Welcome to my first attempt at the Blogging A to Z Challenge! 26 posts starting April 1, one for each letter of the alphabet (I get Sundays off). I’m exploring meaningful words to apply to perceptions, attitudes, behaviors, and relationships. It’s a personal journey, part of my mission of self-assessment and development through writing. Thank you for stopping by, and please feel free to comment! 🙂
Sometimes we get angry, and we need an outlet. But often we need to suppress, get through the situation with grace and smiles. Sometimes the need for professionalism and control can turn into chronic repression, which can then lead to sudden and violent explosions, often on those we love most. Psychology tells us that children (and adults, as well) do this because it’s safest to lose it among those who truly love us, and we know this subconsciously. But the scars left on these relationships can be disfiguring. It’s dysfunctional, and there is a solution: Curse It All.
A colleague in mind-body medicine told me once that he recommended to his patients to tantrum. I was incredulous at first, but then I saw the light. Venting, done appropriately, can be cathartic and liberating. One day I became abruptly livid, I won’t tell you why, but suffice it to say it was over something small, that represented a chronic dysfunctional pattern in a longstanding relationship (Cryptic is also a word for this post!). It occurred to me that this was the perfect opportunity to try the tantrum method. I was home by myself, and I share no walls with my neighbors. I took a pair of jeans, held them by the cuffs, and proceeded to pummel at the bed, all the while screaming expletives at the top of my lungs, stomping, and flailing wildly. It took maybe 45 seconds, tops. Afterward I felt a new calm, a lightness that had seemed impossible just minutes before.
Cursing, or swearing, has some interesting benefits. It can increase pain tolerance, strengthen bonds of solidarity, and help us convey conviction and passion. So I endorse it, as long as we use these words strategically. A follow up experiment to the pain tolerance study found that daily swearers, people habituated to the practice, had less analgesic benefit compared to occasional swearers. We now also have access to adult coloring books, giving us a visual route to unload intense emotions.
But then there is more work to do. Sometimes it’s enough just to have vented, but I think we serve ourselves best when we can take some time and energy to evaluate. The first step here is to get Curious. I first learned this from my life coach. In conflict, it’s so easy to only see our own point of view. Emotional hijacking causes tunnel vision. So once the emotions have dissipated by way of swearing and chopping bed with jeans, we can once again see and think clearly. Curiosity asks open-ended questions: What just happened here? How did I get to this place? Why do I fly off the handle like this whenever (fill in the blank)? Advanced curiosity is where assumptions can also be challenged: What story am I telling about the other person that causes me to react this way? What other story can I tell that would help us both suffer less and get to mutual understanding? These are well-established techniques in coaching and psychology. I refer you to Rising Strong, Brené Brown’s newest book, in which she describes the process of using curiosity as the springboard for healing from adversity and living ‘wholeheartedly.’
Why is this important? Because humans live to be connected. Anger can be blinding. It arises first and so intensely when we have other, more distressing feelings underlying, such as sadness, shame, rejection, and guilt. Anger serves to protect us from the pain of those emotions, and also keeps us from moving through them, healing them. The repression-explosion cycle costs us energy and connection (to self and others), and ultimately keeps us from living truly, freely, joyful lives. Cursing decompresses emotions, allowing us to open the door to relationships with curiosity. Then, when we uncover the answers to the open-ended questions, we can start to reconnect with what we love about our partners, our children, our friends, our colleagues, and ourselves.
So go ahead, detonate those strategic f-bombs! Find the padded space to rail and flail. Then savor the possibilities of newfound clarity of mind and heart. How much better could it get? We never know, but it could be spectacular.