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Is Ranting Good For Us?

Is it as cathartic as we think?

Woman screaming into a megaphone against a yellow background
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/MY OCEAN PRODUCTION

We spend so much of our lives trying to hold it together. We show up to work or school, regardless of how crappy we feel, and we put on a brave face, even when we’re distraught.

It’s only fair that we should get to rant from time to time to release all those suppressed feelings, right? While ranting is portrayed as cathartic in our culture, research shows that it often does us more harm than good.

Immediate Relief, Lasting Consequences

Cambridge Dictionary defines ranting as “the action of speaking, writing, or shouting in a loud, uncontrolled, or angry way, often saying confused or silly things”. As adults, we spend so much time worrying about the consequences of our actions and words that expressing ourselves in an unreasonable, unfiltered manner sometimes feels good. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s a healthy way to deal with our emotions.

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“When we get stuck in a venting session, it feels good in the moment, because we’re connecting with other people. But if all we do is vent, we don’t address our cognitive needs, too. We aren’t able to make sense of what we’re experiencing, to make meaning of it.”Researcher Ethan Kross

When something painful happens in our lives, it’s crucial to find support. However, ranting about the experience quickly becomes counter-productive. As Kross explains, “if we simply relive our experience without finding some way to soothe ourselves or find meaning, it could extend our suffering.” Ranting also “causes more anger and aggression in the long-term”, which isn’t healthy for anyone involved.

That’s not to say that we should suppress our emotions by any means. We should feel them and then use them as fuel to take action. If someone has upset you, focus on finding a solution rather than dwelling on your negative feelings or talking bad about that person. Depending on the situation, this might involve having a healthy conversation with the person or distancing yourself from them.

Rather than ranting, Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, Ph.D., suggests that you try healthier strategies for managing your emotions, such as journalling or exercising. If you’re still struggling, you might need to talk to a healthcare provider or a mental health professional who can give you personal advice.

Black man looking upset on a phone call
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/ROLLING CAMERA

Ranting Online

Though it’s technically quieter, online ranting isn’t any better. Behind a screen, people are typically more uncensored, and their rants remain in writing. There are even forums “designed specifically for complaining”, such as JustRage.com and NotAlwaysRight.com. While sharing your grievances in these “supportive” online spaces might be tempting, there is no real benefit.

In a 2013 study, researchers found that reading and writing online rants, especially on rant sites, was “associated with negative shifts in mood”. Like in person, people feel better immediately after ranting online but worse in the long term. The visibility of their rants also means they will continue spreading negativity to others.

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“Research has consistently found that negative social-media posts (and, no surprise, social media is getting consistently more negative) spread faster and further than positive ones. One study, with the depressing title “Anger Is More Influential Than Joy,” examined more than 70 million tweets and found that, yep, anger spreads faster than other emotions.”Timothy Caulfield

This is especially concerning when 46 percent of Twitter users use the platform simply to rant and “as a way to deal with anger”. Not only do these online rants prolong your emotional turmoil, but they also put your reputation at risk. One survey found that “57 percent of Americans have posted something that they later regret.”

Asian woman with glasses looking at her phone with an upset expression
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/KRAKENIMAGES.COM

If You Must Rant…

Despite its negative consequences, ranting will likely remain a part of our culture. It’s also worth considering that there are a lot of variables within every ranting session. While some people might rant in a toxic fruitless way, most of us just want to share our feelings with someone we know without filtering ourselves. When I spoke with my friend Máiréad about this topic, she expressed the benefits of this kind of ranting:

“I think ranting is good, and it helps you get stuff off your chest that you might have been bottling up. And every time you rant, you feel so much better after it. Sometimes you just need a friend to listen. You don’t need them to give you advice, but sometimes you just literally need someone there to listen to you. If you’re ranting to a friend, you always should be willing as well to listen to their rants and lend them an ear if they need it. There always needs to be a balance. It can’t just be you ranting all the time and then not caring when they try to rant to you.”

Author Jim Joseph also agrees that ranting “can be quite healthy if you do it safely”. Here are a few tips you can follow to ensure a responsible ranting session:

Rant To Someone You Trust

When expressing your raw emotions and unfiltered thoughts, the listener should be someone you trust. The last thing you want is someone to use the vulnerable things you shared against you. When you’re in a delicate emotional state, you’re also susceptible to the words of others. So make sure the person you’re ranting to can offer you compassion and sound advice (if you want it).

Rant In A Safe Space

As previously mentioned, ranting online is not a good idea because your words can easily be shared. Not only does this risk your public image, but it also preserves negativity. For example, if you stumble upon a passive-aggressive email you sent, it’ll probably reignite those unpleasant emotions. The best way to share is in person in a private space where only the intended listener will hear what you’re saying.

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Consider The Listener

As YouTuber nicole on feels points out, it takes time and energy to listen to someone rant. Even if you’re in emotional distress, it’s not your friend’s responsibility to pull you out of it. Of course, we want to help our loved ones, but sometimes we can’t for whatever reason. Therefore, you should check in with your listener before and throughout your rant. If you’re the one listening and the ranter is caught up in what they’re expressing, you might have to interrupt and assert your boundaries.

Rant Purposefully

Though ranting does not permanently dispel our negative emotions, sometimes we just need to blow off steam. What matters is that we don’t continue ranting aimlessly. According to research, the primary benefit of ranting (responsibly) is feeling closer to others. When we are vulnerable with a loved one, the relationship naturally grows stronger. However, after ranting about an issue once, it’s time to seek practical solutions or healthier ways of processing our emotions.

Black woman with glasses talking seriously to a Black man on a sofa
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/FIZKES

If so many of us are willing to share our feelings with others, that’s a good thing. However, being overwhelmed with emotion doesn’t give us the right to talk someone’s ear off or cross their boundaries. For all its negative associations, ranting can still be positive for us and our relationships if we learn to do it consciously.

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Written By

Just graduated from UCC with a BA in music and English. My other passions include learning languages, astrology, and art.

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