Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Do You Feel Better Now?

FD and I were bantering about them. You know, the bad drivers, the ones who drive poorly, cut you off and then "flip you the bird." It doesn't happen to me very often because I opt out, ride a bike.  But it did last week.

"You know what you should do?" FD tells me. "You should get that vanity plate, the one we talked about years ago."

He's talking about the one that says,
I had always wanted that one.

"Except that people who rage like that aren't going to connect the dots," I reply.

"Then a bumper sticker," he continues. "It's bigger, more visible." He suggests:
Slow down, you'll live longer.
This is also something we have talked about in the past.

The real issue, I tell him, isn't the occasional road-rager, because he's so obviously out of control and we'll never see him again, and who cares? The real problem lies in everyday communication, where we're struck by insults or barbs, non sequiturs out of the mouths of people we actually know. They are generally just letting off steam, and it's usually displacement. I.e.,
The boss makes you work overtime, you come home tired and angry and kick the dog.
Kicking the boss will get you fired.

Online today a blogger opines, It is much easier to displace anger online, to cause tremendous psychological pain via viral messages, malicious gossip, or exposure and shame, and the audience can reach thousands. Beats the schoolyard for impact.

In that situation, the violence of bullying isn't coming out of nowhere. It is planned. Most verbal and emotional violence, however, isn't like that. It isn't premeditated, it isn't intentional bullying. Outbursts are the outcome of emotional overflow. Tears are more mature, to be honest. When the flood is anger, not tears, look for displacement.

But it isn't always displacement, of course. Any of us can be triggered, might have a difficult time holding back our words in many different situations. All of us are capable of becoming a little over-reactive, or a lot, especially when a memory or an event lights up those neural pathways. Or when we're just tired.  Or drink too much.

In family therapy, when one family member complains about another member's frequent verbal assaults, the recommended response is variable; it depends upon the circumstances.  But often we suggest assertiveness-- labeling what's going on without emotion.

Overt and covert permission from our parents to be colorfully expressive, adds to that emotional vortex that rises to overflow. We learn from our parents, and from our teachers, and now from the media (what we see in the movies and on television), that lashing out sometimes feels really good. Raging families unconsciously know this and can be fairly robust, meaning members become immune, in their way, to feeling emotional or verbal abuse. It is the toughening up process of childhood.

That doesn't make it a better way to communicate, of course.  At some point, no question, going off will be dysfunctional, somewhere, somehow, and may even cost the rager a job, or a relationship, an account or a recommendation.  Loyalty, trust.  Bye bye.

Which is why I told FD, "The bumper sticker I'd really like to see would be more to the point, process-wise. How about something like this?"
Do you feel better now?
Because that's what it's all about, discharging negative energy. It's hard to contain negative emotion and we feel better when the arousal, the irritability is gone, the baby delivered. And that's okay, letting it go, assuming everyone knows that nothing is really meant by it. Nothing personal.

Big assumption.

Safer, we suggest, to wait it out. The irritability will go away.

Forget the bumper sticker! It's a good idea, but make it an intervention. In situations that seem safe, when we're fairly sure there will be no retaliation, when someone insults us or flings blame, or just lets loose with a couple of well-timed expletives, we should ask . . .
Do you feel better now?
With concern.  Make it come from the heart.

Then overflow-ers, aka ragers, get a pass with people who love them. Sometimes. 

But you know, you can take back the words, the memories still stick. People have long memories for this sort of thing.

If I remember correctly, it was a white Honda, maybe an Accord with a beat up bumper, and there was one of those bobbing things in the rear window.  No chains dangling from the mirror.



Have Myelin? said...

well it wasn't me, i have a jeep. =)

lynette said...

after being in a marriage for almost two decades with someone who was always "letting off steam" about everything and everyone, aimless random rants that damaged every member of our household, i can honestly say that i don't believe it was "letting off steam".

i believe he had a deep-seated need to be in control and be validated. i do not believe his technique was intentional. rather, i believe he was unaware of his behavior, and minimized and denied that it was causing the amount of damage it was. his parents always joked about how much rage he had in him -- it was not acceptable behavior in his family, that rage, but they never taught him another way to express what he needed to say, needed to feel.

the few times i did ask "do you feel better now?", he completely went nuts. for the average person who can laugh at themselves, and for whom the rant/vent is occasional, maybe it would work. it would work for me if i were displacing. it would not work if i were expressing valid anger/hurt/upset.

btw, he has terrible road rage issues. our daughter warns him every time she gets in the car with him (especially now that she has her license) that he had better not do it.

he listens to her. most of the time.

how about a bumper sticker that just says "breathe..."

Have Myelin? said...

how about a bumper sticker that says "I'm not in a hurry to get to my funeral..."

Mental health Specialist said...

Many people cant come to grips with the fact they should call a therapist. Getting needed help is crucial.

Nainja said...

I am a kind of a raging driver, I have to admit. Or more precisely, I am a raging cyclist as I don't have a car, being impatient with cars and pedestrians and other cyclists. Basically everybody who happens to be in my way.
I know, that it happens when I stressed and tired and just frustrated. When I am happy and relaxed, I can be a lot more patient. It is actually quite difficult to always control anger when it is there. I don't shout at people or something, I am just driving risky, ranting under my breath. Sticker wouldn't help. Why should they? If somebody talks to you about it, that would probably help.
And therapy is a good thing, I won't deny it. But I have therapy. Changing, that is the difficult thing...

Anonymous said...

If only stickers could so effective there would be no need of therapy. But in fact, stickers are mere an effort to show our grief and helplessness because nobody cares. A person knows when his child suffers from such an event then he is really helpless when he does not find a good doctor. But I know some good doctors so I am not afraid.

Better Things-- Seeing Ghosts