You have the right to complain, vent, blame and blither, just as the person you’re doing it to has the right to tune you out, ignore you and even walk away without saying anything.

If they do the latter, is that being aggressive, passive aggressive or just asserting their right to not listen or engage with anyone they feel is talking over or at them?

If you’re the one who complains, vents, blames or blithers, you may see such a reaction as aggressive and rude.

However, your complaining, etc. and talking at or over people or even yelling as you do can be seen as invasive, intrusive and also rude.

Why do good people like you, complain, vent, blame or blither?

You may do it because it gives you relief, causes you to feel better and once done and you’ve gotten it off your chest, it may cause you to calm down and sometimes be able to have a calm conversation.

Also, if you just did those things into thin air without there being another person, the world might think you were a bit crazy.

There is a neuroscientific explanation for this.

When you’re upset, a stress hormone, cortisol, is high and that causes a part of your brain called the Amygdala to get over activated and signal blood flow to preferentially go to your lower survival brain over your upper rational brain. This results in your not being able to think clearly or communicate calmly.

When you complain, vent, blame or blither and another person hears you out and listens to you without pushing back, reacting or being judgmental, this causes another hormone in you, called oxytocin, to be released.  Elevated oxytocin directly counteracts high cortisol. When that happens, you feel relief which then actually causes a release of dopamine which is pleasurable.

So, your complaining, venting, blaming and/or blithering and the other person listening, hearing you our and accepting it causes your high cortisol (agitation) to go to oxytocin (emotional closeness) to go to dopamine (pleasure).

However if and when the other person pushes back, tells you to calm yourself down, offer unsolicited advice or solutions you don’t want, the other person is thwarting your need to release and feel oxytocin. In fact, their good intentions to try to calm you down can often increase your cortisol and cause you to become even more agitated.

What you don’t understand is that after you’ve gotten things off your chest by your doing those things and frustrating, upsetting, exasperating the person who listens to it, you are increasing their cortisol and demotivating them from wanting to engage and have a calm and constructive conversation with you.

And sometimes you don’t get that because you may not get how can something that just made you feel so much better can cause them to feel so much worse. That’s because the “high colonic” you just experienced didn’t land in thin air. It hit them right between the eyes.

Here’s my question to you. If you as the complainer, venter, blamer and/or blitherer in a moment of relative calm don’t want to push people away from you, would the following make things worse or help prevent such conversations worsening your relationship?

What if the other person did the following instead of just resorting to avoiding you?

  1. When you complain, vent, blame and/or blither, what if the other person didn’t respond with anything by email or text or even if they hung up without saying anything.
  2. Then if you became angry at them, what if they responded verbally or by text/email with: “I have discovered that whenever someone talks at or over me or yells at me, I am unable to listen without becoming frustrated, agitated and even resentful, so I just leave before that happens and before I become even angrier and wait until the other person and I calm down and we can then talk to or even better, with, each other.”
  3. Furthermore, if the conversation actually went well without any complaining, venting, blaming and/or blithering and they sent you the following, would you be able to accept it or would it seem too condescending and patronizing: “I wanted to thank you for the conversation we just had. Too often I’ve noticed that our conversations can easily become frustrating for either or both of us and what we just had was great. I look forward to our continuing to have more conversations like that. BTW, in case I’m imagining something that wasn’t so rosy for you, how was it for you? And if you liked it also, any idea what we can each do going forward to keep future conversations going that way?”

So, what do you think? Too aggressive? Too passive aggressive? Or just assertive on their part and maybe helpful in improving future conversations instead of their dealing with you by staying away from you?

A final note.

If you know you complain, vent, blame and/or blither too much and sense it may be pushing away people you don’t want to alienate and want to mend the widening rift between the two of you, consider sending this blog to them and saying, “I thought this might come in handy when dealing with me. I probably won’t like your doing it if you try it, but I think it might help me do those things less that I do that frustrate you.”


  • Mark Goulston, M.D.

    Author, speaker, podcast host, psychiatrist

    Dr. Mark Goulston is the inventor and developer of Surgical Empathy an approach that helps people to break their attachments to counterproductive modes of functioning and frees them to connect with more productive and healthier alternatives. He is the host of the “My Wakeup Call” podcast where he interviews people on the wakeup calls that changed who they are and made them better human beings and at being human and the host of the LinkedIn Live show, "No Strings Attached." He is a Founding Member of the Newsweek Expert Forum. He is one of the world’s foremost experts on deep listening, radical empathy and real influence with his book, “Just Listen,” becoming the top book on listening in the world, translated into twenty languages and a topic he speaks and teaches globally. He is an advisor, coach, mentor and confidante to CEO’s, founders and entrepreneurs helping them to unlock all their internal blocks to achieving success, fulfillment and happiness. Originally a UCLA professor of psychiatry and crisis psychiatrist for over 25 years, and former FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, Dr. Goulston's expertise has been forged and proven in the crucible of real-life, high stakes situations including being a boots on the ground suicide prevention specialist and serving as an advisor in the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Including, “Just Listen,” he is the author or co-author of nine books with multiple best sellers. He writes or contributes to Harvard Business Review, Business Insider, Biz Journals, Fast Company, Huffington Post, Psychology Today and has appeared as an psychological expert in the media including: CNN, Headline News, msNBC, Fox News, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Fortune, Psychology Today and was the subject of a PBS special. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, California.