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‘Let’s normalize honest convos’: Get consent to vent

Do you ever notice that one friend who might be sharing more sad memes than usual? Maybe you can relate to some posts, but maybe they’ve just posted one too many and you’re wondering if something is up.

This is what Facebook user MJ De Guzman felt when he decided to reach out to one of his friends. Their interaction inspired him to create a post that has now been shared 27,000 times with 35k reactions and over a thousand comments.

After reaching out to his friend, whom he noticed to be constantly sharing sad posts, De Guzman posted a message that his friend sent him.

venting, mental health, emotional consent, sharing, venting emotions
Screenshot via MJ De Guzman on Facebook

This was the focal point of De Guzman’s post. He explained that we all have our own emotional bandwidth which is constantly fluctuating. Sometimes, as much as we want to be there for our friends, we do not have the mental or emotional capacity to take on any more weight than what we are already carrying.

As he said, “madali sa’ting magsabi nang ‘message ka lang’ pero what if on that very moment na mag reach out, hindi rin enough ‘yung mental space mo to listen?” (It’s easy for us to say “just message [if you need someone to talk/vent to]” but what if at that very moment when they reach out, you don’t have the mental space to listen?). In his post, De Guzman urges people to “normalize honest convos” based on the mutual respect between the two people talking as well as respect for ourselves and our limits.

In his post, De Guzman includes some possible message templates to ask people if they are capable to listen to your venting — “may mental space ka? do you have time to listen?” (Do you have the mental space? Do you have time to listen?).

Or to let people know that they are here for them if/when they need to vent — “hello, you are not [obliged] to respond right away, just want to reassure you that I am here just in case [you] need someone to talk to.”

He finishes his post by also suggesting that people do not reach out if they actually don’t have the patience to listen fully. Adding that if someone reaches out to vent and you need to tell them that you aren’t really in a good place to hear it, then you need to say so – but never forget to be patient and polite about it. There is nothing wrong with being honest, though we must never forget to be kind when we are. Being honest doesn’t excuse you from being mean.

The general response to De Guzman’s post was positive. Thousands of people seem to have empathized with the situation. Some people even tagged others, thanking them for being a person that they can talk to when times are tough.

The numerous positive responses may contrast with an older Twitter thread that was created in 2019. This thread is in a similar sphere as De Guzman’s post, discussing the importance of checking in before venting but the delivery and execution of the thread seem to have ticked some people off.

Twitter user Melissa A. Fabello, Ph.D. also shared a message she got from a friend. This may be the flipped version of De Guzman’s where his friend was not ready to ask him how he is, Fabello was asked if they were ready to hear something from the sender’s side.

In her thread, Fabello also explains that while she deeply appreciates the sentiment, there are still people in her life that wouldn’t necessarily have to do that.

But she further goes on to explain the importance of a text like this, asking for consent to vent. She lists 5 key reasons.

Some of her reasons include that the sender recognizes that her time and emotional availability may be limited. They are asking for permission instead of just venting without warning. The sender also noted the topic, giving a trigger warning beforehand.

While the sentiment for Fabello’s discussion was there, it may have been the template message that she offered up which didn’t sit right with some people. Fabello posted a possible response that people could use if they are not ready to hear someone vent.

As VICE described it, the response sounded like “a form rejection letter from a college’s on-campus mental health services.” The stiff reply may make people feel like their venting would be a huge burden on you rather than a friend genuinely trying to express that they just can’t take any more stress or strain at the moment.

However, others were still able to agree with Fabello’s main point about the general importance of getting consent before venting.

venting, mental health, emotional consent, sharing, venting emotions
Screenshot via @elguante and @fyeahmfabello on Twitter

This isn’t to bash venting. Venting is normal, it’s a form of self-expression. It’s something that we’ve all done (some days more than others). Venting can be a great social experience to let off some steam. It lets you voice out your feelings and experiences while getting the perspective of someone else. It helps you brainstorm concrete solutions and can sometimes even make you realize that what you were venting about may be silly and actually has a solution to it that you might not have been able to figure out on your own.

Venting is also one way to bond with your friends and deepen your relationships. Beautiful friendships have been formed over mutual disdain. But it won’t always be fun and games. It takes time and effort to be a good friend and support your friends when they need you.

But, with the fun and help that venting brings, it’s important to remember that just talking about a problem doesn’t guarantee that it will immediately go away. As they say, “actions speak louder than words”.

While we may not always feel the need to ask for consent before venting, as Fabello mentioned with her inner circle, in some cases (no matter how close you are) you may really just not be in the right state of mind/position to take on anything more emotionally. This is why getting emotional consent can be a very crucial thing in relationships, no matter how ride-or-die you and your loved ones may already be.

Why get consent to vent?

According to psychologist Tania Diaz, emotional consent is “the act of responsibly asking for permission to share an emotionally charged experience with another individual.”

While one sign of a strong relationship may be knowing that you can vent to someone at any time and they would genuinely listen to you (and vice versa), another sign of caring for your friendship could be first checking in on them if they can handle what you have to say in the first place. Asking first may lead to strengthening your relationship, showing that you care about your friend’s wellbeing. While on the other hand, letting your friend know that you can’t listen to them at a certain moment doesn’t immediately make you a bad friend.

Getting emotional consent allows us to ensure that our relationships are balanced. There is not just one person who talks and vents for hours on end, leaving the other overwhelmed and maybe even exhausted after a convo with you (no matter how long or short). You are both able to listen and talk. You are able to feel safe and the feeling is mutual.

You can’t always know what someone is going through. Maybe the person you want to vent to just hasn’t felt comfortable enough to reach out to you yet. Or maybe they haven’t had the chance to interject themselves over your one-sided venting.

Asking for emotional consent before venting also opens up a space for an honest conversation. Asking before you vent gives the other person the opportunity to first assess and assert their own needs if needed. This doesn’t only show care for themselves but for you as well. Saying “no” to one vent session may mean that they want to be fully present for you but are unable to do so now. True friends would make the effort to come back when they feel that they are in a better place. Now, you can rest assured that whenever your friend is listening to you, they are listening 100%.

Emotional consent also forces you to look within yourself. When you ask if someone has the emotional room for what you have to say, it forces you to face what you are asking, why you need to talk about it, and how much you ask to vent. It makes you face yourself and possibly recognize if this is an issue that you may need to bring to a professional.

This also prevents trauma dumping or venting about deeper issues with a lack of concern for how this might emotionally and mentally affect who you are speaking to. Never forget that your friend is not and should not be your therapist.

How to ask for emotional consent and set boundaries

Always try your best to check in with people before going on your vent monologue. It may feel a bit awkward at first but it is still a question worth asking. Blasting out your vent as a greeting doesn’t give the recipient an opportunity to say no or reschedule the rant sesh even if they needed to. This may help you develop your own emotional maturity and self-awareness as it allows you to show respect to those you choose to vent to and consider their feelings before unloading all of yours. As time passes and you make getting emotional consent a habit, it may begin to feel more natural to ask for consent first before you vent. Possibly even strengthening your relationship with another person and building it on healthy foundations.

Give options and be clear about what you want to talk about. One key action step may be texting first before calling. You might catch someone off guard with a spontaneous call and suddenly unload all your stress on them. Texting allows your friend to check your message when they actually have the time to. It also gives them the option to call when they receive your message or let you know that they can’t be as present as they want to be for you right now and reschedule your call.

Let them know what you need. Are you looking for advice or just need a listening ear to hear you out? Do you need a soundboard to bounce some ideas off of? This may help your friend out because maybe they have the energy to listen but don’t have the emotional bandwidth to bounce ideas or give advice. Also, try to think about how long your rant session might take. If you can give an estimate and include that in your message, it might help your friend make their decision as well.

Use trigger warnings, just like Fabello’s friend did. Giving trigger warnings gives your friend an idea of what you will be talking about. This can also help your friend prepare themselves in case this is a sensitive topic for them that they may or may not have completely healed from as of yet. Not giving a trigger warning about a topic that’s possibly sensitive to your friend may make you come across as callous and build some tension in your relationship.

Setting these boundaries allows us to show care for our friends but also to be our own best advocate. Knowing when you aren’t in the best social or emotional headspace to listen to someone else will help you to protect your own mental and emotional health. It’s difficult to be there for someone when you cannot be there for yourself first. As RuPaul always reminds us, “if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an amen?” Amen!

Respect boundaries set

Whether you are the one asking to vent or the one being asked, this entire exchange should be done with kindness in mind. Again, honesty is important but let’s not forget to have some tact when we deliver it.

If someone says that they don’t have the emotional/mental bandwidth to be there for you right now, accept it. It may sting but try to be patient, don’t show that you’re annoyed, or start acting passive-aggressive towards them. You must learn to understand and respect their answer.

Let the other person know that it is okay that they said no right now, you were the one that gave them the option in the first place. Psychologist Meredith Fuller suggests that you say something along the lines of “I understand, glad I checked, and glad you told me.” (But said in your own words, of course).

As mentioned earlier, a real friend will make the effort to help when they feel that they are in a better place. They just want to make sure that they will be fully present and fully able to empathize with you to the best that they can.

If someone does say no to your venting session, try not to take it personally. If this is a real friend, then the reason why they said no is not about you. They may be going through a very difficult time at the moment (whether they mention that they need your support or not). And for the nth time, real ones will come back. If they say no, try not to think that it’s because they don’t value you as a friend or that you are a burden to them. It is most probably the exact opposite of this that is true: they may value you so much that they want to be fully prepared and ready to hear you and help you out when they can!

In the meantime, try to find someone else to talk to. If all else fails, it may be time to take yourself on a much-needed self-care date. Self-care doesn’t have to be anything too fancy. It can even just mean reading your favorite book, indulging in that cheat meal you’ve been dreaming about, or maybe just having a solo dance party in your room to some killer tunes.

If things still feel too heavy, you may want to try seeking professional help. Mental health professionals and therapists are professionals for a reason. Just like your friends, they only want what’s best for you and to help you out.

Not everyone can always have the emotional bandwidth to deal with a friend’s problems which is why it is always worth asking for emotional consent. Let’s not forget that venting can be a good thing, even a fun thing among the right company. Asking for emotional consent may be seen as a sign of respect, whether you’re the one asking to vent or the one being asked. It helps you set boundaries for yourself and others, pushing you to advocate for yourself when you need to.

It takes courage to ask for help and to stand up for yourself—“no” is a scary word sometimes, okay?! Seeking emotional consent may be a lesson in courage and empathy. Being vulnerable won’t always be easy, but if you are surrounded by the right people then it should be no problem.

We never know what someone is going through. Remember that if you have strong emotional needs, then so does the person you are planning to talk to.

 

Other POP! stories you might like:

Want better mental health this year? Start by doing this one *little* thing

How the pandemic distorted our sense of time, according to a psychologist

‘Legal or Scam?’ Can employers require many skills from applicants for a single job post

 

 

 

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