Rage-texting: Just don’t
Rage texting is something that many of us have either been at the receiving end of or are guilty of initiating it in a moment of impulse. When people experience rage or frustration, there is an underlying feeling of sadness but also a primary feeling of helplessness, accompanied by disappointment, and even a certain loss of power
A 38-year-old male during a therapy session hands me his phone: “You must see this barrage of texts to understand how our fights escalate. We fight over stupid things, somethings even forgetting what led to an argument. But these harsh, disparaging texts we have sent each other, they ruin everything.”
What the client is describing is what I call as rage texting. Rage texting is something that many of us have either been at the receiving end of or are guilty of initiating it in a moment of impulse. When people experience rage or frustration, there is an underlying feeling of sadness but also a primary feeling of helplessness, accompanied by disappointment, and even a certain loss of power. So, in that moment of impulse, people end up sending either a long text message or a series of messages that are aimed at belittling recipient. The tone can be outright aggressive or passive aggressive but the purpose is to humiliate or blame the other person. When people engage in rage texting, they are often not aware that sending these texts over electronic communication is a way of feeling power and regaining autonomy in a situation where they felt very helpless and powerless. What’s also very common is that people often delete these messages soon after, though the damage is already done.
Rage texting is not just limited to couples. People across age groups engage in it, including or especially teenagers. Sometimes two people living in the same house, during a fight end up sitting in different rooms and sending each other disparaging texts. This worsens the fight leaving no scope for dialogue or conflict resolution. I often hear doctors, therapists and people in the service industry tell me how when a message is misunderstood or people have felt their needs not being met, they have received texts filled with allegations, threats and very harsh language being used. These texts are a way of ranting, carried out in a moment of anger and sometimes they are a way of not engaging in a conversation, but more a way of just putting out their side of the story, without listening or trusting what the other person has to say.
When people have been at the receiving end f such rage-texting, they feel shocked, numb, angry, sad, traumatized and at times extreme fear.
People generally deal with them in four ways, either they choose to withdraw and not respond at all, or they end up feeling so angry that they get caught in a pattern of sending vicious texts back and forth and then there are some who try and respond by opening the conversation and saying that can we meet and discuss this in person or over a phone call.
There are times when the rage texting leads to acts to violence and abuse, which is extremely dangerous and a concern that we need to watch out for.
As an urbanizing society, we are choosing to communicate more than ever on text primarily. We don’t meet people in person or even make that call to resolve things. As a result, under the guise of texting and keeping the communication going, we are miscommunicating which ends up impacting the possibility of dialogue and even the potential to sit down and work through difficult scenarios. Our phone has become a weapon of instant gratification and given the lack of facial expression or nonverbals, people can often act in ways on text which seems insensitive or even unhinged.
If you are feeling rage, discomfort or even powerlessness, instead of sending a text: choose to sit with the discomfort and hit pause, even it’s for ten to fifteen minutes. Give yourself a chance to slow down your breathing, go for a walk if it helps, listen to soothing music, and sometimes even write down what you are feeling in a personal diary or as a draft message but do not send the email or text. Allow yourself to sleep over it and you may realize that the intensity of feelings has faded when you wake up. The primary idea is to delay the reaction and avoid it, and respond only when you feel calmer and more centered.
When I find myself in the heat of emotions itching to react, I remind myself of what the renowned psychotherapist Irvin Yalom says, “Strike while the iron is cold.”