5 Ways To Vent Your Feelings Without Becoming A Total Burden To Your Friends

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vent to friends

Our true friends are there for us in the happy times, like when we get that promotion we've been working so hard to achieve, and in the rainy times, like when we just ate a carton full of ice cream because our relationship ended and we're lying in an unrecognizable ball on the couch, bawling our eyes out.

Cue dramatic music.

But here's a tougher question: How do we know when to stop venting to our friends? After all, they can only take so much of our whining. It's only fair.

Like all relationships, healthy friendships are built on mutuality and balance.

Yet, as a mental health professional whose job it is to contain the feelings of others (while also being a personal trainer for their emotions and challenging their current status quo) I can't help but wonder how much are we supposed to take in our roles as friends?

After all, therapists are human beings, too. Yes, we have specialized training and thousands of hours spent attending to our patients, but that doesn't mean that when the day is over and we reconnect with our friends that we should be pushed back into the role of container yet again.

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It is a known fact for therapists, before we actually became therapists, we had some friendships that probably should have been client-therapist relationships, but we didn't know it at the time.

Meaning, many of our friends probably should have been our clients because we (I really mean "I") spent more time helping them than they did me. It was only after going through my own therapist training that I realized how to create and maintain healthy boundaries in relationships.

However, this realization does not mean that suddenly everyone around me automatically cuts me some slack in the listening department. In fact, some people even gravitate more toward me once they realize what I do for a living. I'm honest and have no shame about what I do because I truly am in my career to help others.

Even if I didn't work as a therapist, my original point stands: I am not a proverbial trash can. But many times I feel that I am perceived as one by others, as if I have no perimeter.

I want to say, "Enough! I'm like way beyond full right now!" but I don't even know if they realize I am over capacity to hear what they have to say.

It doesn't matter what a friend does, professionally, we all need to learn that it isn't fair to just dump our problems on people carelessly. 

So, how do you make sure that you can still vent to your friends in a more constructive way? Try these five strategies:

1. Perspective taking. 

Make sure that the person you're venting to can handle what you're about to unleash on them (even if outside of being your friend, they are a professional caretaker of souls like a psychotherapist or nurse).

Make sure they are in a place themselves where they are equipped to listen to you. If they're also trying to vent to you, then this is probably a sign that you should not be giving them what they are dishing out to you (it's just not typically productive and can result in venting one-upping "Well, I have to do this and this. Oh, yeah? I have to do this, this and this...").

2. Remember, timing is everything. 

In addition to the above, trying to vent to someone when they are working on a deadline or distracted by other tasks in front of them probably isn't the best idea.

Not only will you feel like you got the short end of the stick, the other person will probably be upset that you couldn't see that right now probably wasn't the best time to start complaining.

3. Reflect on it.

Sometimes, I like to go have a conversation with the trees outside my office or the night sky in my backyard. I'm not hallucinating, but rather engaging in what Jung calls "active imagination", or having a conversation with myself with a little space built in.

Trees or stars don't have the same demands that people do. Therefore, getting it all out there in a free association kind of way (journaling or drawing can be super helpful) before you try it on another human can be helpful to de-escalate the intensity of what you're feeling and effectively communicate with others.

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4. Decide if it's worth it.

Putting space between you and the content of what you would like to vent about (as mentioned in #3) can really be helpful in coming back to yourself afterward.

It can help you decide if it is truly worth going to your friend and unleashing your day onto them or if you would be better off doing something nice for yourself (drawing a bubble bath, going for a walk, listening to a song or podcast that matches your mood) and coming back to the table with a fresh perspective on the situation.

5. Decide how much time you're going to spend on it.

Just like you have a budget for how much money you can spend in a month, you should also have a budget of time for how long you want to be upset about your particular situation. Once you have realized how much time you're willing to vent about a situation, set a timer and get a willing friend (if you've decided you just have to spill your guts) or even your dog, and start talking!

If, after trying these strategies, you are still feeling like you did not clear the air by venting out your frustrations, this is where finding a mental health professional may be helpful to guide you through your feelings.

Ultimately, we can never underestimate the power of a truly present face to face interaction. We are social creatures who, now, more than ever, need to support each other through all the phases of our lives.

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Dr. Maxine Langdon Starr is a marriage and family therapist specializing in adolescents and young adults.

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