“If I had just put my phone in the drawer overnight, before I sent those emails to my soon-to-be ex-wife,” lamented John. “They were really bad. Now, the courts have decided I have anger issues, that we can’t communicate. So I have lost legal custody of my son. All because of 2 emails I wish I would have never sent.”
This great loss for John became the wake-up call — or wake up hammer— which has pushed him into counseling. Even for those who realize venting online is a mistake, it’s still so difficult to control when we feel hurt, insecure, scared and angry. John continued his story during our first counseling session, spending the majority of his time showing me emails - she sent, he sent; he sent, she sent - desperate to undo the damage he had done, and at the same time, still imprisoned by feelings of anger, insecurity, and injustice.
Clearly, John is not alone in clients who show me their online communications, and who also remorse after sending what they vented. In fact, I don’t believe there is anyone in this day and age who can say they haven’t regretted pressing that rascal SEND button, who wished they would have waited until they cooled their jets, collected themselves, instead of venting online.
Technology isn’t the cause —it’s an aspect of our human nature to be emotionally reactive to a situation or person outside of us. And we want the quick fix. We want to feel better NOW. We want an answer NOW. We want to be right NOW. We want to be validated NOW. We want to feel in control NOW. We want to blame NOW. This more limited reactive part of our nature is often who we think we are. But the truth is, we possess a completely unlimited aspect as well, capable of what we cannot even imagine. The most important power we have in life is deciding which aspect, which energy, we feed.
Research shows that venting actually makes you angrier, more aggressive. When we are emotionally reactive, maybe it feels good in the moment, but ultimately we only feel emptier leaving us vulnerable to the (albeit negative) energy that anger temporarily provides. Not to mention that a bad vent can come back to hurt us - i.e., alienating friends, being pegged as someone with anger issues or out of control.
Now add to the mix, the 24-hour online temptation to write or post right away what feels like we must, with no built-in mechanism safeguarding us to think first before we send that nastygram. Venting has become a bigger problem than ever.
This doesn’t mean we should suppress and never speak our minds. To learn more about effectively expressing ourselves when we are upset, when there is conflict, please see the post: Turning Conflict Into Closeness. For now, if there’s one take away that is most key, it is the understanding that our own reaction is the real enemy. No matter how wrong the other person is, the biggest battle is within ourselves. Always.
So please read this carefully, when you receive Any online message that triggers hurt, insecurity, anger, or fear if you want to do the best thing for yourself in the long run:
PAUSE! Do whatever it takes to delay your response, to resist the urge to react right then. If you need to, shut down your phone (like you want to shut down your reactivity). Give yourself time to step aside, do something proactive and incompatible with your emotional reaction.
Doing something proactive will likely be totally illogical from the viewpoint of your emotions. Such as taking long, slow breaths, going for a walk or run, listening to calming music, helping someone in need, reading an inspiring book. This restriction will be very painful indeed. But not nearly as painful or long-lasting as the suffering and chaos that could knock on your door after you vent, like an unwelcome guest who just won’t leave.