I’ve just recently learned what the expression “to see red” means. And right around the same time I learned what the word alexithymia meant too. Two are related in such a way that if you have alexithymia, you might likely end up seeing red. In case you are ESL just like I am (although I’m actually ETL), “seeing red” is associated with one becoming angry. And in case you are not a clinical psychotherapist just like I’m not, alexithymia stands for a behavioral trait where one has a difficulty experiencing, expressing, and describing emotions.
Last time you were in a heated argument with someone, how easy was it for you to have the other person see your point of view? If you attempted to explain what you thought of the situation, did the other person seem not to get it? And if they were saying stuff, did they seem not to make sense? Well, the two culprits here were anger (i.e. seeing red) and the emotional disconnection that accompanied the anger (i.e. alexithymia, and some people can be in this mode regardless whether they are angry or not).
The points that you were making were not getting through because the other person was emotionally overwhelmed. If you were emotionally flooded, it would have likely been a challenge to clearly express what exactly it was that you were trying to say. And, all this goes the other way around too, if the other person was saying something that was warped by his or her own anger, you were also not able to hear it properly as your own disconnection from emotion and ultimately from yourself was warping it. You both started off by “seeing red” and then ended up “speaking red” and “hearing red” too. All this just fueled the anger and the disconnection further. No matter how much you might pride yourself to be a “good communicator”, when you are in this state, connecting well is next to impossible.
When all fails in attempting to solve things, many people resort to not “seeing, hearing and speaking red” at all. They ignore, avoid and walk away from the problem all together.
Now, how did it get to all this?
Do you actually build and maintain interactions where you do your best to not allow things to escalate to this point? Do you strive to stay positive in challenging situations? If you do, when a negative one comes around the bend, even studies show that you’ll do better resolving them quicker if your regular way of resolving things is being positive.
Do you take a break when you find yourself becoming angry so that you can relax, refocus, and reconnect? Of course, not at the expense of taking such a prolonged break that the issue gets so buried that it doesn’t seem to need to be dealt with.
Finally, are you aware how you feel at any given moment? Can you connect to what is going on for the other person too? Can you create and request specific actions that work for you and for the other person? Usually we get ourselves to disconnection and anger precisely because we are afraid of how the other person might react if we express what we need. So we keep quiet instead of being expressive; we complain instead of connect; we stay passive instead of patient; we become aggressive instead of assertive; we criticize instead of understand; we become apologetic instead mindful. We say, “I don’t care”, when it is precisely the opposite of how we feel. And then we get exhausted, and blame the situation or the other person for our exhaustion, rather than everything we did (or didn’t do).
Acting when angry is not acting out of emotion as many like to claim, it is acting when one is disconnected from oneself. Connecting and being compassionate with oneself and others can be a daunting task as it can be an emotionally deep and even painful process. You might uncover lots of sadness, hurt, fear, confusion and more. You can use anger as a gift and a tool to get you there and if you do, the reward is connection.
There are many ways to stop seeing red and being in alexithymia. What’s yours?
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P.S. Here’s another interesting article on the subject from a website that shares similiar ideas: