155. If I talk about hard things is it complaining? Or venting?

How do we talk about hard things? For some of us, our emotions seem overwhelming and we find ourselves dumping them out onto those around us. For some, our emotions seem unacceptable and we find ourselves bottling them up.
Neither of these strategies really helps us process our emotions and make progress with them.

I think we all find ourselves either emotional dumping to bottling at different times to different people, and I want to support you with how to address both of these situations


In this episode:

  • What emotional dumping looks like
  • How it causes a disconnect and drain in relationships
  • Why we emotion dump
  • What venting looks like
  • How it can create connection and support in relationships
  • Why it is hard to vent
  • How to grow in self-awareness if you are someone who emotion dumps
  • What to do if you are someone who emotion dumps
  • What to do if you are someone who bottles up their emotions 
  • The difference between clean pain and dirty pain
  • Giving yourself permission to vent
  • How to vent to someone you trust, in a way that creates safety and connection


Related links mentioned:

The #moms30for30

The episode from Hidden Brain, Where Happiness Hides


Full transcript (unedited)

For those of you who are new, you’re welcome. I’m Shawna. I’m a mom of three. I live in small town BC, Canada. I am a life coach to moms who want to live with more purpose, peace, presence and passion. And I think passions really important part because I think that we should be enjoying our lives a lot more than we let ourselves sometimes.

So I am just squeezing this recording in my kids are going to be home in about 27 minutes, I’m going to record this. And today I want to talk about something called Emotional dumping.

And let’s Twilight music back to a time when my kids were much smaller babies and toddlers. And this was about seven years ago, I had all my babies and three and a half years. Now they’re 10, nine and seven.

So let’s flashback, and I’m home with them. And you know, no matter how many kids you have, if you’re at home with a kid, one or two or three, it can feel wild. And when there’s more than one and they take turns napping, and then they have tantrums, and their snacks lying around the kitchen. Like it’s just, it’s just crazy times.

And there’s good times too right? like dance parties and dress up and cute little giggles. But when you are in it, day after day, it wears you down. And I know there were a lot of days where Connor would walk through the door at the end of the day. And I would unload narration of everything that went wrong that day. And I’ve reflected a lot on this. And it’s something that I still do sometimes.

And when I’m doing it when I’ve done it, I think that I really want someone to acknowledge how hard it is and how hard I was trying. And I know that I didn’t validate myself a lot, especially in early motherhood, and I was looking to him to do it. I still sometimes do this, like I said, it’s a process.

But I think this is a pretty common pattern that we moms can fall into. Because our world is really shrunken down to the toddlers in our home. Some close friends or two and the stream of moms quote unquote, doing it right on Instagram. So when that person who’s out in the world walks into the door, we do it I call emotional dumping.

Even if you’re like me, emotional dumping is not a term you want to give it because you want to know that you can come to the people you love with the hard things that you’re going through and talk to them about it. And that’s not quite what I’m talking about.

I’m going to spend this episode really differentiating the two, I’m talking about those times where it goes past, venting into that land of complaining and nagging and blaming.

This is a topic that I’ve covered in the month of gratitude challenge that I’ve done in the past. And also in the life on purpose Academy, we did a whole month on connection and I covered this as well. And I think it’s really important to address what’s coming out of our mouths, and how we’re talking to the people in our space and in our world. Because when we get into this negative space, our words, our outputs, becoming negative, that’s what we’re putting out into the world. And we become hard to connect with, we become a negative source of energy in people’s lives.

And we really kind of get stuck there. That negative mindset becomes our emotional habit or norm. And it can be really hard to rewire ourselves for gratitude for positivity. And for some people who have spent so long in this negative space, feeling positive might even feel foreign or unsafe to them. So this can all take work and discomfort to work through.

Now, I call this emotional dumping. I thought I made up the term I was so proud of myself. And whenever I’m going to present something like this on the podcast where I have like a catchy term, I Google it first just to be sure. And turns out I did not make this up. It’s a whole thing. So I’m going to share my take on it.

Emotional dumping is when we dump our emotions onto others. And I think the main ways we do this is through complaining through making and through blaming. And we’ve all seen this right? We especially online recently, lots of complaints, lots of blaming, and maybe you hear it in public, maybe you’re at the grocery store in line and you hear someone complaining, or maybe you have a friend who only texts you what’s wrong in her life.

I have a friend who is constantly complaining. And it’s such a weird situation because I love this person. And I think they have a really good heart and they’re really good person. But they’re so negative it can really be drowning to be around. And when I look at them through the lens of love through the eyes of love, I see someone who is so overwhelmed by the thoughts and anxiety they carry. I see someone who is just overflowing with this emotion that is so uncomfortable for them that they just need to get it out of their heads and give it to others. I see someone who doesn’t know how to process their emotions, their thoughts, so they’re giving it to others and saying please carry this For me, please process this for me, please validate this pain that I feel underneath all of this.

And the dumping can make someone feel better, at least for a bit, right? They get it out. And it also gives us a false sense of connection that, like I’ve shared all this with you, we have some intimacy between us.

So maybe as you’re listening, you’re starting to feel squirmy like, you wonder what about when I went to my mom, friends? Do they think I’m complaining? Or when I tell my husband about my day and my emotional dumping, and maybe if I work with a coach or counseling, am I emotionally dumping on them?

So I don’t want you to hear me say that we should never talk about what is hard. In fact, I think we should talk about it more many of us. And if you grew up in a home where you swept things under the rug, you probably need this more than anyone.

We do need to acknowledge what is hard because there is value in talking about what’s hard. When I’m coaching a year, a lot of the heart and to me, this is healthy. I have close friends who share what’s hard in their life. And this is healthy, we need to be able to be heard and seen by others. Empathy and validation is a beautiful thing, we can offer one another.

And I really believe that we are here to help carry one another’s burdens to be an ear to be a safe place to land, to help speak hope to our friends hearts when they can’t find any.

And that’s why this topic is so interesting to talk about. And it’s so worth talking about. Because what can be this really connecting and supportive aspect of being a human can simply cross the line sometimes into an unhelpful and draining experience.

So let’s talk about when that line is crossed in. A lot of people will call this line the difference between complaining and venting. And there’s a lot of info on the internet about that. But I’m going to condense some of the main points that I find helpful. And I think it’s worth knowing what each can look like because it’s all about self awareness, keeping an awareness of yourself and asking yourself where you might be on which end Am I at am I complaining? Am I venting?

So emotional dumping looks like complaining and blaming and nagging. Often, when we are emotional dumping, we take the role of the victim or the martyr or like we are the one who’s hard done by often we are open to feedback, I think this is one of the biggest traits of emotional dumping, is we’re not open to feedback. In fact, we might even be defensive about any advice, any different viewpoints that were offered to us.

We spend a lot more time blaming others than taking responsibility for any part we could have in it. Or we’re just simply out there pointing the finger at everything and everyone that is wrong. I think this is one of the more draining parts of emotion dumping for friends who are listening for people who are on the sidelines hearing the emotional dumping, because it’s almost as if pointing the finger pointing at others faults. It feels like you’re looking for allies, you’re looking for people to jump in the boat with you of yes, this person is the worst that company is the worst. And if someone feels the same, they’re quick to jump in that boat with you like yeah, your husband is a jerk or, yeah, that person’s a total bonus. And what’s actually happening here is it’s it feels good, right? This can actually feel good. I’ve talked about this before, it’s the same as gossip, you get a little bit of serotonin boost, you feel a little bit superior, you get a little bit oxytocin from bonding with the other person that you share this viewpoint. But what about the people who don’t really feel that way, or who might not even care or don’t agree with you, or have tried to offer you a different viewpoint and you you just keep pointing the finger. When this is happening, this can be one of the most disconnecting things you can do in a relationship.

Emotional dumping, it stays in judgment, it doesn’t move into curiosity, it definitely doesn’t move into compassion. Maybe when we’re emotional dumping, we also feel some entitlement. And can you see how tricky this is. Because how many of you listening are the type of person who actually negate your own heart emotions. And you might even use this as a noble excuse to shrug off what really hurts? What talking about what really hurts you by labeling it complaining. It’s easy for some of us to dismiss our heart by quote unquote not wanting to complain. And these are the people that need permission to vent.

Emotional dumping is usually a pattern of the same topic. Things don’t get resolved. They just keep ruminating. That’s another big marker of it. And this is important to consider because from my own experience of the issues I work on and get counseled on and the coaching I do for other women is that I know there are these overlying themes, these overlying topics that we work on for quite a while they’re almost as big heart projects. But when you’re working on them when you’re doing the work when you’re in it when you’re having little wins and learning new things. It’s quite a bit different than that topic feeling like a broken record this more of the same more of the same, that ruminating

it’s a form of dirty pain. which is a term by Martha Beck who differentiates between clean pain and dirty pain. Clean pain is moving through the pain working through it, and dirty pain. It’s staying in it. It’s the suffering, it’s the ruminating the spinning of the story, the replaying of it.

Clean pain versus dirty pain, knowing the difference can be really helpful for someone who wants to face their pain and needs permission to do it, there is pain we have to go through in order to get to the other side. That’s the clean pain, the pain where we feel sad, because sad things happen. Or we feel angry because injustice happened.

And a lot of people need permission to feel this pain. And really, all we need is permission to vent. And when I hear venting, I think it means airing your grievances talking about what you’re angry about. But we’re venting so much more than that. Sometimes we need to vent about what hurts. What makes us feel grief, or makes us feel discouraged or disappointed.

And we’ve done in my own family. We’ve done a lot of venting over this past years, my mom has spent her first year in a care home with dementia. I actually just assumed her right before this call. And I could use some venting, I’m probably going to journal about it later. There’s been a lot of hard things that we needed to work through. And we’ve vented to each other as siblings with my dad, we’ve talked about it, we’ve let it out. And you know what’s happened. It’s brought us closer. It’s given us more compassion for one another. And I think it’s given us way more compassion for ourselves and what we’re going through.

My clients vent to me it is healthy, it helps them unpack their brains and see what’s in there. I’ve been to my girlfriend’s about stuff all the time. They vent to me because you know what life isn’t all unicorns, and gluten free cupcakes. Sometimes we need to be real about the hurt, and the message.

So let’s talk about how venting is different than emotional dumping.

Like I mentioned earlier, venting is open to advice, open to different viewpoints. This is the most common type of venting, I feel like I have with my girlfriends, we share what’s happening, we offer one another advice. And it’s so beneficial because I usually get a new perspective or we can help each other see things in a different way that we aren’t seeing.

Venting is about working through it more than staying stuck in it. Venting is often about a specific situation or a specific timeframe. Whereas emotional dumping is a way of communicating. It’s a habit of complaining of all the things, things that happened long ago, things that shouldn’t happen. Again, you can see that it’s more of this dirty pain of staying in the suffering.

Venting isn’t looking to gather support for their cause. Maybe you want some validation, maybe you want some acknowledgement, maybe you want some empathy, but you’re not trying to rally troops to your side, you’re not pointing the finger and blaming and pointing fault with everybody. No, you are more looking for support for yourself as you work through this.

And this has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my own life, not just being able to walk alongside the many women that I’ve coached, but personally, having my friends who walk alongside me through my hardships, and I can call them anytime. And likewise, they can call me I can be their person who they feel like they can be vulnerable with that builds up trust, compassion and connection in a relationship. What I think it comes down to is venting is a part of how we can learn to process an emotion. Someone who complains and nags and blames they haven’t really learned internal coping skills for their emotions. So they’re giving it to others to carry, but venting, it’s different.

It’s going to give us a voice. It’s going to help us unpack what’s cluttering us up inside it almost it’s like dumping out an old purse on the table like shaking it out. Everything’s now on the table, and we can look at what’s there. Sometimes we need to get it all out.

So you might be listening to this. And you might feel like yeah, sometimes I complain and emotional dump, sometimes I vent. And maybe sometimes I do both to different people. Maybe I emotion dumped to my husband, but I vent to my friends like I’m more open to the advice of my friends. Because doesn’t the ego just totally get in the way when you’re venting to your husband. That’s a whole other podcast episode.

But you might be asking, alright, so I know sometimes I do one of these, what should I do about it? What do we do with our hard feelings? So maybe you’re someone with those big feelings and you find yourself emotion dumping quite often. Here’s what I would recommend for you. Because the work here is to teach yourself some new skills for processing your own emotions. And to me the most helpful thing will always be starting to write it out. When you write things out. There are studies on this about how effective it is. I’m not going to go into it. But ultimately you slow down. You pay attention. You start to gain more clarity like the longer you write the more comes out and you learn so much more. You shouldn’t be filtering yourself. So you should let yourself have this time, where you’re giving a voice to all of these thoughts, all of these feelings to me. That’s the dumping grounds now.

And maybe you don’t like to write, maybe you just want to open up the Voice app on your phone and just verbally get it out. That’s cool, too.

Another thing that’s helpful is building up your tolerance to uncomfortable emotions. And I don’t want you to hear me say you need to learn how to put up with it. But there’s a difference between observing that it’s there and freaking out that it’s there, right, getting hyper reactive to it. So maybe when anxiety comes up, it rings alarm bells in you and you start nagging about all the things that need to happen. Or maybe when you feel sad and hurt, you need to get rid of that feeling and complaining and blaming will make it go away. And there’s a lot that can be said about these uncomfortable emotions and learning to sit with them. But a big hurdle that we create for ourselves is that we panic when they show up, we have very little tolerance for sitting with uncomfortable emotions, and then we kind of scramble to get rid of them.

If you feel like you’re ready to move into a conversation with someone and you want to take the approach of venting over emotional dumping, take some time to consider your motive. What do you want to get out of this conversation? What are your motives? For what you’re saying? Are you looking for blame and shame of others? Do you want to feel superior? Do you want to feel like a victim? Do you want someone to validate you? Just knowing your own motives upfront, I’m not going to villainize any of your motives because I think they’re there for a reason, I think they can tell you a little bit more about what you’re needing how you can support yourself internally.

And then when you are gonna have this conversation, it’s really great to focus on just one issue, then you can work through that one issue and you can learn these new ways of interacting with people who might be open to helping you out and listening to you.

Overall, just pay attention to how you’re talking in your day with your friends. Do you listen as much as you talk? Do you have good things to say? Are you defensive? Or are you open to what they have to offer? These are really great things to think about. If you feel like you’re someone who might be doing more emotional dumping than you want to be.

And then let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. Maybe you’re someone who’s denying your own feelings, you find yourself bottling up, here’s what I would recommend for you. The first thing is to start to understand why these negative emotions are a struggle for you to share.

Many of us were raised to view emotions as unacceptable. It’s not acceptable to be jealous or angry or disappointed, we got the message that having these emotions were bad or wrong, and we shouldn’t even entertain them. It’s not really going to help us work through them. Right.

The next thing you need to do is give yourself permission to just acknowledge your own feelings. As someone who negates their own feelings all of the time. My own counselor just told me this last week, when you feel like okay, I can acknowledge my own feelings, that feels scary. Because you feel like if I acknowledge this, that I actually feel this way, it’s going to be too much or too mean or too unproductive. But just acknowledging it. Like, even if you know, it’s something that’s irrational, or it’s something that you’re feeling, and it doesn’t really make sense, like I got mad at Connor over something ridiculous last week. And as I was telling him, that I was upset, I also said, I know this is ridiculous. And I could laugh at myself a little bit. But I needed to still honor that part of me that felt upset. I needed to say out loud that this emotion existed in my body and I was having this experience. And that allowed me to move on.

If you are someone who often negates their own feelings, you’re out of touch with your own feelings. Maybe you are someone who stays in your head or in your body, but not in your feelings. Starting to write things down can be really helpful and look for some journal prompts, if that’s helpful, but give yourself permission to privately write out things unfiltered, and then find someone who feels safe to you.

And I think it can be really helpful as a starting point, just getting started with these conversations if you share your intent, that, Oh, I just need to get this out of my head, or can you tell me different ways to look at this, that helps our friends know how much permission they have to share their viewpoints. I think that can be really helpful.

I hope this topic has been helpful for you. It wasn’t at all what I was planning on sharing. But I was going through some old notes, the Google Docs where everything lives in the Google Docs. And I saw the term emotional dumping. And I just had this inkling like oh, I should talk about that. So I just started writing up some show notes. And I wanted to record it today just to get it all done with so I hope this was helpful for you. I’d love to hear from you. If it was you can drop a note in the Facebook group on Instagram, or leave a rating and review in the podcast player.

One note before we jump to the simple pleasure of the week. Yes, I’m back. I’ve got simple pleasures back on my radar. This week. We’ve been starting the moms 3430 This is wearing 30 items for 30 days and we’re well into our first week, by the time you’re listening to this. So if you are part of this challenge this go around this is I think my seventh or eighth time doing it. I want you to make sure that you’re in the Facebook group sharing your updates, or on Instagram, you can also take me there. And if you’re someone who’s just watching from the sidelines, I encourage you to share your support of the ladies who are doing this challenge. And I can’t wait to hear more from you guys about what you’re learning. There’s been some fun haircuts, there’s been some new realizations about how much clothes we have. There’s been some new zest for putting outfits together. And you know, I’m just proud of me for getting dressed for as many days as I have in a row. So it’s been fruitful.

Alright guys, simple pleasure of the week. And the other day I woke up, I felt so good. And as I went through my day, I realized like, Oh, I’m in a really good mood. And it hit me that I hadn’t been in a good mood for quite a while, like, I knew I was in a funk. Over these past couple months. I was cranky about everything. I felt tired. I blamed my cycle, the moon, the lack of sunlight, mostly Connor, my husband, I blame my job. Okay, so maybe this episode was a little bit for me this week.

So when I was finally feeling, quote, good, I started thinking, What is different? What did I do different? What’s happening that’s different. And I couldn’t really pinpoint it. But then I was listening to a podcast later that day, called the hidden brain, I’ll share the episode on that. And there was a psychologist on it, who studies happiness. And she simply said, these words, oh asleep, it does contribute to your happiness in a way that’s invisible. You just feel good. And you don’t realize it because you had a good sleep. And I I’m 39. And it’s ridiculous to still be having the blatant obvious have pointed out to me. But I had a eureka moment. I’ll say it because I looked at my Fitbit data, and I had a good sleep the night before I slept for almost 10 hours, I had my highest sleep rating ever. And I thought, that’s why I feel so good. And it’s not like I didn’t know this connection. I mean, I had three babies who kept me up for years on end. I know it’s not a coincidence that those were the specific years when smiling seemed to just command all of my strength every day.

But I guess in real time, I wasn’t really acknowledging that cutting myself short of sleep, was not helping with myself the mood. So my simple pleasure if you’ve deduced it, is to go to bed early, which I know as a mum who just wants to be alone at the end of the night doing her own thing. Eating the ketchup chips or watching Outlander soaking in a bubble bath. Going to bed early can feel like punishment, right?

But if you need a little emotional pick me up, I encourage you get a good book put on your coziest PJs, tuck yourself into bed when you tuck your kids in. Just try it and see how you feel my simple pleasure is tucking myself into bed early. A few years ago, I made sleep one of my big focuses of the year for my health. And I think I had deviated from this because I was really just wanting to have some time at the end of the night to do my own thing. But at the same time, I was denying myself the emotional capacity I would have tomorrow. So that’s a dull moment, but it mattered to me and I’m going to reframe, going to bed early as a simple pleasure for myself. Maybe you want to as well.

Alright friends, thanks for joining me today. Have a great week.


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