An LEOs Prerogative to Vent

It feels good in the moment to vent, but what are the long term effects on agency morale, your mood, and in your relationships? Is it truly constructive or destructive?

I’ve often found the person feeling a need or right to vent does not really want any solutions or help solving the problem behind their distress or anger; they just want to release their emotional upheaval so they can feel better but again, what about the other person?  The “venter” has just transferred all their negative energy onto the “ventee.”  The venter gets to walk away leaving the ventee feeling like crap.  The venter gets to feel better until bothered, frustrated, irritated, peeved, or angered by something else.  And there is always a something else.  For those of us on the receiving end, we get tired of it or, if we’re just the designated ventee about outside problems, the complaining just becomes so much white noise.

So venting and complaining is not a good solution, it just creates more problems.  As a therapist – or sometimes even in social situations - when I see a venter or complainer come my way, I get a knot in my stomach (which is how I know I’m in an emotionally unhealthy situation, am being manipulated, or maybe have an Axis 2 client) and want to walk away because the first thought that goes through my mind is, “What now?’ Habitual complainers always have a problem with something.

The research of the literature also suggests that people who constantly vent and complain usually have exaggerated an emotional response; they are not seeing the reality of the situation, but they distort it and see it for something it is not.  They make a bigger deal out of something than it needs to be or is.  They are also people who blame others, or circumstances they believe beyond their control, for their distress instead of seeking a solution or taking personal responsibility.  This puts them in a state of helplessness, and in the role of victim.  Venters and complainers will often state, as written by psychologist Matthew McKay in his book “When Anger Hurts” that “they experience less support, less enjoyment, and a greater sense of loneliness than their non-hostile counterparts. For many people, the price of anger is isolation. Friendships are distant, love relationships severed."  Inveterate venters and complainers often have a history of conflictual, broken, and failed relationships.

Another reason people vent is that they actually have very poor coping skills, struggle with change, and have poor emotional resiliency.  All these open a person up for lower immune system, depression, anxiety, and less contentment with life.

How I explain this to my clients is “if you are someone who is most often angry, venting, or complaining, people will get tired of you.”  They will walk away.  They experience you as emotionally immature, and in that you lose credibility.  You also lose trust because the people around you, who want to be there, never know what is going to set you off into your venting mode so that they feel like they have to walk on eggshells around you.  This only provokes anxiety for the other person.  It also puts the responsibility of your mood onto others and asks them to be your caretaker and rescuer instead of a peer.  It is an improper power balance.  In essence you are giving the other person control over how you feel and, when you feel bad, it is their fault.  When you get stuck in that mindset people around you will feel drained, worn out, and emotionally fatigued.  They eventually leave because nothing they do is ever enough and there is always – always -another problem.  And in all this you are not there for them.

So based upon the explanation of venting and complaining, can you imagine what happens when a husband is going home and venting to their spouse & family about the job?  Is that a place people want to live?  Imagine an agency of 50 LEOs with 10 of them habitually complaining?  What does that do for morale & job productivity, especially if that is being role-modeled by supervisors?  Imagine what it does for the person who is the venter and their mood.  Do they feel contentment, happiness, or fulfillment or do they feel angry, anxious, sad, and helpless?  Living inside of their mind is an emotional roller coaster. 

Next month we are going to look at other forms of communication that allow you to express what is getting you ramped up that are productive and emotionally satisfying for everyone.  It’s not about denying yourself of your emotions or holding them in, but learning how to manage change and frustrations effectively.

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