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I feel like I am emotionally constipated around the people I love most
January 13, 2014 8:39 AM   Subscribe

Whenever I see one of my close friends or family members, as soon as we part company I kick myself for not being more demonstrative of my love and appreciation of them. Am I Doing It Wrong, or is this a cognitive problem?

Example: I might visit my sibling for the day. They tell me about their life and plans, I tend to be interested, involved and encouraging (I hope), but I can also lean towards somewhat judgmental and wet-blankety (I think it's a bit of oldest-child syndrome and I try and curb it when I notice myself doing it). Almost as soon as we've said goodbye, I start to feel sad, worry that I wasn't as supportive as I should have been. I wonder why I didn't take a moment to tell them how proud I am of them. I could have done it at any time but instead I felt like I had to be sort of chummy and keep things light.

It's the same with my parents - every time we say goodbye I immediately regret not having told them more often during our visits how much I appreciate them. I feel like the potential for awkwardness because of the sort of heavy subject has somehow stopped me from doing it.

One or two close friends have told me that I can be a little closed-off at times. I've previously chalked this down to depressive episodes going on at those times, but I have started to wonder whether I might be a bit closed-off all the time. I believe my depression to be under control at the moment.

I do wonder if this is a cognitive trap that I need to think my way out of. But I'm concerned that it isn't - I don't want to be a stiff-upper-lip friend/sibling/offspring who can't show appreciation and love where it ought to be shown.

Therapy - yes, when I can afford it and get time off work to go (I'm in the UK). But can anyone offer advice/suggestions for approaching this problem in the meantime?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Write it down and send them a note/email afterwards? (Or even if you don't send it, writing it down at least captures the emotion at the time.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 8:45 AM on January 13 [4 favorites]


You're feeling this most immediately after parting, and I wonder if you can take advantage of that timing to make a small change that might make you feel better. Farewells are a perfect time to say something emotional and heartfelt.

I find that when you're saying goodbye, it seems fitting, not awkward, to say something that would otherwise seem too "heavy". You could try something like "Hey, sibling, it was so good to spend some time with you. I want you to know I'm really proud of you! Take care, see you next time." (But of course that winds up being a conversational exchange, rather than a little monologue.) At the end of a recent visit to my hometown, I had a farewell conversation with my younger brother that was serious and showed appreciation and love, and didn't feel awkward at all, I think because it felt really appropriate to say those serious things at a "goodbye, see you several months or a year from now" point.

Even if you see your family more often, I think it could still work to say something like "Thanks for telling me about X Y and Z this weekend. I'm so proud of you!" just before you say goodbye. Then when you leave, you'll feel good about having expressed yourself at the parting moment.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:02 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


I find it really hard to be verbally supportive in person, but rock at it over the phone so maybe pull over and ring them from the car on the way home.

"Hey sis, in case I didn't make it clear while I was there, I just wanted you to know I am so proud of you."

If that doesn't work for you write them a letter or a note card saying these things. Emails are great, but to get a letter from someone that loves you that says something supportive is wonderful and they will have it to cherish.
posted by wwax at 9:32 AM on January 13 [2 favorites]


This is such a great question, OP. Glad you mentioned the UK piece. I think family relationships can be awkward at times, especially if we overanalyze them. Just push past the awkwardness. So maybe one's siblings are not exactly like one's kids, where you could just grab them and hug them and tell them how proud you are of them - often there are some emotional boundaries there and adult sibling relationships often need negotiating. So what? Forget those boundaries, just reach out and grab them anyway. (Or whatever the UK version of the ubiquitous American hug is.) Life's too short to edit yourself when you're trying to say "I love you" to family.

I tend to be interested, involved and encouraging (I hope), but I can also lean towards somewhat judgmental and wet-blankety

"I wonder why I didn't take a moment to tell them how proud I am of them. I could have done it at any time but instead I felt like I had to be sort of chummy and keep things light."

Sounds like you're trying so hard not to come across as "judgmental/wet-blankety" that you're overcompensating by acting "chummy" and "keeping things light." I think the real challenge for you is finding your authentic voice with family; the voice that let's you speak your truth about your feelings for them without feeling like you held anything back or were playing a self-imposed role out of fear of "awkwardness." I'd choose potential awkwardness any day over missing the chance to let a loved one know they're loved.

"It's the same with my parents - every time we say goodbye I immediately regret not having told them more often during our visits how much I appreciate them."


I think you have your answer right there. This is not some deep issue you'll need to ponder endlessly or anything. Just be brave enough say the words: "Mom, Dad, I really love you. You're wonderful parents, thank you." What's the worst that could happen? Your British citizenship suddenly gets revoked because you broke the "stiff upper lip" rule? They look at you funny for a moment because you broke a social norm but inside they feel warm and amazing? Just do it.
posted by hush at 9:32 AM on January 13 [3 favorites]


When you get that feeling on the way home pick up the phone and fix it. You will both feel better. There's never a bad time to show love to your loved ones.

And if they, or you, find it awkward? Fuck it, who cares! You are loved, deal with it.
posted by TheRedArmy at 9:41 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]


I want to challenge your premise a bit by saying that you show love by your actions. I am sure your family knows that you love them.

FWIW, I am an older sibling myself, and tend to fall into the 3rd parent/judgmental older sibling role myself, to a lesser extent even with friends. Man, this stuff is ingrained. Growing up, we have been trained to be this way and now it is so hard to shake. It comes from a caring place though.
I think if verbal expression is not your thing (think The 5 Love Languages, it does not only apply to romantic relationships) try hugs, taking your mom's hand, giving your dad a pat on the shoulder, etc. Such little expressions will show them that you care.

Also, I find it is an excellent idea to write notes and include a sentence or two about how great it was to see them again during the next phone call.
posted by travelwithcats at 11:25 AM on January 13


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