Are you embarrassed to freak out? If you’re hysterical, it’s historical

“As things change within you, things change around you.” ~Unknown

I’ve been having problems with my email lately. I was afraid to call tech support as in the past I had sat on hold for a long time listening to someone read from a script instead of thinking creatively about my issue. However, since I couldn’t fix the problem myself and felt like I had no other options, I called my ISP’s technical support hotline.

As was proper, after thirty minutes on the phone we had barely gotten past the point where I had repeated my name and account number to four different people. Then, after another hour on the phone trying to resolve my issue, the tech support agent actually lost some of my emails.

I won’t sugarcoat this. I went ballistic.

Like most people, I have spent many hours of my life on the phone with tech support representatives trying to fix something that is very important to my life and livelihood – my computer, internet connection, phone, etc. If If they cannot solve the problem, I become completely hateful towards them. For some reason, it’s this one area that makes me the ugliest version of myself.

I’m not proud, but I’ve said some of the most despicable things to these people on the phone because I want to make them feel as bad as they make me by their robotic repetition of “I’m so sorry for the inconvenience.” or their insistence that their software isn’t the cause of the problem – it must be my hardware.

I used to hide the fact that I was going insane from everyone. It felt like an ugly secret that I occasionally lost it with someone over the phone. I think it’s healthy to feel embarrassed when you’re completely upset, but it’s also healthy to learn from the situation so next time you don’t get upset so easily.

I’ve always assumed that my anger in these situations is much greater than that of the general population, although recent internet records of obscene customer service calls make me question this.

When I mentioned to a friend that I was fighting with the local cable company, she was quick to reply, “I get it – it’s so angry.” Even my therapist described her own experience of tech support calls as “crazy.” Hey, it’s from a therapist. With that, it’s official.

I still knew my particular reaction was overdone. I see the people around me as a benchmark. I select those people who have a generally positive outlook on life, who are stable, content, and able to face life’s challenges with resilience. Grumpalumps, on the other hand, are not a good gauge of what normal behavior is.

One day I wondered out loud in front of a friend about my overreaction to this situation. She knows me well and gave me this wise advice. She said, “If you’re hysterical, that’s historic.”

Growing up, I had the ever-present feeling of being surrounded by incompetent people who couldn’t help me when I clearly needed it.

I felt that because it was true. My parents struggled with anxiety and depression, and it didn’t help that they were growing up in wartime Europe and at a time when a psychological approach to problems was not yet mainstream. As much as they loved me, they were unable to tend to my needs.

This feeling of frustration was something that hung so close to the surface and ready to be triggered well into my adulthood.

Enter the incompetent tech support person who knows less about my iPhone than I do. In this situation I am actually surrounded by people who cannot help me when I clearly need it. Deduction.

I flash back to feeling like that frustrated little kid who felt my clear pleas for help went unheeded. In the end I had to figure everything out on my own as the people around me were unable to see and help others’ needs. This made me angry – and exhausted. It’s the part of me that freaks out when it comes to tech support.

We all carry this kind of outdated baggage into our lives today. Therefore, what triggers one person is absolutely no big deal for another.

It was a relief to connect the dots between my specific childhood fear and my extreme reaction to a run-of-the-mill tech support nightmare. Making that connection immediately dissipated my emotions around her. I was still frustrated — may I remind you this was a tech support call — but I wasn’t “ballistic frustrated.”

Why is something associated with childhood so powerful? Children have very little control over their lives, limited ability to engage in experiences that test the worldview presented to them, little ability to communicate their needs, and little strength to defy authority to oppose them around. Problems seem so big when kids are so small.

No longer! As adults, we have power, resources, experience, and a much broader perspective than we ever had as children. We learned a thing or two.

I’ve been at it long enough to know that even if there’s no immediately obvious solution, I’ll probably figure it out — or find someone else who can. I am no longer helpless, powerless or incapable. The kid in me sometimes forgets that and throws a tantrum.

Think of a situation that is driving you crazy. What part of you is reacting to the situation? Is it the three-year-old in you that felt ignored and taken for granted? Is it the angry teenager who felt oppressed and suffocated? Is it the frightened seven year old feeling insecure and incapable?

Finally, should I say that our negative emotions about the things that trigger us all are unwarranted? Not at all. I say our reactions to it may be exaggerated. Once I was able to separate my past from my present, my emotions dissolved and I was no longer able to be triggered. I had a clear head to deal with the problem without all the fear.

Eventually I found someone to help me with my email – a rare find. Now I’m thinking about ditching cable and moving to internet-based TV. I’ll tackle that when I feel like I’m in the right shape and have a little more time to spare. In the meantime I may start a national network of technical support support groups.

Are you embarrassed to freak out?  If you’re hysterical, it’s historical

About Paula M Jones

Paula M. Jones, Esquire, has been a practicing attorney for 25 years. She writes to help other professionals find and achieve a fulfilling, purposeful career—one that is an integral part of a balanced life. Visit her website at www.paulamjones.com and on Facebook.

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