Saturday 15 January 2022

Venting and "Mad as Hell": A collage

Lately I had a couple of separate online conversations on the topic of anger and "venting", and some useful thoughts came out of it that I want to capture.

I think it's fair to say that there is a lot our social world today (online, and off). A lot of negative emotion, a lot of frustration. I'm not passing judgment on the emotion itself or the situations causing it. The topic of who does or doesn't "deserve" to be angry is way too complex...if that even is a quagmire worth wading into, of which I'm not at all convinced. But either way, I don't have the attentional energy. I deal with things as they come up, and if I'm not directly involved, I try to give other people's anger a lot For that matter, I try to give it space even when I am involved!

The first text is a quotation from from my (extraordinary) friend Diana. I read this and could immediately relate it to situations in my life:

"I think about the venting thing a lot, because I have moments I really want to just tell the world what I'm thinking and fuck decorum (which means, I think, fuck people's feelings). I've long believed that it's good to vent, but I'm not so sure anymore. That theory seems to be based on what we might call the Teapot Model, where we're like teapots that'll blow our tops if enough steam builds up, and venting is the only thing that will release the pressure.

I've been watching people and thinking about how they behave for a while now, though, and what I've noticed is that those who "vent" stay the angriest. It's almost like their ranting doesn't release the pressure so much as seek confirmation of their opinions which includes the justification of their anger. Venting also draws the approval of those who share one's opinions and anger, which also reinforces the sense that we *should* be angry.

I don't think that bit of received wisdom is right anymore. If there is a net positive to ranting or venting, I have yet to see it." (January 12 2022)

The next thing I read was a question from a friend: "Should we all be mad as hell?" I will leave out the context because honestly, anyone can think of something they could/should be "mad as hell" about. Like, go ahead and think of one....right now.

My friend also mentioned something unpleasant that happened in traffic, which I think is pretty universally relatable. So that was why I included comments on traffic. This is me:

 Traffic stuff terrifies me on a regular basis….though I continue to drive. (Avoiding driving caused such an escalation in my anxiety about it and irrational avoidance that I know that isn’t a good route to go either.) But I think about car accidents every time I get in the car (do other people do this? No idea how normal/abnormal I am) and I do something like pray….albeit not in a very ordered and conscious way, and often with a lot of profanity. I will add you to my driving prayers. Driving is probably THE most obvious example of individual action affecting collective well being, and vice versa (at least in cultures with a rule following ethic).

I’m not entirely sure of the direction of your thoughts in this post, but to address your question “should we all be mad as hell?” There is certainly plenty to be “mad as hell” about, but I’m less certain about manifesting that in the world. The most obvious problem for me is that it’s remarkably easy to be mad as hell, and that there even seems to be an addictive quality to it. By contrast calm people are harder to find, and stepping out of that anger cycle is much harder than stepping into it.

I also see people around me acting mad as hell, including many in cars (terrifying!) but I have no idea what they are mad about and what they imagine they are achieving by it. Perhaps they are mad about the same things I might hypothetically be mad about, and thus we are entirely in sympathy….but I can’t tell. There is no mutual understanding or responsibility.

Also, truthfully, the one thing that almost always alienates me from others is this “mad as hell” thing….for example I had to mute one of my group chats lately, because of the angry tone of the conversation and how people were choosing to express themselves. These are adults I consider kind and responsible, even exceptionally so. I have met them in person. We share a vocation and profession. I am deeply in sympathy with them and their struggles and frustrations, but….it was too much.

Do you (speaking to the person I was responding to) feel abandoned or excluded from the support systems in our society? ….or perhaps they are failing, the institutional ones at least. This is a serious problem. I don’t think anger is the solution, but it might be pointing to something important, something neglected. (January 15th 2022)

The final question is my attempt to find an alternative to shared anger, or to try to treat that anger not as an end in itself, but as a signal or signpost. Certainly, repressing or denying anger is not the (only) way to go, though it might actually the best choice in the moment. But constant anger or frustration is a signal of something that needs attending to. And if we are in a position to do so, perhaps taking some time to investigate is worth it. But, I think it is important to not just mirror back the anger, and if I feel a temptation to join in unthinkingly, well, I probably have to attend to myself first, before doing anything else.


  1. Interesting thoughts. One thing that occurred to me reading it, is that I am happy for friends to vent to me. I guess it's different if it were a stranger or acquaintance but I want my friends to be "real" around me and not feel like they need to pretend everything is fine all the time. I've had moments of struggling during this never ending pandemic but I have refrained from venting too much to friends as I don't want to be a burden or too "negative" though. However, I agree with the points about people who get overly angry about everything. They definitely need to do some work on themselves because they obviously aren't happy. I hate road rage too. I share your fear of car accidents by the way!

    1. Hey thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, you make a good point about the relationship to the person doing the venting. I agree, if you know someone well then you have a more complete sense of who they are and a higher level of trust. One of the reasons social media became bad for me was I was always exposed to the venting and anger of people I don’t know particularly well, and it was overly negative and exhausting. But even with someone close to me I think I would still nudge in the direction of a healthier response, or even just humour….often it’s gallows humour, but just being able to laugh is a relief.

      Best of luck getting through the winter with health and hope!