Synopsis: This mini-love-lesson presents a super common, communication, love problem; and then goes on to explain how the OUT part of the process works; vent assistance and interference; how the IN part works; and some of what to do and not to do.
A Super Common, Communication, Love ProblemSee if you can figure out what these common questions have to do with each other. “Why do I feel shut down when my lover wants to fix my problem instead of listening to me?” “How come it helps me more to vent to a person who shows care than to just vent and blow off steam when I’m alone?” “Since venting, even with someone who shows love, doesn’t really change anything or solve any problems why do so many people want to do it?” “How is it that just about every time I try to advise or analyze my lover’s problems it starts an argument and we both end up feeling bad?”
Couples, parents with upset children, family members, friends and others in love relationships of one type or another very frequently get into dysfunctionality in ways that lead to these types of questions. Often worsening feelings, emotional distancing, estrangement and even breakups occur because people don’t understand the In and Out brain process involved. With that understanding all this trouble usually can be avoided.
How the “Out” Part of the Process WorksOne person starts talking about a difficulty or bad experience they’ve had, and as they do they begin to vent their bad feelings. The bad or negative emotions they have experienced are, in essence, stored up inside them causing increased muscular tension, strained ligaments and tendons, digestive fluid imbalance, blood pressure difficulty, stress hormone production and a number of brain chemistry imbalances, along with various unhealthy malfunctions, all of which they are not consciously aware of.
Several forms of toxicity are occurring in several biological systems, and will continue unless a venting process is engaged in. Expulsive and cathartic talking with a fair amount of well demonstrated, unhappy emotions being expressed through tone of voice, facial expression, posture and movements, along with certain kinds of verbiage like complaining, cussing, blaming, griping and generally bemoaning, etc. start and facilitate the venting process.
The venting process then releases, relaxes, relieves, reverses and re-balances the neurochemical and biological, unhealthy processes mentioned above. When that occurs we feel better, or at least much less bad, because we are neurobiologically better after venting than before venting. So long as nothing destructive occurs while venting, it is a healthful process.
It is the limbic system of our brain that primarily processes our emotions. Venting is an appropriate word neurobiologically. That’s because it is thought that our limbic system operates in a way to trigger the removal of the toxicity and harmful hormones which occur with bad feelings, and assists sending them on to our waste removal system when we are venting. As we get clear of the toxicity and harmful neurochemistry our brain chemistry re-balances and begins to function better.
Consequently, we feel better and after some recovery we think better.
Vent Assistance and InterferenceMy very Irish uncle once said, this is what the elves taught him. “Presenting your concepts to someone having a crying jag or temper fit is like serving a meal to a vomiting man. Both will give you results no one wants”. I think he was right. Trying to teach, advise, reason, analyze or do anything very cognitive with a strongly venting person usually can be experienced by that person as selfish, inappropriate interference. Until that person’s neurochemical system has had cathartic release, then cleared, followed by recovery and re-balancing their cognition system may not be ready to operate well. Thus, their thinking about what you’re trying to tell them just won’t happen, or won’t happen very well.
When someone you love needs to vent it’s usually best to let them vent! You might say things like, “Go ahead, let it all out”, “Tell me all about it”, “I want to hear all your feelings”, and “My heart and gut are right here with you”. Things usually not very good to say are, “Don’t cry”, “Stop being mad”,”You’re making too much of this, be reasonable”, “If you would just stop and think it wouldn’t seem so bad”, “I told you that wouldn’t work” or any ‘fix-it’ talk, unless the person venting specifically and maybe repeatedly asks for help with their problem.
Caring statements said in soft, loving tones may do some good, but it’s the tones not the words that usually bring about the benefit. None of the above ‘fix it’ or ‘teaching’ statements emotionally join with a person, or assist them in venting, and though they may have some immediate benefit to you their longer-range benefits are not so likely.
How The “In” Part WorksIf, as a loved one vents their bad feelings, you look at them with caring eyes, you speak to them with loving tones, your facial expression shows earnest caring love, your gestures are open to them, and your posture leans toward them in a friendly manner, then you are helping to pour your healing love into them, replacing the emotional poison pouring out of them.
If you do not contaminate their outpouring by feeding them too many words or concepts, but just show care in these or similar ways you may see your efforts bring about healing and facilitate recovery from what was a toxic event for them. Adding a few words showing emotional understanding also may help.
In ‘brain functioning terms’ this pretty much is what happens. Your looks and sounds of love, perhaps coupled with loving touch triggers the wounded loved one’s brain to start making healing, neurochemical compounds that then are carried to many parts of the brain and throughout the body. Everywhere they go, healing and re-balancing occurs. Your loved one then may report that your loving listening has made them feel so much better. You see, emotional poison or toxicity is pouring out and being replaced by healthful neurochemistry which results from receiving behaviors that convey love.
Some of What To Do and Not To DoIf your loved one is hurting, angry, afraid or experiencing any other strong, ‘bad’ feeling, those feelings are being processed in their brain’s limbic system. To help them you must do things that stimulate the limbic system, more than the prefrontal cortex, cognition (thinking) system. Loving facial expressions, tones of voice, gestures, friendly posture changes and loving touch can stimulate a person’s limbic system into doing healthful things. Logic, reason, facts, analysis, etc. will more likely only do good after the limbic system has processed emotions sufficiently.
Softly saying things like “I care” with a loving look usually does far more good than an intellectually, brilliant solution to your loved one’s problem, which might better be said after their emotions are sufficiently and thoroughly expressed. The emotional wounds first must be in greater repair before that brilliant solution is offered.
Sufficient venting and healing has to occur before your loved one can hear and maybe use a cognitively helpful idea. Therefore, do love actions first and lots and then if needed do the thinking together. Know that sometimes the loving listening is enough and the person who was venting will feel like you filled-up their heart’s gas tank, and they will run on that and do the solution part on their own. Remember, we all must work with our brain’s way of functioning, not against it.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
How good are you at giving active, silent love to a hurting and venting loved one?