Last night, there was breakdown on Crestview. Water from the toilet, sink, and shower started gurgling up and spitting out a mix of sludge and what I can only imagine was food that went down the garbage disposal. Immediately, the landlord was contacted and the iPad was pulled out to do research. What could possibly be cause? How much would it cost to fix? For some reason, the image of my father popped into my head. I imagined him in his bed years ago after finding such a problem in our house. It occurred to me that in order to find out such answer, he would’ve had to pull out an encyclopedia and hope it might be in there, or he would have to wait. Wait. Put his anxieties away and wait because there was nothing else to do.
That has spurred a million thoughts in my head. So often we (and I am including myself in this), do not wait. For anything. If we have a question, we google it. If we are upset/angry/happy with someone, we text them. We stare at our phone and get increasingly anxious when the response isn’t immediate. We have instant gratification, instant feedback. We hardly ever have to wait. And when we do- it’s tor-tu-ous.
The other night, I was upset. I immediately grabbed my phone and sent messages to at least two friends. When they didn’t respond, I sent another. I’ve read a lot of things about the damage that this is doing to our society and interpersonal relationships and I could go on and on about that, but for now I’ll stay focused. After I sent the last one, I realized that my tolerance for any kind of frustration or negative emotions- my ability to sit with my emotions- is seriously depleted. We must share everything with the world! I made a great dinner- Instagram. I got stuck in traffic- facebook about how bad this highway is. Twenty years ago, we just had to eat our dinner and sit in traffic. We had to deal with it- either on our own or with who was present there.
I’m sure I sound old, and as I write this, I think- “seriously, you sound old.” But as an over thinking person, and a psychologist, I can’t help but wonder how much this inability to sit with emotions has ramped up anxiety levels to previously unseen levels. We’re over medicated (prescription and self-medicated), we spend (perhaps waste) lots of time on social media (comparing, comparing), and we have our faces in our phones even when we’re driving. Don’t get me wrong, technology can be a great thing that can bind us together in new and amazing ways, but it can also get in the way of one very basic psychological necessity- the ability to tolerate frustration. It’s keeping us from really working through things with ourselves, or with the people with whom we’re upset. When we get upset, we discharge it out into the virtual world and it feels better for a little while. So the tension toward that other person temporarily gets forgotten, and it seems gone. But it’s not, it bubbles up in other ways. It comes out in our road rage, or our seemingly random sadness that comes up out of nowhere. And what do we do? Discharge that in the same way.
As I write about this, the image of a colicky baby comes up- there is no satisfying them, nothing quite works. They are impatient, upset about any discomfort. They make everyone else miserable because they can’t understand what is wrong with them. I believe that we are becoming a colicky society. The difference is, unlike that colicky baby, we have the cognitive ability to soothe ourselves if we took the time and energy to do it. I’ll claim that this is psychologically damaging, but maybe you disagree. In either case, I think that we can agree that it is at the very least annoying.
My challenge is- stop reaching for the phone when I’m upset. Try sitting with it and see what happens. Try letting it in and letting it pass through me. The more I don’t do that, the more it gets stuck. Like the drains in my house, I’m not really into seeing what comes out after that long of being stopped up because it’s likely to be a jumbled mess that is far worse and hardly resembles what it originally was.