Think of a closed vessel that is continually heated. Eventually the pressure will build up and cause the vessel to explode. If the vessel is vented, however, when the pressure gets too great, steam or gas can escape a little at a time and keep an explosion from happening (we are grateful for the safety vents on our hot-water heaters and pressure cookers!).
Explosions are messy, and sometimes people get hurt. Better to let off some steam in a safe and controlled way than blow your top all at once.
We’re going to get up close and personal with an incident that really bothered you. We don’t want you to try to fix it. We just want you to take it apart, look at it from every angle, and, most important, explore how you feel about it. We offer guidance in the form of ten questions to ask yourself. Some of us might use the word “venting” to describe this kind of detailed exploration of an event or interaction that made us feel bad.
Venting comes naturally to some of us and not to others. If you’re a suck-it-up- (or push-it-down-) and-move-on type of person, you might have a harder time with this week’s exercise. The same goes if you equate venting with complaining, think of crying as a sign of weakness, don’t want to think about something that’s very painful for you, would rather fix things than feel them, or are uncomfortable getting angry.
It can help to remember that feelings aren’t things to be ashamed of. You’re allowed to feel angry, sad, lonely, disappointed, hurt, and afraid. It’s okay to feel that things aren’t fair, that life has dealt you a terrible hand, or that people aren’t there for you. You’re entitled to whatever emotions you’re experiencing. Give yourself permission to feel them, in all their raw and powerful glory. They may be very intense, but you won’t feel them this strongly forever — because together we’re going to work on feeling better.
PEP TALK: It sucks when things happen that make you feel bad, and it’s okay to feel the way you do. Give yourself permission to let it out.
Mirror, Mirror on the Wall
Play along with us for a moment and ask yourself this question: “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, what bothered me this week most of all?” Keep your problem area in mind when you answer.
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If your problem area is interpersonal conflict, what stressful interaction happened over the last few days? Did your husband forget your anniversary? Did your boss criticize the way you dealt with a customer? The incident you choose should involve, or at least be related to, the primary person you’re in conflict with.
If your problem area is complicated grief, what happened recently to remind you of what you lost? Did someone make a comment about your loved one that made you feel sad or angry?
Is your problem area transitions? What happened over the last week to make you miss your old life?
If your problem area is loneliness and isolation, what made you feel cut off from the people around you during the last few days?
The event or interaction doesn’t have to be monumental; it just has to be the thing that bothered you the most this week. The fact that it happened recently is important. The mirror didn’t tell the queen in Snow White who was the fairest in the land twelve years ago or even two months ago — it answered in the here and now.
Make your answer about what bothered you the most yesterday, two days ago, even a week ago. But that’s as far back as you should go.
TRY THIS: Keep your focus on the here and now, and pay attention to how you’re feeling.
What to Ask the Mirror
We’ve come up with ten questions you can ask yourself to explore what happened, how you feel about it, and whether it connects to similar situations and feelings you’ve experienced before.
Make your answers detailed. Write them down, record them on your phone or computer, or tell a friend or family member. The idea is to express yourself, so you can stop carrying around the event and its related feelings.
TEN QUESTIONS TO ASK THE MIRROR
1. What happened?
2. How did I feel?
3. How did I handle those feelings?
4. How do I usually handle those feelings?
5. When else do I feel this way?
6. Why did it bother me so much?
7. What caught me by surprise?
8. What could I have done differently?
9.What stopped me from trying one of those different approaches?
10. What do I wish had been different?
First, we’re asking the questions to explore a specific, highly charged situation that relates to your problem area. Second, we’re keeping the focus on you and your feelings, not how others involved might feel. This is your venting session. It’s all about you.
Remember, we aren’t trying to solve a problem or fix anything. If you gain new awareness about your feelings and behavior, fantastic.
Another thing to keep in mind: don’t judge yourself for what happened or your feelings about it. We want you to become aware of and accept your feelings, not hide from them, shove them down, eat or drink them away, pretend they don’t exist, or displace them onto something or someone else.
PEP TALK: Venting is where emotional change starts, but it’s not about fixing anything. (Of course, if you want to give something new a try, go right ahead. Then ask yourself how you feel!)
This Week’s To-Do List
Complete the Ten Questions to Ask the Mirror exercise. Identify the one thing related to your problem area that bothered you the most over the last few days, and answer the ten questions in as much detail as you can. You’re venting — don’t hold back! Record your answers on paper, on your computer, or on your phone or simply speak them aloud. You can also do this exercise with a friend or family member. (If you choose to do the exercise with someone else, your job is to answer the questions. Theirs is to listen.)
Take your emotional temperature. After you’ve done the exercise, take a moment to check how you’re feeling. Even if you don’t feel better, do you feel different?
Printed with permission from
New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com.
Feeling Better: Beat Depression and Improve Your Relationships with Interpersonal Psychotherapy
by Cindy Goodman Stulberg and Ronald J. Frey.
Feeling Better offers a step-by-step guide using a research-proven approach called interpersonal psychotherapy, or IPT, which can help you deal with the issues that may be contributing to your unhappiness. Therapists Cindy Stulberg and Ron Frey have used IPT with clients for more than twenty years and achieved dramatic, lasting results after only eight to twelve weeks. They have now created this accessible, first-of-its kind guide. Feeling Better teaches skills and tools that will allow you to set and achieve goals, articulate feelings, and make constructive decisions. You’ll learn to identify and engage with allies and supporters, deal with difficult people, and, if need be, walk away from harmful relationships.
About the Authors
Cindy Goodman Stulberg, DCS, CPsych, and Ronald J. Frey, PhD, CPsych, are the authors of Feeling Better and directors of the Institute for Interpersonal Psychotherapy. Cindy is a psychologist, teacher, wife, mother, mother-in-law, and grandmother. Ronald is a former acting chief psychologist for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and a registered forensic and clinical psychologist. Visit them online at http://interpersonalpsychotherapy.com.