Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Angry Letter and Healthy Venting

It's four o'clock. My toddler has been happy and playing nicely all day. At 3:45pm MST, that all goes to hell. The door opens and Preston walks in - immediately the energy shifts and cue the circus music. It wasn't bad energy; Preston was quite happy actually. Those two boys just feed off of each other, one things leads to the next and then there is screaming and crying and mass hysteria. My head starts to throb and I start to panic realizing that it is only Monday. My husband had the day off and we spent the morning running some errands. At about 3:43pm he comes into the office and says that he is going to go for a bike ride; when he gets back he'll clean the windows and do some other stuff. I was good with the bike ride but as he started talking about his other chores and the screaming started two minutes later I held up my hands - "Really? You're going to wash the windows at 5:30 tonight?" His response in a very cheery tone: "Or you can do it some other day this week."

Grrrrrrrrrr. Now, my brain starts spinning story lines - something that we all do but don't think much about or pay much attention to. It looks something like this: "I can clean the windows? What, he thinks I don't have enough to do on my own? He thinks he needs to tack on one more thing to MY list? Just because he wants go for a bike ride right now and then make more busy work for himself tonight when all the kids are home and fighting and crazy and I'm trying to get dinner on the table and carpool and sh&* the windows will now become my chore? Right. Yes, pass the buck and let me do the windows because I don't have my own list of to-do's, none of which I accomplished today because I was spending time with you on your day-off doing your stuff!"

Usually it then morphs into other areas of frustration that you have been repressing (you don't spend enough time with the kids, you need be around more, you work too much, etc.) - you get the idea. Ever notice how arguments morph from one issue to another and by the time you are done you don't even know what started the problem in the first place? It's your internal storyline. The storyline is only a problem because we are creating a thought process for the other person that may or may not exist and it is almost always done when we are emotional and have requirements that are not being met. Most of the time comments get made with no malice or wrongful intent, they simply come out and our interpretation skews everything. I feel pretty confident (now) that he just didn't think through the timing, the consequences of 'circus hour' and the fact that he could do the windows later on in the week without such a dramatic impact - say Saturday morning. Just that one comment "you can do it" timed perfectly with the toddler screaming at Preston was just enough to prompt me to do the unspeakable - write the angry letter.

And I did. In this day and age, it's the angry email but whose keeping track. This is something I have gotten very good at because I enjoy writing and can communicate effectively through writing; it has always been an effective means of getting the monkey off my back. My biggest problem is that I usually push the 'send' button and my uncensored frustration safely arrives in the hands of my victim. Yes, this is bad. There are two ways to deal with negative emotions and that is either through expression or repression. I was recently in a class taught by a LCSW  who talked about the ills of venting and healthy ways of managing angry or negative emotion. She was very defensive of emotions in general - anger, sadness, frustration are all healthy and fine emotions to have, it's how we manage these emotions that can lead to problems. With that being said, the angry letter/email is great method for emotion management, you simply don't push the 'send' button and instead click 'delete.'  So here is the gist of it...

Expression puts that negative emotion on others and can damage the relationship. Expression usually is a verbal purging of emotional poison on another person. Repression is simply swallowing (hard) that negative emotional poison which damages you in various forms including, depression, displacement, anxiety, physical ills and acting-out. One way or another that emotion needs to be processed for our sake and for others. Writing a letter and then getting rid of it allows for expression without damaging the relationship or ourselves; get it out and get rid of it - consider it a catharsis.

It sounds ineffective and too easy right? Admittedly, I wrote my letter and almost pushed send because it made some really terrific points that I felt my husband should know about and when I was done I was still frustrated. Two points here: First, I remembered Dale Carnegie noting that you can never really win an argument. In this case, I thought I was right and that I knew better and my letter was simply an attempt to sway him to my side/perspective. Consider being on the receiving end... when someone has attacked you do you remain open in that moment or do you tend to defend yourself and stand your ground? As humans, our instincts are always to protect ourselves. When you give it a little time and humility, it is easier to see where that person is coming from. Those conversations are best handled when it is not reactionary and both parties are calm. I'm almost certain my husband would have apologized but also defended himself. We could have gone round about it circles taking turns expressing and defending.

Second, I looked at the situation and my own requirements. I recognized that my requirement was that he do his activities when it doesn't infringe on me and my activities and needs. With him leaving, I was left with the kids and the one major item I wanted to cross off my list today was work on my blog which I was not going to be able to do if I didn't want my kids screaming and eventually beating on each other. I also had the sense to recognize that he really didn't work through the big picture when he opened his mouth; he wasn't considering that help with the kids would be good. Always look at what requirement you are placing on the other person.

In the end, he came home and helped with dinner and the kids and it was okay. I wrote my letter, deleted it, and then focused my attention else where and my frustration did dissipate. By the time he got home, I was fine.

What methods do you use to diffuse anger and frustration positively?

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