By Dana Basu of Everything But Crazy
Why should you vent?
I lost my cool today. It wasn’t a big thing, just the usual suspects: having a timeline, running late, the baby crying, multiple family members asking me to do things all at once, and everyone getting in my way as I attempted to complete those tasks. My highly sensitive self was feeling it.
Without thinking about it, I found myself venting to my husband about one source of stress — my daughter constantly hanging off or in front of my legs, like a cat, which caused me to keep tripping over myself. This isn’t unusual for her, but it is quite irritating even on a good day. So when I already had multiple other factors piling on, I just had less patience for this behavior today.
Before my husband even said a word, I saw the look on his face. I know this look. I’ve seen it over and over again. It is not a look of empathy. Or understanding. Instead it’s his preaching look. It’s the look he gives right before he starts to tell me that someday I’ll miss this. (The inference being—so you shouldn’t be irritated right now). And that little ledge I was standing on? Well, that look just pushed me right over.
It’s not like my husband was wrong. OF COURSE I’m going to miss this someday! That sweet face, those deep brown eyes, that little giggle that dances in the air… dare I even say all the needing. I’m going to miss it, and I know it.
But while that may be true, living in the hot zone 24/7 with these little ones is exhausting. There are so many feelings that accumulate just in one day: frustration, fatigue, joy, guilt, excitement, loneliness, love and countless others. Being a parent frequently requires you to hold onto those feelings, to set them aside for a later time. Because you just don’t always have the luxury of taking 5 to go meditate, or blowing off some steam with a little exercise in the middle of the afternoon.
So then you have a problem. If you leave those feelings alone forever, they will just start to accumulate, like lava growing inside a volcano. The lava will keep growing and growing until KABOOM! … one day it explodes. So what’s a busy parent to do? Sure, meditation and yoga and therapy are really wonderful, really helpful ways of healing. But what about when those things just aren’t possible? It turns out venting might be a helpful solution.
If you look up the word “vent” on dictionary.com, this is what it says: “an opening that allows air, gas, or liquid to pass out of a confined space.” If we apply this to the volcano analogy, we can imagine a little container of feelings–lava that lives inside each of us. But there’s only so much room. So if we’re looking for an alternative to that explosion we talked about before, then venting out a little of those feelings at a time, before the feelings build up, seems like a much preferable solution.
How others respond to these venting sessions is important, though. Mostly because it’s not just the act of releasing the emotions that matters, but equally important is the validation we get in return. We need to hear “I get it,” and “it makes sense why you’re feeling that way.” We need reminders that we aren’t actually crazy. Sure, there are times when we are a little off our rocker, and we need someone to gently guide us back to reality. But most of the time the feelings that come up in any given moment are valid! It may be that the way we are expressing them isn’t the best, but the feelings…the feelings are still warranted.
So when someone’s first response to your venting session is to tell you why you shouldn’t feel the way you do, it’s like a sucker punch to the gut. Not only do you feel bad, but now you feel bad about feeling bad. And then your effort to try and release some of the feelings–lava that was growing inside–has backfired, and instead you’ve just poured some more in. That obviously isn’t going to cut it long term. So here’s my best advice to all you fellow venters:
1. Find an empathic confidant.
If you’re lucky enough to already have such a person in mind, then consider this your nudge to keep using that person. (And then go ahead and be an empathic listener back, too!) If you don’t have such a person in your life yet, or if you haven’t crossed that line into deeper waters of friendship, then your best bet is to look for someone with shared experience. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, look for someone who also spends her days changing diapers, singing ABCs, and wiping away scrapes and tears. If you’re a working mom, find someone who knows what it’s like to always feel split in two places and always coming up short. If you’re a single parent, find someone who knows what it’s like to worry and dream about your child alone. Certainly, you can find a person who validates your feelings without having shared experience, but it’s a lot easier when he or she can relate.
2. Educate the people already in your life about the importance of releasing your feelings.
It would make life a whole lot easier if the people you spend the most time with could be the same people that allow you to vent and respond by validating your feelings. This scenario gives you the opportunity to release a bit of those lava-feelings in the moment and then go about your day. So… husbands, partners, bffs, parents, coworkers… whoever they are, help them understand your need to vent is a way of taking care of yourself. Some people may need a reminder that you only need them to listen, as many people hear venting and feel pressured to “fix it.” While sometimes that is helpful, more often we just want to feel heard and understood. So go ahead and share this blog with them, or just tell them that you’ve got lava inside that needs to come out before it explodes. Hopefully they will understand.
3. Learn to validate your own feelings.
Sometimes our go-to people are busy, or maybe we don’t have any established yet, but that doesn’t mean our lava-feelings get put on hold. Those feelings never stop accumulating, so learning to validate our own feelings in response to our trying moments can be a great coping strategy. As parents, we often tend to be our own biggest critics, and at any given moment we may find a running commentary in our heads about what we did wrong, what we should have done better, or how we are screwing up our kids. That is pretty counterproductive to our goal of releasing of those lava-feelings. So next time you find yourself with some intense feelings, whether you’re angry, frustrated, sad, or overwhelmed, try saying the following sentence to yourself: “It makes sense that I feel this way because (fill in the blank)” and just see if that helps cut yourself some slack and release some of those feelings.
As for me, well, I’m following all three steps, because you never can have enough strategies to help you stay sane on this parenting journey!
So I called one of my go-to bffs, a person I know will say something that immediately helps me calm down. I went through a mental laundry list of all the factors that led to me feeling that frustration in the moment (i.e. sleep deprivation, having approximately 5 minutes a day to myself, my own need for personal space, etc). And then I told my husband that his response was very unhelpful and I was going to write a blog about him. Although we have talked about this before, here’s hoping that having it in written form helps him understand that venting is not a way of under-appreciating my family. It’s my survival tool so I can move on and enjoy the next moment to its fullest.
This post was originally published on Everything But Crazy.
About the Author
Dana Basu, PsyD is a Clinical Psychologist who is currently a mostly stay-at-home mama of two. Her training gave her lots of good info about raising mentally healthy kids, but her parenting experience has given her a good dose of humility in terms of trying to put that into action. Dana created https://everythingbutcrazy.com/ to share ideas about how to raise healthy children while still staying sane. You can follow her on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/everythingbutcrazy/ or on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/everythingbutcrazy/saved/.