“I just tripped on the stairs over there.”
“I messed up at work today.”
When we experience something negative or embarrassing, many of us feel the need to share it with someone else. This phenomenon has been studied from various scientific perspectives.
Negative Experiences are a Part of Life
A Japanese university experimented to see how people socially share their experiences when they see images that evoke unpleasant feelings. When participants were left alone in a waiting room with a friend after seeing the unpleasant images, 95.3% of them told their friends about the images. Even when they were told not to disclose, 53% of them ended up talking about their experience a week later. Our desire to share bad experiences with others is so strong, and we struggle to keep it to ourselves.
In clinical psychology, verbalization of emotions is believed to have a cathartic effect that removes anxiety and tensions. Verbalizing emotions is also linked to better mental health, as it has significant implications for depression recovery. People seem to derive these effects from “cognitive” and “interpersonal” aspects of this behavior, which we will discuss below.
It Stabilizes Our Unstable Feelings
Tough times can make us feel frustrated and anxious. When these experiences occur, our trust, self-image, perception of others, and the world can be shaken. We all desire to sort out what happened, why it happened, and know what kind of social support we can get. When there’s something out of our control, we feel the need to discuss it with peers so that we can restore our faith again. These are the “cognitive” reasons we vent our feelings to others.
Staying Connected to Society
We tend to focus on ourselves and the negative experiences when we’re upset. As a result, we tend to forget about the rest of the world. We try to recover from the loneliness we experience during these times by sharing our negative experiences with friends and family. Our desire to communicate stems from wanting society to know how we’re feeling and to feel accepted. This is the “interpersonal” reason why we talk about painful things.
It’s not rare to share the little embarrassing things that we experience. Like when we mess up during a presentation or trip on a flat surface. A Japanese university set to find out if and when students would talk to others about their saddest, angriest, and most embarrassing experiences. Researchers expected results to show that embarrassing experiences were seldom shared. However, 71.4 % of participants claimed to share their most embarrassing experiences with others. Also, more than half shared their experience almost immediately after it happened.
Sharing feelings is part of our universal behavior. A social study of shared emotional behavior across six countries, including Belgium and Suriname, found no differences by country, age, or gender, in the way that humans shared emotions. Talking about embarrassing or upsetting occurrences seems to be a common phenomenon for men and women of all ages and backgrounds worldwide.
Nevertheless, it can be somewhat stressful for a listener to hear someone’s negative experience. It’s wiser to spread it out among several people rather than venting everything to only one person.
Sharing difficult or embarrassing experiences is natural. We should always support our circle of family and friends to help each other get through these experiences.
Kawase, T. (2000). Why We Talk About Our Emotions: Why Do People Talk About Negative Emotions to Others? Bulletin of Miyazaki Municipal University Faculty of Humanities 7(1), 135-149.