When Does Venting with Close Friends Threaten Mental Health?

Everybody likes to share experiences with other people. When something positive happens in someone’s life they share their good news with those closest to them. For many people, this is also the case when negative events occur. However, according to a recent study led by Laura C. Bouchard of the Department of Psychology at Saint Joseph’s University in Pennsylvania, dwelling on negative experiences by repeatedly discussing them with others can be detrimental to one’s mental health. This process of corumination was the focus of Bouchard’s study and was shown to be predictive of depressive symptoms. Bouchard assessed 349 college students weekly for two months and examined their levels of depression and corumination. She also looked at neediness as a contributing factor and measured the effects of gender.

Bouchard found that neediness, which in this study refers to the desire to have needs met, the need for close attachment and security from others and the need to feel loved and valued, increased the risk for depression in the women, but not in the men. In fact, neediness scores were much higher for the women with depression than any of the men, with or without depression. When she examined corumination, she found that the women who spent extensive time sharing their negative feelings and negative experiences with close friends were the most likely to experience depression.

This finding is multifaceted, as close social relations is an adaptive factor. Women are more interpersonal than men and for adolescent girls, the support received from other girls and friends is a critical part of social development and can actually insulate them from negative internalizing behaviors and other negative psychological outcomes. However, as this study has shown, engaging in corumination as a facet of socializing can post a potential threat to positive mental well-being. Bouchard believes that this research sheds light on the subtle nuances that exist in female relationships and how they can help and harm women’s mental health. She added, “Clinicians would benefit by considering the potential negative effects of close interpersonal relationships held by patients, particularly those who score highly on corumination.”

Bouchard, Laura C., and Josephine H. Shih. (2013). Gender differences in stress generation: Examination of interpersonal predictors. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 32.4 (2013): 424-45. ProQuest. Web.

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  • f tracey

    April 11th, 2013 at 10:31 PM

    One thing I can say about this: it is so important to have a friend you can trust to talk to about negative things in your life. I am obviously not the best judge of character. I’ll often tell someone things that are bothering me in confidence and then they’ll use it for their own gain. Maybe it’s someone who needs to use your bad fortune to make themselves feel better so they remind you of your own bad fortune every couple of days. Or, maybe it’s someone who needs to feel important in a social circle so they gossip about the thing you’ve told them and then everyone knows. Or, maybe it’s someone who needs to judge you so they can feel better about themselves so they talk about you behind your back. Whatever it is, having someone you trust to be your confidant cannot be underestimated.

  • bev

    April 11th, 2013 at 10:40 PM

    yeah i get what they’re saying cuz i used to talk to my friend girl at work all the time and we’d complain and complain so much.
    but then i realized that the more i complained the worst i felt so i quit talking to her about bad stuff and only about good stuff.
    it was amazing how much better i felt after only a little bitty of a while so now we just talk about stuff outside of work mostly.

  • George P

    April 11th, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    My daughter. She is 14 and has depression. Well she is very needy. Always looks to other people to make herself feel better. Anytime she talks to a boy. Always asking if she be pretty like the other girls or smart or something. I try to tell her. It up to you to make yourself feel good about you. Nobody else. Nobody can do that for you but you.


    April 11th, 2013 at 10:55 PM

    What? Women are needy? I hadn’t notice. SNORT!

  • Kelton

    April 11th, 2013 at 10:57 PM

    This helps me understand my daughter a little better. She is in high school and suffers from very low self esteem. We just moved at the beginning of the year, so she has some friends at school, but no one ever asks her to do anything after school. So, she doesn’t really have any close friends to insulate her from her own negative thinking or that of her peers.

  • Kayla

    April 12th, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    I’m not too sure that I agree with this. I know that it isn’t always healthy to stay stuck on one subject over and over again, but there have been other times that I have received some of the very best advice when I laid it all out there for my friends and had them help me through it. Yes, you have to talk about it a lot, but shouldn’t that be a natural part of the healing process? Maybe this doesn’t work for some, but I think that for the majority of us, venting to our friends is a great way to work things out when we are kind of stuck in a rut, and if you have good friends then they are going to give you the kind of advice that will only help you.

  • Cynthia Rebholz

    April 12th, 2013 at 6:57 PM

    Both men and women have attachment needs, expressed and unexpressed. Supportive partners, are very helpful in calming down the limbic system. Also, internal attachment as taught in IFS Therapy can help individuals, just as EFT for couples is helpful. We also know from the work of John Gottman that a male not expressing his needs during conflict with a partner, while appearing calm will have escalation in blood pressure and heart rate. “Neediness” is a human condition its wired in our brain. Both genders need to learn to connect and support each other.

  • Stephen L Salter Psy. D.

    April 13th, 2013 at 6:09 AM

    The misguiding take-away from Bouchard’s study is, “If we just stop talking about it, it will disappear.” We would conclude that our tyrannical culture of positive thinking is doing just what it should: policing negative thought, and ultimately preventing true compassion.

    Bouchard’s study is not a true experimental design and says very little, if anything. Is it a mystery that people who talk about negative feelings will also report depressive feelings to experimenters? As an alternative interpretation, we could suggest that the “coruminators” are more authentic than those who claim that everything is just dandy. Sure, there are truly depressed people and there are truly happy people. But a great number of people feel the need to report being happy, whether they feel it or not. Bouchard’s study doesn’t make that distinction. It takes self-report at face value.

  • Theodore

    April 15th, 2013 at 4:02 AM

    Without our friends where would most of us be? I would be willing to bet that NOT having someone to talk to would lead to greater negativity than actually having someone to talk through things with and receive feedback and advice.

  • Callie

    April 15th, 2013 at 1:25 PM

    Letting it all out to a trusted group of friends does seem nice. And I have done exactly that so many times in the past.

    But that is true only when it is a trusted group. Seeing how young people today bully and cyber bully each other and are always looking to put each other down, I dont think that level of trust is present and what that means is that the benefits may well be reversed and replaced by negative effects of sharing your issues with others who could cause damage to you or your feelings.

  • Hank dean

    April 16th, 2013 at 3:59 AM

    Friends, even when we think that they have our best interests at heart, will often only fan the flames of any anger that we are feeling. They are on our side, they want to be supportive. Unfortunately I find that there are many times when I have vented that I end up feeling WORSE after talking with them because there is never any real solution. It is like they are simply validating what I am feeling, and while that is sometimes a good thing, sometimes what I really need is a different point of view, a way to help me see things in a new way.

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