“Disease” is an interesting term. Broken down, the word is really dis-ease; or going against – ease. It doesn’t mean “sick.” It can simply mean that you’re not feeling peaceful or at ease.

Amidst a global pandemic, a civil rights revolution, and our sorry presidential election process, many of us are carrying around a feeling of, “Oh my gosh, I need to vent!” But pay close attention to that feeling. It’s likely that we need the exact opposite.

Anger, frustration, disappointment; these all-too-familiar feelings are not unique to any of us. The complications of living in a westernized society often leave us feeling like we’re being squeezed under the pressure of a sea of wrong-doers, wrong-doings, and an increased awareness that we are not living in alignment with our individual values.

Usually unconsciously, but sometimes consciously, we’ll look for someone to share our aggravations with. We need to vent to someone; blow off some steam. Usually, it’s our closest friends and families who are willing to sit with us and listen while we share what’s eating at us. If they’re not available, we’ll bite our tongues for a bit, but ultimately, we’ll take just about any unwitting victim who will lend an ear.  It might be a colleague, an acquaintance, or the poor gal behind you in line at the supermarket. 

But think about this short phrase from the paragraph above:

“…we’ll look for someone to share our aggravations with. Usually it’s our closest friends and families…”

It’s not like we’re sharing a warm piece of apple pie or a bag of chips. We’re sharing our pain. We’re handing our pain, our disappointment, our aggravation, and our anger those we love the most.

Consider this: After our sister, spouse, father, or friend listens to our problems, we’ll catch ourselves saying something like, “Oh my gosh, I feel so much better now. Thank you so much for listening.” We might as well say, “Thanks for carrying all of my drama for me. It was getting unbearable. Clearly, you don’t have anything in your own life to worry about, so thanks again for helping me carry mine!” And for the caring but unwitting victim, what’s the reward? Probably another heavy, burden-dumping session next Monday at 4:30 ‘cuz, “I love you so much. You’re always there for me.”

Although it’s a shame, it’s no secret that we tend to dump our feelings onto those we’re closest to. It’s tragic really, but let’s make it worse for a second. They can take it. Let’s sprinkle a dash insult onto their injury. We’ve just shined a modest light onto the human propensity to share with our loved ones, the countless wrongdoings of our lives. So, what if I now tell you that most of those wrongdoings, we’ve actually done to ourselves?

Although we may think that we are feeling angry or mistreated, these feelings are often just masks being worn by a different sort of internal conflict and frustration. It’s not uncommon for our own underlying feelings of guilt, remorse, betrayal, or simply living out of alignment with our values to create inner conflict. “Why can’t I seem to lose weight?” “I’m so tired of filling out applications and going to job interviews!” “If I would have just gone to college right out of high school, I wouldn’t be in this mess!” Then, when we’re really digging into our own shortcomings, our barista shares with us that she’s out of our favorite blend of coffee.  Enter the creeper; that ego-driven voice that wants to be heard and justified and validated hijacks our consciousness and whispers, “Who can I talk to? Who can I complain to so I feel better? Oh, I’m gonna see Carol at the gym. I can vent to her about how crummy this Starbucks always is! She’s such a good listener.”  

What our egos are masking is the messages that we’re actually saying to ourselves.

“I need Carol to validate my feelings. I need her to agree with me so I know that I’m right and so that my feelings are justified. Good! Now I don’t have to take responsibility for my feelings and my current life circumstance. Now, I don’t have to work on myself. I can just point my finger at my spouse or my teachers or my barista.”

What we’re looking for when we vent is sympathy or empathy. You’ve ego needs to know that it’s been wronged.  And what’s better than an ego that needs to vent? TWO egos, or maybe ten, or a thousand. Look at the mob-mentalities who are ripping our country to shreds right now. While we’re sinking, both socially and economically, our egos are absolutely THRIVING! Want to add fuel to the fire? If we can take our collective egos and tie them to a purpose!  Now THAT is power! Give that purpose a name? Even better.

The truth is that we’re behaving in ways that, to an outsider, look very much like we actually prefer conflict to peace. How we use our emotions is up to us, but only if we recognize that we are the ones in control.

Take atomic energy, for example. Nuclear power plants produce incredibly clean, incredibly cheap, and reliable energy, second only to wind in terms of cost per kilowatt-hour. But atomic energy also killed a quarter of a million people in the blink of an eye, during World War II. Our emotions and energy can be just as volatile and just as fickle. We can use our emotions and our energy to foster conflict or to foster peace. It’s up to us.

So how do we catch ourselves? How do we stop ourselves from spuing forth our aggravations and negative energy onto our loved ones? How do we flip the script and share compassion instead of pain?

All we have to do is recognize it.

Recognize it for what it is. Be aware. When you find yourself venting, or just as often piling your drama onto someone else who started the venting session, let that ugly feeling throw penalty flag for you!  “Wait…I’m doing it again! I’m complaining again!”  Then…pause. Take a breath. Own it.

Then, next time you feel like, “I can’t wait to call my brother and tell him….”  or “I can’t wait to tell my wife about…when I get home.” you need to do just that. You need to wait. Take a breath. Call your brother. But rather than complaining to him about the atrocities of your suburban day, ask him how he’s doing. Ask him what makes him smile. Walk into your house and ask your spouse how his or her day was. Better than that, run into the house…with a flower…(yeah, guys appreciate being thought of too)…and give your spouse a hug. Tell him or her that you’re happy to be home, that you are grateful that you’ve got the job that you’ve got, then ask…lovingly and sincerely…“How was your day?”

OK, they might look at you crazy at first, but they’ll get used to it. And imagine, what if that became normal? What if, rather than adding fuel to the fire everywhere we went, we brought cold, clean water to the fire. What if we listened more than we spoke? What if we thought about them more than we thought about ourselves? Remember, these are the ones we love more than any other. Right?

Realizing that we don’t actually need to put out our own fires is pretty liberating. The amazing thing about our egos is that we don’t have to kill them or force them to go away at all. If we just focus on others; if we listen, our egos simply dissolve and blow away, and with them…all the unnecessary weight that we’ve carried around in order to keep feeding them.

So next time you’re feeling like you need to call a buddy and say, “Man! Can I just vent for a second?” see that feeling for what it is, then pause. Smile. Make the call, then share that smile. Ask them how they’re doing. “So, what keeps you smiling?” They’re either going to give you the answer…or their ego is going to reach out and share all of their struggles with you. Wouldn’t you rather be there for them than the other way around?  If that’s the case, be their sounding board. Be there for them. Listen.  Be the baffle that hears the sound but doesn’t echo it back.  There’ something extremely rewarding about entering into a conversation with someone who’s angry or hurt, then leaving them with a feeling of gratitude and a new, healthier, happier point of view. 

Then, when the conversation is over, you’ll see that you’ve grown two plants with one seed. (Let’s not kill two birds with one stone anymore. OK?)  You’ll notice that you’re no longer feeling anger, frustration, and disappointment, and you’ll notice that they’re no longer hurting either.  You told your ego to shut up and listen for a second, and you’ve practiced recognizing that your happiness is up to YOU and you’ve stopped focusing on the fact that McDonald’s screwed your order up…again.

The more you practice this, the more rewarding it gets. Soon, you’ll find yourself surrounded by people that appreciate you for the energy and light that you bring with you wherever you go.

I promise…it works.