Emotional consent to vent: 5 things to consider before offloading to friends
Before you unload your worries onto a friend or loved one, take a moment to think about these five things
As a mental health blogger who often listens to people vent, I wish more people checked in with me first. Because, even though I encourage those with mental health struggles to reach out, there are times when I am emotionally unavailable. When I’m overwhelmed by my own issues, I cannot help anyone else – and this is something that many of us will be familiar with.
Talking about your problems with a troubled confidante may not always give you the insight or advice you’re looking for, but it will almost certainly add to their mental burden. So, here are some simple, organic ways to ask your go-to listener for their emotional consent before you vent.
1. Ask them how they are
Before you offload your worries onto someone, it is essential to know if they are in a reasonably alright physical and mental state. When you vent as soon as you begin your conversation, you do not give your listener the option to say no if they need to.
According to psychologist Tania Diaz, ‘emotional consent’ is the act of responsibly asking for permission to share an emotionally charged experience with another individual. In accordance with that, it is crucial to enquire about their wellbeing before you do so.
2. Keep it simple
Once you know that they are indeed fine, it’s time to ask for emotional consent. If you are worried about doing it without sounding awkward, don’t worry.
Tania says: “It is not what you say that influences the tone of the dialogue, but how you say it. Using your own words will help you keep it simple and authentic. For example, ‘Hey do you have a moment for me to run something by you; I’m sort of in a funk. If not now, let me know when it’s a good time to talk.’ See? You don’t have to use any jargon. While it may feel strange to ask for permission, your loved one will feel respected. Over time, it will feel more natural and help to build a healthy relationship.”
3. Use trigger warnings
After they have consented to a conversation, give the listener an idea of the subject of your problem(s). Tania believes that this is important not only for the listener, but also for you.
She explains: “A trigger warning is imperative, as your friend may not have recovered from past injuries. They may be still recovering from their emotional wounds. One can hold space for someone only when they have the emotional capacity to do so. Not giving a warning to your ventee can be considered short-sighted, irresponsible, and selfish. Done repeatedly, it can strain your relationship.”
4. Exercise discretion and respect boundaries
Even after getting consent, use your judgment. For example, if the listener has recently ended a long-term relationship and the venter wants relationship advice, should you approach them in the first place? Would it be better to vent to someone else? Another thing to keep in mind is boundaries.
Even if you have a green flag to talk about what is on your mind, respect boundaries. If you aren’t sure of what they are, ask without hesitation. Make sure you know your own boundaries, too, so you can be firm if, for example, your ventee asks something you don’t want to discuss.
5. Try not to ‘trauma dump’
When you talk at length about multiple issues in your life – issues for which you don’t have emotional consent – it might be called ‘trauma dumping’. Tania explains why this can be unhealthy.
“Venting is the opportunity to express your thoughts and feelings in a healthy prosocial manner,” Tania says. “There is an amount of insight and compassion for the person on the receiving end. While there may be a theme to the emotional discharge by the ventee, the person venting is mindful of how they may have contributed to the experience.
“In the case of trauma dumping, there is less awareness, greater impulsivity, and limited capacity to see any other perspective but their own. The ventee’s lens is restricted, making it difficult to appreciate the impact of highly charged statements on the recipient. Due to this, the recipient is left feeling drained and potentially emotionally charged.”
Venting to loved ones is fine, because it involves smaller, everyday problems; trauma dumping isn’t because it involves bigger, deep-rooted problems. If you need to do the latter, the best course of action is to consult a therapist, who will be willing and able to handle it.
If you are struggling with your mental health, visit Counselling Directory or speak to a qualified counsellor.