Breaking the Persistent Venting Cycle

May 11 , 2024
By Kidist Yidnekachew

A lengthy phone call with a close friend recently left me surprised. She brought up a familiar issue, seeking advice even though we had discussed it before. I recall that we had talked it through, reaching a seeming resolution about a year ago. However, the same frustration resurfaced.

Initially, I assumed she just needed to get it out of her system, but mid-conversation realised that simply acknowledging her struggles could be the emotional support needed to move forward. After she vented for what felt like an hour, she asked for my perspective.

While venting can be a valuable release valve, like spilling a steaming cup of tea to cool down, it does not necessarily translate to a desire for solutions. Sometimes, we simply crave the comfort and validation of our struggles. However, dwelling in this cycle can be like pushing the snooze button on a life alarm – it might offer temporary relief, but the underlying issues remain unaddressed.

Understanding why someone revisits problems can be tricky. Unforeseen circumstances, external pressures, or internal anxieties might be at play. The key is to shift the conversation from venting to exploring solutions. Fear of change and failure can be paralysing. Discussing the problem becomes a way to avoid that intimidating first step into the unknown. Complaining acts as a pressure valve, temporarily releasing frustration. In a world overflowing with uncertainties, negativity becomes a strange comfort, a way to connect with others through shared grievances.

Change is daunting, with its potential to disrupt routines and comfort zones. Chronic complainers, especially, may find solace in the familiar negativity, a well-worn path compared to the uncharted territory of solutions. Blaming external factors allows them to avoid personal responsibility and the effort required for change. This "victim mentality" shields them from the perceived risks of failure, but ultimately hinders progress. Stuck in this negativity bubble, they miss out on opportunities for growth and improvement.

Recognising the limitations of simply listening, I knew I needed a more proactive approach. Drawing on what psychologists refer to as "motivational interviewing", I began asking open-ended questions that gently nudged my friend towards exploring solutions. It is a technique used by therapists and others to help people explore and strengthen their motivation for change.

I asked open-ended questions that encouraged reflection and self-discovery. Shifting focus to answer questions about whether she considered approaching it from a different angle and what her version of the ideal outcome would be, helped her shift focus from frustration to possibility.

It was better to be solution-focused. The prospect of addressing overwhelming problems can be difficult, so I reassured my friend that my support extended beyond simply listening. We broke down the issue into smaller, achievable steps. I believe celebrating each small victory along the way would build momentum and a sense of accomplishment, ultimately propelling her forward in overcoming her challenges.

Setting boundaries is crucial in a supportive role. Offering a listening ear for 20 minutes and then gently suggesting brainstorming solutions together shows respect for both time and progress. The ultimate goal is to move beyond the cycle of venting and guide individuals toward taking tangible actions. By being a supportive presence, promoting potential solutions, and setting boundaries, I learned that it is possible to empower friends to discover long-lasting resolutions and achieve the outcomes they desire.

PUBLISHED ON May 11,2024 [ VOL 25 , NO 1254]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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