"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,
GET THERAPYI 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.
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.