Now and then something sets us off. All it takes is a remark – a “last straw” kind of thing – and we freak out.
And after, we calm down.
Sometimes, the cause is more serious than words, though we may still wonder why we freak out, and what exactly nudges us over the line between anger and white hot fury.
Hopefully, if we lose control it isn’t in public or at work. Hopefully, we aren’t screaming in front of the in-laws or for that matter, our children. Hopefully, there’s no harm done, and we apologize though the image may remain for anyone who has witnessed our less than best behavior.
But what if we don’t know why we’re losing it? What if it’s happening over and over?
Losing Your Temper More Often?
I lost my temper this morning. I won’t say it qualified as a freak-out, but who likes to start their day angry? I don’t. And in case you’re curious, I did not apologize, feeling absolutely no need for an apology. In fact, the person on the other end of the phone line was doing the apologizing.
Like anyone, I have my hot buttons for those everyday irritations that can lead to unwanted escalations, and those hot buttons include disrespect, repeating careless mistakes (often a matter of indifference), and bureaucratic red tape.
How many of us are running into these three with greater frequency and growing frustration? How much harder is it to stay cool, as these sorts of encounters deplete our already strained reserves of patience, not to mention time?
My Anger Management Moment
My morning incident falls under the second and third categories, involving a paper process, snail mail, and a financial transaction. The paperwork followed an explicit discussion, and arrived with an incorrect amount – a grossly incorrect amount.
When dealing with a financial transaction, isn’t the dollar figure the most important item there is?
Cue my immediate ire, exacerbated by an automated phone system cycling me through the same menu options three times before I was able to reach a human being and eventually required to restart the process. There was no freak-out, but I was angry and made no attempt to hide it, fully aware that I am powerless to do anything except wait – again – and worry that the mistake will recur.
Anger is often born of a sense of powerlessness. Aren’t we all feeling increasingly powerless these days?
Stress Sets Us Up for Freaking Out
Reflecting on the way my mood morphed this morning – how quickly, and the nature of the way I express anger – I recognize a few things about myself. I don’t attempt to hide the annoyance in my voice, and I don’t use expletives (though I might later with a friend).
I also realize I was speaking before coffee (big mistake), and with a busy day ahead (this was an unplanned squeeze on a tight schedule). I was stressed.
When under stress – physical or emotional – most of us tend to overreact. I certainly do. If I’m tired, hot, rushed, fending off a migraine, worried about something… I have a shorter fuse if anything goes awry and especially if it’s set off by one of those hot buttons I mentioned. And naturally, if we’re going through those “big life events” that may leave us temporarily compromised – illness, separation or divorce, the passing of a loved one, loss of a job – the next freak-out may be right around the corner.
Post Freak-Out Etiquette
If you do, well… let’s just say it… “lose your shit” when you wish you hadn’t, then what?
I know I’ve yelled at my kids when they didn’t deserve it, I felt terrible, and I apologized.
When I lose it and feel it’s legitimate, I nonetheless want to rid myself of the anger as quickly as possible. I try to walk it off – indoors or out – finding that exercise will help calm me down in most situations. Venting can also be useful, as is writing – which I’m doing here.
When I see others overreact?
I assume they’ve suffered a terrible night’s sleep, they’re dealing with problems at home, there are health or financial worries – in other words – other pressures of which I’m unaware. That allows me to cut them some slack – hello, Empathy? – and I’m more than willing to cut someone slack once, maybe twice. Naturally, this is dependent on my relationship with the person and the circumstances.
As for those who started my day with such consternation, I cut them no slack. They messed up on a routine task, it’s their job not to mess up, and my non-freak-out flare-up was fully justified. Nonetheless, when my phone call was over, I said thank you before disconnecting. Go figure…
Single Parent Freak-Out
Over the years of single parenting, when it was just my boys and me “against the world,” there were periods when I felt trapped in a mix-master and the stress was unrelenting – physical, emotional, financial. I felt like I carried the world on my shoulders, could never set it down for a break, and I freaked out more easily. I yelled, I cried, I was cranky. I didn’t like myself much – and much of the time.
If I did freak out, usually over seemingly nothing, I was sure to apologize to my boys for doing so. I still carry memories of my mother flying into a rage out of nowhere – something I now believe may have been chemical, during an era when we didn’t know about such things. I recall how frightening a parent’s anger can be to a child.
No one likes to see someone else out of control; none of us likes to experience the feeling. We can learn to reason with ourselves, we can practice perspective, we can hope that emotional maturity helps us manage our tempers. But extreme stress will render us more vulnerable to overreaction, and sometimes we really are carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders, when it comes to caring for our families.
All we can do then is hope to build ourselves a network of friends and others – who will love us through it, help if they can, and accept our apologies if and when our anger flares due to stress.
Overreacting? Bad News. Intolerance, Indifference, Red Tape? Ditto.
Overreacting is never pleasant or effective as a means to accomplish an end, unless you’re of the Squeaky Wheel School of Task Management, which I personally find unappealing. Worse, freaking-out compromises relationships, jobs, and even our health if it happens too often.
Yet we live in a culture that increasingly sets us up for flare-ups. We have too much to do, too little time, and a growing sense of powerlessness. How we manage all of this may be through a variety of individual solutions, including working to change the systems that seem to squeeze us.
As for those who practice intolerance and disrespect? Who proliferate ridiculous and archaic processes? Whose indifference is maddening and wasteful?
I make no apologies when my response is anger.
- What pushes your buttons?
- What makes you freak out?
- What comes you down in the aftermath?
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