Reality Check: The Impulse to Vent

Have you ever felt that frustration has control of you? That you can’t hold back; you have to let it out somehow?

If so, how well has that “letting out” worked for you?

Venting can feel really good at the moment. There’s that delightful release of tension; stress gone! Unfortunately, that moment is often followed by less-delightful moments when you get to experience the long-term consequences of your momentary relief.

When venting happens on-line, the long-term destruction can be much greater than many realize. Too often, in the heat of the moment, folks forget that their angry comments are not just seen by close friends, but also potentially by their bosses, their teachers, their neighbours, even their mothers!

Rachel knows that she has a temper and that she is often in conflict. From her perspective, she’s just defending herself against people who don’t treat her fairly.

So it’s no big surprise that Rachel has conflicts with her boss. The most recent event occurred when Rachel made what seemed to her to be a perfectly reasonable request. She wanted an extended lunch break so she could take her son to an appointment.

The boss denied it with this justification: “If I let you break the rules, I’d have to do it for everybody.”

Rachel perceived this to be unfair and patronizing, and chose to respond with frustration.

She posted on-line exactly what she thought of her boss, her work environment, and her company. The post was, shall we say…a bit harsh.

The consequences were swift and negative. Her five-minute on-line rant turned out to be a career-destroying move. Her future with the company was over. Tearful apologies and promises of never again had no effect. It took years to build a career; minutes to destroy it.

Clearly, there are significant downsides to giving in to the impulse to vent. But what if you can’t help it?

Along with believing that other people cause your frustration comes a connected belief—that you then have no control over your response. “You made me so frustrated that I had to…” is a statement that we often accept as cause-effect. But is it, really? Does someone else really have control over my frustration? And even if they did, does it follow that they control my response?

The language used in choice theory is different than our usual language. For example, choice theory uses, “I am choosing to frustrate” rather than, “You make me so frustrated.” This sounds awkward (until you get used to it.)

However, the language has a purpose. When you replace a phrase such as, “He made me…” with “I chose to…” it emphasizes that you have more control over your behaviour than you might have thought. This is an empowering concept—it highlights that the control is within you.

Whether on-line or in person, when the urge to “let fly” comes over you, it’s worthwhile to take a moment and ask yourself, “What do I want to accomplish? And will this action take me closer to that goal? Or drive me further away?”

So, do you think Rachel could have chosen a response other than frustration?

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