One thing I have learnt over the last few years is that returning fire nearly always makes things worse. The impulse to meet attack with aggressive defense is overwhelming, yet restraining it is often the only way to find peace. Several times lately I have been faced with situations where the urge to defend myself was roaring in my ears. Heart pounding, bile rising, all I wanted to do was scream my point of view from the rooftops. Or maybe pound it into certain select heads with some kind of spiky mallet.
Not doing so kept me awake at night, as my mind raced around the track of everything I wanted to say, frequently losing it on the corners and spinning out of control. It raised my blood pressure, lowered my patience and even my health, and left my temper on a hair trigger with people who don’t deserve it.
There is a trick that was taught to me by a psychologist some years ago, called “dirty writing”. It’s where you write a letter to the person you are upset/angry with, telling them exactly how you feel. Pulling no punches, gloves off, bare knuckled telling it like it is. You never send the letter – and I’ve found that burning it can be particularly therapeutic – but you say all the things that are eating away at your insides, and hence get them out of your system.
It is definitely time for me to do some dirty writing. It is particularly useful when your feelings haven’t been acknowledged, or your trust has been betrayed. It’s awfully tempting to write the letters as email, and maybe even send them. The burning desire for closure, or the last word, can be corrosive if swallowed. Yet sending those emails turns up the flames under the dispute, and leads to an ever descending spiral of trauma. Often the only way out is to stop, and let the other person have the last word – and how I hate that. It eats at my soul.
Yet it brings peace much faster than venting my anger ever could. Yesterday I gave in to the urge to explain my pain, and I inflamed a situation further. I gained some understanding of the root of the other person’s feelings, but I did the friendship no good at all. Now that I understand the situation better, I have a powerful desire to explain it all to him – but I know that he is not ready to hear it, and that the explanation won’t change anything for him.
I never counted on this
guess that’s the way that it goes
You used to be someone I knew
Somebody I could understand but
now I don’t know what to do
and I don’t know who you are, no
all those things I hear you say
you talk that way, you’re a stranger and I
I don’t know where to begin
don’t want to hear it again
I don’t believe anymore
(from Icehouse – “Don’t Believe Anymore”)
We are a competitive species, and the urge to win can be ferocious. But as a very wise friend reminded me today, in relationships winning is ultimately losing. I have several situations eating away at me at the moment where I would dearly love to win. I want to lash out with the frying pan of enlightenment, and this is one of those rare times when I would be fully justified. But I know all too well that the momentary satisfaction of striking out and relieving my feelings will be wiped out by the tsunami of trauma that would result. The fires would be fuelled, worse things would be said on all sides, and I will wind up so much more miserable in the end.
It’s a tough lesson to learn, and I periodically regress, as I did yesterday. I tell myself “NO!”, my inner child screams “WANT TO!”… and sometimes the inner child wins. So today I will do some dirty writing, and hope that my anger goes up in flames. Burn baby burn!