“Ask a Priest: Is it OK to Vent About Someone?”

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Q: Is venting a possibility? Can one talk behind someone’s back (in a negative way) for therapeutic reasons or to deal with one’s anger toward another? Is this possible? The person does not want to hurt the other, just deal with it. -P.S.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Venting is certainly a possibility, given fallen human nature. But it can quickly become a very uncharitable exercise that ruins the good name of a person. And rather than being therapeutic, venting can become a habit that drags down one’s spirit and the spirit of all those in the vicinity.

A few numbers from the Catechism are worth quoting:

No. 2475. Christ’s disciples have “put on the new man, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” By “putting away falsehood,” they are to “put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.”

No. 2477. Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

— of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

— of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them;

— of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

No. 2478. To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.

That last number is a helpful guide in daily life. So often we are tempted to assume the worst of others — and proceed to share our assumptions with others. This is the kind of thing that can poison a workplace or school or neighborhood. And we shouldn’t kid ourselves that venting isn’t going to hurt other people. It does, and with the coming of Internet and e-mail and texting, nasty comments can gain traction and spread rapidly.

I’d suggest a few things. First, cultivate a spirit of mercy and forgiveness. Our Lord actually prayed from the cross for his tormentors. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). If Christ could suffer and die for that person who rubs us the wrong way, shouldn’t we be willing to show some mercy to that person?

Second, when you are simply boiling up inside and need to express yourself (“vent”), feel free to do so in prayer. God can handle it! Sometimes, though, we need to speak to another human person in order to clear the air and help process our emotions. When this is necessary, focus on expressing your own emotions and how hard it is for you to deal with them. Avoid condemning other persons, their motivations (what you think are their motivations) and their shortcomings. That kind of venting will never actually help us get back to an even keel. It will leave us bitter and angry — maybe even more than when we started venting.

Third, cultivate the habit of speaking well of others, of looking for the good in others. What tremendous good you would do if you tried to keep conversations positive. It would change the atmosphere of the office, the school, the neighborhood. It would be a great act of charity, and it wouldn’t cost much. You’d be surprised what a pleasant habit it could become. I pray that you consider pursuing just such a habit.

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