Everyone needs to vent sometimes—especially us stepmoms. We get frustrated about something our stepchildren or their parents have done and the next thing we know we’re going off on a tirade to ten different people.
Even though complaining feels good in the moment, studies show that it actually leaves us unhappier afterwards. I know this seems counter-intuitive, especially because a lot of us grew up being taught the catharsis hypothesis: the idea that it’s healthy to express and expel our negative feelings.
University of Arkansas psychologist Jeffrey M. Lohr, says that, "If venting really does get anger 'out of your system,' then venting should result in a reduction of both anger and aggression. Unfortunately for catharsis theory, the [study] results showed precisely the opposite effect."
Lohr explains that, "people fail to realize is that the anger would have dissipated had they not vented. Moreover, it would have dissipated more quickly had they not vented and tried to control their anger instead."
At the same time, we all know that completely holding in our frustrations isn’t healthy, either. Bottling everything up has been shown to lead to depression. Plus, complaining is how some of us ask for help.
Striking a balance between these two extremes is an important part of being a happy stepmom. Here are seven tips to help you take control of your venting and make it a productive experience:
1) Set a time limit. Tell a friend, “I want to tell you about something that happened today, but I just have ten minutes to talk.” Call right before dinner or on a break if you have trouble enforcing the limit.
2) Don’t vent the same story to all of your friends—just one or two.
3) Don’t let yourself go over a single incident again and again. Get your friends on board if necessary. Give them the OK to gently remind you if you start rehashing a story you've told three times before.
4) Get used to telling people that you don’t want their opinion. Sometimes our friends are the ones who stir us up—they egg us on or drag out the details. To avoid getting drawn into a lengthy session, tell your friends, “I have something I’d like to talk about—I’m not really looking for any input, but I just need to get it off my chest.”
5) Figure out exactly why you’re complaining. Look for the root of the problem so you can figure out a better way to address the symptoms. Maybe you’re frustrated that the kids never pick up after themselves like you ask them to. Is it possible that you’re more angry that they don’t respect your authority in the house?
6) Ask for help directly instead of complaining and hoping that people will offer you advice. Mention the situation in a short, neutral way and then move on to asking for help with how to deal with it.
7) Go to therapy. A counselor can help you better understand the situation and provide you with tools to deal with it more effectively.