To vent frustration with a trusted colleague is fairly natural in a tough workplace. People are not happy, and they tend to wallow in their negativity.
"I was up too late with my friend Peg last night," Abigail told me in our phone session. "She was needing to vent. Then I had a problem falling asleep, but at least I was there for her."
"Of course she feels better! She has just dumped all her stress onto you. She goes to sleep and you are up with her stress. But do you see anything actually changing in her life as a result of you allowing her to vent to you?"
"Abigail, if what Peg wanted to do every couple of weeks was come over and get drunk at your house, would you allow this?"
"No! But that's different."
"It's not different. Peg is using venting as an addiction to avoid taking responsibility for her feelings. She is not spending the time with you exploring what she is doing that is creating her upsets. She is not learning about what she can do differently so that she doesn't reach the point of anger and anxiety that she then dumps on you. There is no learning or change happening. And, your stress in response to the venting, is letting you know that listening to this is not good for you either."
"I have had a feeling that this was not working well for me, but I don't know what to do. Peg is my good friend and I don’t want to let her down. What can I say to her?"
"Well, how about, 'Peg, I know that when you vent and I listen to you, you feel better for awhile. But I end up feeling worse. I love you and I want to be here for you, but it seems to me that the venting is not getting you anywhere – that is it an addiction just like using sugar to feel better for the moment but not really dealing with the issue. I'm here for you if you want real help in dealing with the issues, but I don't want to be at the other end of your venting any more.' Is that something you would be willing to say?"
"I think so. But she might be mad at me."
"Yes, she probably will be mad at you. Most people do not like it when someone calls them on their addictions and refuses to participate in them anymore. Are you willing to have her mad at you? Certainly listening to her vent is not loving to yourself, and therefore not loving to her. It is far more loving to both of you for you to stop enabling her addiction, even if she doesn't think so."
"I know this is what I need to do. But what if she doesn't want to be friends with me anymore?"
"Abigail, what would this tell you about the friendship and about her caring for you?"
"I guess it would tell me that she is using me rather than really caring about me and our friendship."
"Right. If she pulls out of the friendship because you don't want to listen to her vent, then she is not really a friend. It means that she want to go on being a victim, not taking responsibility for herself and dumping her feelings onto you."
"Okay, I'm going to do this. I am at the point where I want friends who are learning and growing, not friends who are being victims. I guess I have nothing to lose, and I will get more sleep!"