We all have issues. I get that. Truly, I do. But what concerns me is how we — collectively, of course — handle those issues and, specifically, allow them to influence other parts of our lives that are not directly related to them.
I’m organized, I’m neat, I’m picky, and I like to have my ducks all in a row all the time. Maybe that’s why the idea of emotional mixing is so bothersome to me. Or maybe it’s because I just don’t like being yelled at for things I can’t control. Or maybe both? Who knows.
Anyway. So. Imagine your sock drawer. Now imagine if there were a bunch of single socks in there. Annoying, right? Well, now imagine if there were tights, bathing suits, and underwear in there. What if there were T-shirts and hoodies and jeans and a third of your pairs of sweatpants because hey, let’s face it, all your pairs won’t fit in that tiny sock drawer.
My point is that not all of those items can fit comfortably in that drawer. When you try to go grab a pair of socks, you’re overwhelmed by all those others things and will have trouble trying to locate a simple pair of socks. You’re frustrated because, “Why is it so hard to get a pair of socks? It shouldn’t be this hard.” And, of course, once you finally do find a pair, you’re going to have a hard time closing the drawer. You’ll have to jam it all back in there, making the next time you need socks even more difficult.
I hate when that happens. SO much — which is why I do not let anything besides socks into my sock drawer. And as you can probably guess, I’m trying to spin this to give a good reason why you shouldn’t carry negative feelings from one thing into something else because then it just efts up the something else. A.k.a the sock drawer, if you liked that analogy.
Here are some more real life examples:
You wake up and look at the clock, just to see that you’ve slept in. Your alarm clock didn’t go off, or something. You jump up, race to go shower, only to realize that someone is already in the shower. You wait around for them to be done, maybe knock a couple times, say “hurry,” and once they even start to open the door, you’ve already flung it open so you can get in. You’re so angry at this person because they were making you even later than you already were, right? Don’t they realize that you’re on a schedule and that you need to get up early and shower and do all these things? You have to go to school or to work and talk to so-and-so about important stuff or turn in a project and blah blah. They’re so stupid and self-centered, right? You’re the victim, right? And you’re angry about all of that.
You’re in a fight with a friend. They did something, said something hurtful, or whatever. And it put you in a really bad mood — which is justifiable. But then you’re going on with your day and maybe you need to stop at Dunkin Donuts or go to the bank. You’re not thrilled about it, but you have to. The line is long, there’s a crying child whose parent is doing literally nothing to try to calm them down, and you’re upset. You start to tap your foot, squint your eyes, your blood is getting a bit hotter. Then, when you finally get to the front of the line, the person who is supposed to be helping you has an accent and you’re having trouble understanding because they won’t speak up. “What? What was that?? What are you saying?!” You know you’re being rude but who cares, right? Because they can’t speak English and they’re not even trying to be helpful, right? And what kind of customer service is this, right?
I mean, we’ve all been there. We’ve all been rude and not nice and get so in our heads that all our thoughts and words turn into something nasty. We’re not actually against immigrants — in fact, immigrants are pretty darn cool. And I think deep down we know that we’re actually pissed at our friend, or about waking up late. But in the moment anger is anger and that overpowers any sort of common, courteous sense we may have that tells us to just be patient.
Notice how a lot of the questions and insults that run through your mind during stressful situations like these sort of center around the word “they” — “they’re wrong,” “they’re doing this,” “they don’t understand,” etc. They’re the perpetrator and you’re the victim. But are they actually doing anything intentionally wrong to hurt you? Is it really you against the world? No. In both of those cases, they’re pretty oblivious. And you’re already predispositioned to explode because of an earlier, unrelated incident. Are you taking your feelings out on them? Yeah, probably. You put underwear in your sock drawer and it’s a mess. You’ve hurt other people’s feelings without really wanting to and have made it harder on yourself to really calm down and sort through the drawer. But being a little patient and using a bit of that good ol’ empathy can go a long way.
Patience is a virtue, as they say. It allows us to give others the benefit of the doubt, to view time as a buffer between an incident and a reaction. It’s helpful, especially in situations like the ones above where everything that happens and everything that you feel is so immediate.
One of my favorite personal stories illustrates this perfectly.
A few years ago, my family and I took a trip to Tennessee. We drove and, let me tell you, it was a long car ride.
I have a younger brother who was probably about six or seven at the time and he simply did not want to wear his seatbelt. We asked him to put it on. He said no. We put it on for him. He’d undo it. He’s a stinker, no doubt. My dad, who was driving, kept yelling at him but to no avail, no sir.
So my dad was through being patient. He had had enough. We were taking expressways, going through hills and mountains, and territory that mandated a seatbelt. So my dad pulled over at a gas station, got out, and went to the trunk. We were all confused and probably a little excited to some extent to see what my dad might do.
He came back with a roll of duct tape and went straight to my brother’s seat. My dad put his seatbelt on and began to tape it on. He circled the entire seat, around my brother’s waist and chest, making sure that seatbelt would stay.
My brother thought it was hilarious (confirming our suspicions that he only wanted attention). I thought it was pretty funny too, but in general the rest of my family and I shared a feeling of discomfort because, of course, who duct tapes their child to their seat? My father, ladies and gents. I’m sure he wasn’t too proud of it too, but, hey, it worked.
The point of sharing this story is not to bash my dad (he’s actually super cool and totally harmless) and it’s not to get DCFS called on my family. It’s to show what happens when patience is thrown out the window. You get angry, you yell, and you get the duct tape. And everyone around you kind of looks on, wondering why you’re reacting the way that you’re reacting and “how could you?” and “WTF?”
My dad was definitely mad at my brother for not listening and not following standard safety precautions (hah), but there were so many other factors. We were in a different state, not knowing the area, not really knowing the destination or how to get there either. We were stiff and tired from being in the car for a few days and my dad was probably extremely stiff and tired, considering he had been driving the whole time. So instead of taking a few deep breaths and simply asking again or threatening to take away dessert or Xbox or something, we broke out the duct tape.
In my personal opinion, I think my dad’s actions were fine and my brother’s reaction to them made it more fine but not everyone is going to give you the benefit of the doubt either. Anyone who drove by and saw what my dad was doing would not have shrugged and said, “Wow, that man must have it tough.” No, because emotional mixing isn’t okay.
It’s not okay to cuss someone out just because you’re upset that it’s raining or because your girlfriend broke up with you because you’re just spreading negative energy that way. Learning to contain your impulses and separate your feelings can save you from a lot of unnecessary conflict and can spare a lot of people from becoming your victim, because being a previous victim does not entitle you to make someone else a victim.
It’s a hard skill, I know. I’m working on it too. But just think about it. Think about practicing it. Think about being aware of your emotions, think about being in control of your reactions, and think about taking a few deep breaths.
And with all these thoughts in your mind, I’ll leave you with a choice:
Patience… or duct tape.
Until next time,