Thanks to my readers who responded to my last mail where I shared my tips on managing avoidance.
One subscriber responded that she had been avoiding her journaling practice. After scheduling the time, she put her pen to paper and connected in with herself. In her words, “it felt great to be able to vent and acknowledge all the emotions that have been present and unexpressed”.
It felt affirming to get this response, as “venting” is precisely what I had planned to cover next….
The concept of venting – where in essence we dump our thoughts and feelings onto another doesn’t always have the best reputation…. In fact, it can be considered quite rude and inappropriate…. And if not done correctly, can be quite damaging to a relationship….
So what then is the value of venting …. And how to create safety for it to occur?
First things first…. Let’s answer the question of what leads to venting taking place:
In its simplest form, avoidance and repression lead to a buildup of energy…. Somewhat like a dormant volcano… it may not be erupting this moment…. But unlike an extinct volcano, it has the potential to erupt again (maybe at any given moment).
The build up of energy (in our case as messy human individuals… the build up of unacknowledged thoughts, feeling and emotions) … eventually results in pressure which requires a release.
This release can take place in one of two ways:
These unacknowledged thoughts, feelings and emotions are not always in relation to another individual person (or animal or thing). They can (and often are) projected at parts of ourselves (inner parts), or towards a collective or system.
Summary: not expressing (or letting yourself in on) what is irritating or bugging you, or what you really feel about something has the potential to blow up in your face at a very inopportune time.
VALUE POINT ONE: Venting is a process where you can release internal pressure from your emotional system….
VALUE POINT TWO: …. To create space, ensure balance and maintain internal calibration (3 very cool rewards)
Having the opportunity to vent (blow off steam), lets us make sense of the confused and conflicted thoughts and feelings swirling around inside. By being able to get them out in front of you, gives you the chance to see them for what they are in their raw form. (i.e. giving you a real chance to engage with them and process them).
When working with individuals, I often will take clients through a process where we can access these “internal voices”. We thread them out and give raw, unedited expression to each part seeking to be heard and acknowledged. Once we can hear the emotional need behind each aspect, we can then start the process of moving forward with the negotiation between these aspects so that we can achieve an integrated self.
What does this mean in non-therapist speak....
You no longer spend your life in constant see-saw mode of confusion whilst oscillating between guilt and shame, swirling the drain of “what ifs”, “should I”, “I’m not sure…” etc. You find clarity in your decision making and the path of the next defined step opens up… almost like you are Moses ahead of the Red Sea! Imagine that feeling of power and possibility!
So now that we understand the value of venting… how do you go about it constructively…. I.e not vomiting your emotional innards onto another unsuspecting human being (or becoming a very unpleasant internet troll)
STEP ONE: Create the container and obtain consent (crucial)
e.g. If you are alone with yourself, set a timer. If you are with another person, be clear about your intentions to vent – are you looking to offload, or would you like them to be in “fix it” mode and offer support?
What would you like from them for the duration of the venting, and are they willing/available to do that now?
STEP TWO: Identify the parts / characters
e.g. the part of you which feels x the part of which thinks y etc
STEP THREE: Speak from each aspect.
Give them full permission to say it exactly how they are feeling it (even if other parts of you feel what “they” are expressing is unfair, irrational etc) i.e this isn’t the time to be polite or politically correct – this is the opportunity to VENT.
STEP FOUR: Breathe
STEP FIVE: Give gratitude to the person listening / Yourself (whichever applicable)
One acronym that I share with clients for expressing anger or frustration with their partners is SCREAM. 😱 The purpose of this exercise is to do your inner work before engaging your partner in a vented expression of anger. As much as venting is good for your system… it still helps to be clear about your intention as well as setting up the container and purpose so that your communication is ultimately constructive.
S – Self
How important is this matter to you? Could you be misperceiving the situation or the intent? Are you confusing factual with inferential knowledge?
C – Context
Is this the appropriate time/ place to express your anger?
R – Receiver
Is this person the one to whom you wish to express your anger? (Displacement?)
E – Effect
What effect do you want to achieve? How will the other person react? Could you create a snowball?
A – Aftermath
What are the likely long-term repercussions of this expression of anger? Effect on relationship?
M – Messages
If you do decide to express anger – what messages would be appropriate? How can you best communicate your feelings to achieve the desired results.
PRO TIP: Journalling is an invaluable tool to support you to a) be a safe container for venting and making sense of what is going on inside and b) allowing you to do some of your inner work before engaging another person.
One unforgettable nugget that I learnt during my process work training was this: “we are unable to hear another until we have been heard” – think about that for a moment….
How often does conflict escalate purely because each person (or nation) is trying to get louder and louder to ensure that the other person understands them and what they are trying to say/explain etc.
It quickly becomes a scene of trench warfare where you are sending out missiles of information while ducking the incoming missiles.
By having the opportunity to fully allow ourselves to “be heard” we create oodles of space to hear another (or in more frank terms, simply get sh!t done). By being able to hear another, from the perspective of having been heard, you find yourself in the territory where rich and constructive movement is found…
Just this past week I supported a client who had been stuck in a 20 year dynamic where their arguments take the form of “power-over” dynamics – the one is right and the other accepts or defers in order to maintain “peace”. Of course, that peace is just temporary because no real win-win has been obtained. In their latest conflicted communication, we worked through the process of being able to fully express their individual side of the decision whilst making space to hear the other. In less than an hour we had solved a battle which had been ongoing for months, and which would have continued to potentially fatal levels for their relationship.
Don’t underestimate the value of fine tuning your listening into the deepest parts of yourself (and the other) …. Hear what seeks to be heard…. Listen to the whisperings of your own unconscious…. Before they erupt and make life…. Shall we say… messier than it needs to be….