in the way?
Share in the comments below.
WANT TO GO DEEPER IN THIS WORK?
Here are a few of my programs that might be of interest to you: