Stop letting people vent on you
“There is no such thing as ‘releasing’ your anger; there is only rehearsing it.”
—Thich Nhat Hanh
Among the most destructive teachings of western pop-psychology is the idea of venting. “Get it off your chest,” we say. Well, let’s stop—unless we’re the ones they’re angry at, we’re not helping anyone by allowing people to spew their anger and frustration all over us.
Venting implies the release of pressure, as if all that anger inside has to get out or you’re going to explode. The problem is that anger doesn’t work that way. Anger doesn’t go away when we vent, it just feels like it for a little while. But it always comes back. Unless we actually address the conflict causing the anger, unless we allow the anger to teach us about our unreal illusions and unmet expectations, it will continue to ask for our attention, like a little child.
When people vent, they are not actually addressing that child’s concerns, they’re just allowing that child to speak for them. And the more the child gets to scream out loud, without any true attention from us, the child gets to “rehearse” and practice its begging.
I once did a talk on ScreamFree Leadership to a large firm of natural gas engineers. Their ideas about venting have certainly shaped mine. To them, venting is about releasing either steam that’ll burn you, or noxious chemicals that’ll poison you. So, when people just want to “vent” to you, ask ‘em if you can get out of the way first.
Peace begins with pause,