These days the communication vehicle of choice is text messaging. It’s fast, independent of environment, directly delivered and can provide for instantaneous response.
But, these are all the ingredients that may allow our messages to be hijacked by our emotions, good or bad.
When we are unsatisfied with the content of a message received, we can very easily send a knee-jerk response, and quickly escalate bad feelings. As those bad feelings grow, we may find ourselves sending or being on the receiving end of a message that crosses over into abusive territory.
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What is an abusive text message?
While abusive messages can take different forms, perhaps the two more common abusive texts are those that contain foul language/name calling, and those that threaten.
A third form of abuse, less spoken about, are those that are frequent in nature, can include name calling or threats and/or are seeking continuous answers to questions. This is a form of harassment, also a kind of abuse.
Consequences for sending abusive text messages
For those engaging in this behaviour, it is important to know that text messages form part of an electronic record that is admissible as evidence in a court action. That court action can include family matters, or even criminal matters. As such, it is important to keep a check on the content of one’s messages lest they be used against you.
As for the recipient, management depends upon your ability to manage your own emotions too. It is best not to reply in kind otherwise, from a legal perspective. Both persons may look culpable.
However, even pragmatically, not responding with an equally aggressive or hurtful text can help send the message that you are not affected by the content of the message and thus you are not reinforcing any attempt to deliberately cause distress.
Sometimes, doing nothing is best
Not responding may indeed be the most appropriate response. Certainly, responses that seek to advise the other of the inappropriateness of their message may only inflame matters.
The work of Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute offers much guidance in this area. Mr. Eddy writes about the use of what he calls “BIFF” – brief, informative, firm, and friendly. You can goggle his name to find his book by that title (BIFF).
To help both persons communicate more effectively, there are online tools such as Our Family Wizard that offer a messaging program where the messages are screened by a tone meter before sending. This can help people manage the content of the messages to avoid offending.
Lastly, if this is a serious concern for you, please do consult your lawyer. Your lawyer can communicate concerns on your behalf, bringing a different level of feedback which may be sufficient to address the behaviour, or alternately may suggest legal remedy.