Seems we’re all a little bit angry these days. At someone. Or something. And many of us are ranters. I never used to be much of a ranter. Sure I whined and complained sometimes. Vented even. But ranting, not so much.
We seem to think that expressing our anger, venting, or even ranting, is good. That it helps us to let off steam, avoid blowing our tops, so to speak. But psychologists would disagree. According to several articles I read in Psychology Today, venting or ranting can actually make you more angry. Especially if it’s reinforced by your audience. If your rant doesn’t change the situation that has made you angry, or prevent it happening again, then it’s only minimally useful. We all want to be heard; that’s just human nature. But Brad Waters says in this article that ranting can “feel intoxicating, when in fact it’s usually toxic.” For ourselves and those around us.
|Be careful that ranting doesn’t make you look like an ass.
Most of us have known co-workers who rant regularly, as if they’re the only ones bothered by certain situations, as if it’s their right to ruin your heretofore pretty darned good day with their negativity. I’ve worked with colleagues who were wonderful teachers, but who, when stress broke down their defenses, could trash everyone else’s day with their constant venting. In my role as head, I sometimes had to take people aside and counsel them to stick a sock in it (of course I didn’t use those exact words) because their release of stress was creating stress for everyone around them. That’s one of the downsides of ranting. The collateral damage venting your anger can create for innocent bystanders.
I live with a ranter. Hubby has strong political opinions, which he expresses freely. Sometimes to me, or to friends, often to the television. And in his defense, they’re not just empty rants; he does know what he’s talking about. His degree in history, modern diplomatic history in particular, gives him a much better grounding than many to comment on political events. Better than me, anyway. I too have strong political opinions. But I usually save my ranting for those things I feel I know more about, like education, or books.
When I was still teaching, sometimes I’d be frustrated by the educational bureaucracy, or by changes I didn’t agree with, or angry at what I felt were unfair demands on my time and the time of the already hard-working teachers in my department… and I’d vent. And even occasionally rant. I tried to keep my emotion at school. I often used one trusted colleague, whom I had known for years, as my sounding board. She’d usually still be in the teacher workroom at the end of the day after everyone else had gone, and when I returned from a stressful meeting, I’d ask her if I could rant at her a little and get it out of my system before I went home. She’d always sit down, fold her hands and say, “Fire away.”
Sometimes that worked. Sometimes not. On the “not” days, I’d drive home, walk in the door, and Hubby would take one look at my face and say, “What’s wrong? Out with it.” Unfortunately, I’m one of those people who is absolutely unable to hide my feelings. I try, I really do, but my face always tattles on me. So I’d blab it all out again, despite my best efforts to NOT do so. And because he’s a retired teacher and knew the frustrations I was feeling, Hubby would get worked up as well. The irony is, when I was done I always felt better, but then he’d be upset. I remember one night, he said, “I’ll be glad when you retire, Suz. Your job is too stressful for me.” I knew he meant that as a joke. But still, it was a signal to me that venting my frustrations could have negative effects on those around me.
Still, ranting can feel great sometimes. And sometimes listening to others rant, especially if it’s funny, can be cathartic. A while ago, I listened to Tom Power interview Canadian comedian Sandra Shamus on the CBC radio program “Q.” I’ve talked about Sandra on the blog before, and her jokes about menopause and nouns. (By the way, if you click on that link I should warn you the language is pretty spicy.) Sandra has a new one-woman show in Toronto these days called The Big ‘What Now?’ She’ll be sixty soon, and in the interview yesterday she talked about what comes next for her… and indeed for all of us women of a certain age. About the expectations associated with being a girl, and then a woman, and then an aging woman. And about how menopause helped her “get her anger back.” She said menopause was, for her, “like a shot of vitamin B12.” She felt freed, energized, and as she says, “a bit rant-y.” But, even as she explained her exhilaration at feeling and expressing anger, she qualified her statement by saying that we should “be judicious” in where and how we vent.
That interview resonated with me because I found that aging, and most especially menopause, has made me feel freer to express my opinions. And vent my anger. Which can sometimes be good. And sometimes, not so good. Hot flashes always had the added effect of raising my temper, as well as my temperature. I mean, I didn’t even know I had a temper until I turned fifty. Eventually, I started announcing at work, to my colleagues and members of my department, that I was having a very hot-flashy day and they should beware. I remember once saying, “Today would NOT be a good day to ask me any questions to which you already know the answer.” Sometimes I made it jokier than that; I might have once or twice mentioned the prospect of someone losing an arm. I know. That’s terrible, right? I’m cringing even as I write this.
Thankfully the fraught days were not that frequent. And when rant-worthy changes or new demands came down the pipe, my department would vent, and then we’d meet and decide how to tackle the issue as a team. Thus making us all feel less isolated, and not so helpless in the face of the educational bureaucracy. Not that we could stop the changes, just that facing them together and developing “our” way of embracing them helped us cope. At least I think it did. I hope it did.
Action should always follow venting, don’t you think? Maybe that’s why so many, many women felt exhilarated by the Women’s March last November. Venting on Friday, marching on Saturday. I felt exhilarated, and I didn’t even march. I cheered on friends who marched in Ottawa and elsewhere. And clapped at all the shots from around the world. And imagined how wonderful it must have felt to actually be there. And I noted that amidst all the exhilaration, speakers and organizers reminded protesters to be mindful of, as Sandra Shamus says, “The big ‘what now’?” Sound advice, I think.
By the way, I clapped hardest at the shot below taken by Toronto photographer Christina Zaza. Two Canadian icons at the Women’s March in Toronto. That’s Adrienne Clarkson, on the left, one-time child refugee, longtime journalist and broadcaster, author, and Governor-General of Canada from 1999-2005. And of course, the pink-hatted woman is Margaret Atwood. Feminist, writer, and all-round brilliant woman. Sigh. I love her.
Christina Zaza photo.
|I didn’t intend to get into feminist politics when I started writing this post. I was initially concerned over all the divisive ranting going on these days, all the abusive comments on social media. And the effect all that anger can have on those who read it, and even those who promulgate it. And I think that a couple of Brad Water’s points in that article I mentioned from Psychology Today are relevant here. He says to wait before you rant. I guess that’s the equivalent of NOT punching the “send” or “publish” button right away. And he also says to write about your anger, not just express it verbally. And by writing he doesn’t mean in fewer than 140 characters. Ha. He means to practice “expressive writing” which this article from Harvard Medical School says can “ease stress and trauma,” and which has even been proven in some studies to help chronic pain sufferers by giving them a vehicle to express and asses their anger.
So, I guess, for us “blurters,” menopausal or otherwise, expressive writing can help us to better understand the cause of, and possible solutions, for our anger. And maybe, just maybe, help us to figure out what we can do now, how we can channel all that fiery energy into positive action… once we’re all vented and ranted out.
So to speak.
P.S. This morning, I contacted Christina Zaza on Facebook, where I first saw her photo, to ask if I could use it in this post. She said yes (thanks Christina) and would I mind including a link to the Toronto Planned Parenthood site. I don’t mind at all. She also said that if perhaps her photo inspired a few people to support women’s causes, that would be a good thing. Now, isn’t that a great response?
Now it’s your turn, my friends. Any venting you want to get off your chest? Any expressive writing you want to… express? Like my friend Beth… I’m sitting down with my hands folded…”Fire away.”