Venting versus emotional dumping: Lessons from Prince Harry’s book 'Spare'

Know the difference

By Delna Mistry Anand

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Published: Thu 19 Jan 2023, 7:41 PM

At the time of writing this, Prince Harry’s much-awaited book Spare had just been released, and was received with two diametrically opposing perspectives. While he has a large group of well-wishers and supporters, a larger majority seems to feel that the book carries too much intimate information, goes on endlessly about his family trauma, and ultimately reveals his unhealed grief. And yet, the book is topping the best sellers list. Even in my own circle of friends, we have two completely different views.

“Harry is so brave for breaking the chain of generational trauma and speaking up against his toxic family environment,” says one. One does feel for the 12-year-old Harry who tragically lost his mother. Being in such a public role, it couldn’t have been easy. But people are tired now, of the constant whining — first on Oprah, then on various podcasts, Netflix, and now this memoir. There has to be a shelf-life to this.

This brings me to a conversation I had with a dear friend, whose colleague has gone through a bitter divorce. My friend has been a wonderful support for that friend, and now one year down the road, her friend still continues to pour out the same stories and sadness onto her, sharing various (often unnecessary) details about the marriage, divorce, and ex. My friend’s question to me is — is this healthy venting or is it an emotional dump?

What is emotional dumping?

Emotional dumping is an act of unconsciously sharing your feelings or perspective without an awareness of the other person and their emotional state or needs at the time. It is an incredibly common (often addictive) pattern of reliving a past emotional experience in the present. And often it is so unconscious and natural that we don’t realise how this is affecting the other. What we seek (in the process of emotional dumping) is connection, closeness and intimacy, not necessarily a solution.

This can feel excessively frustrating and draining. It can also make you feel helpless, because there usually isn’t much you can do. You may try giving advice or perspective to the other, but are met with resistance. You may genuinely want to be there for that person, but their rigidity is wearing you down.

Venting, on the other hand, is all about connection and compassion. Venting to or with a trusted companion feels relieving. It happens within a time frame and does not continue in repetitive cycles. It seeks solutions and honours personal boundaries. It also allows for an honest exchange of views and feedback.

In life, each of us already have enough baggage to carry. Some of us have amazing friends to share the load with. But it may be worth checking if we are honouring their companionship and aren’t overloading them. Let’s learn to set boundaries, show kindness to others and ourselves, and continue to build our inner resources.

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