The Pros and Cons of Venting (There are no pros!)
There is increasing advice to vent emotions following activation of misophonia. There are support groups online actively encouraging this very practice. The question is, does venting help?
The short answer is, “No.”
The longer answer suggests that the practice will promote an individual’s response to experiences that activate their misophonia. Make it worse, that is. And, when doing all this venting online in social groups, probably makes the misophonia of others worse, too.
Not so many years ago, those having anger issues were encouraged to get a punchbag, or similar, and install it in their basement. When they returned home full of rage they could simply leave the ordinary world behind as they went down the steps to the basement. Then punch the bag until they felt good. OK, the practical application is a little different but the process is similar: you experience a powerful emotional activation because someone is eating, say, and you get on Facebook and vent. And all the members of the Facebook group tell you how right you are. (Other social media platforms are available, of course.)
At that point you feel better. Why?
Neurochemicals. And dopamine particularly.
Now, dopamine is often referred to as the neurochemical of pleasure. Other times as the neurochemical of reward. We’ve developed a descriptive phrase, saying, “It was a dopamine moment.” But – as is so often the case – those words are not necessarily completely true.
Dopamine in the brains of mammals at least – and that’s what we are – is a molecule of desire. There are some stunning examples of its power.
Back in the 1950s, researchers James Olds and Peter Milner studied dopamine-mediated behaviour in rats. They implanted electrodes into the rats’ brains, then every time a rat pressed a lever, the electrodes stimulated various areas of their brains.
If you’re interested in the formal science, the paper Positive reinforcement produced by electrical stimulation of septal area and other regions of rat brain by Olds and Milner can be accessed here on APA PsycNet.
Olds and Milner discovered that stimulating certain brain areas caused the rats to press the lever more and more, receiving more and more stimulation. This showed that a region of the brain known as the septal area to be the most sensitive. In fact, one of the rats in this study was recorded pressing the lever 7500 times in 12 hours when the electrical stimulation was to the septal area.
Further work showed that the part of the brain involved, the medial forebrain bundle – which includes the septal area – is so sensitive to stimulation that the rats would continue to seek it out, even to the point of ignoring eating, drinking, sleeping and sex. This medial forebrain bundle is a large collection of nerve fibres and making many connections in the brain.
How did Olds and Milner find out dopamine was at the heart of this? They recognized that dopamine was responsible by using a dopamine antagonist. This is a substance that blocks the effects of dopamine and when they used it, the rats stopped compulsive lever-pressing and returned to rat normality.
This research showed that without the activity of dopamine the rats didn’t respond to the reinforcing stimulation. They simply stopped pressing the lever because it didn’t seem worth the effort.
What the research might suggest is that doing anything that leads to activation of dopamine makes it more likely that you’ll do it again. And again. And more.
Those having the punchbag felt better because the release of neurochemicals the activity promoted – and dopamine in particular – a need to do it. In fact, becoming angry in the afternoon then becomes a necessary prerequisite for the punchbag experience that follows. In short, the person becomes more and more angry. In this respect the brain is not at all sophisticated: the neural networks activated in these experiences simply promote whatever behaviour leads to the release of dopamine.
There’s an interesting article at verywellMind, confirming that research shows letting off steam, as they say, “even in its most harmless forms, is not an effective way to control your anger. In fact, these supposedly harmless forms of venting have been shown to increase aggressive behaviour later on.”
They go on to say, “While you may temporarily feel better, the act of venting can lead you to have more difficulty with your anger down the road.”
Other research shows that sharing these feelings – especially on social media where Likes and other responses are rewarded by dopamine activation – will encourage compulsive emotional activation.
Your misophonia can be made worse by sharing the experiences of others in this way, that is.
The next step is to discover just what will both help you feel better in the moment and continue to down-regulate your reaction…