What is her issue with my issues?
April 3, 2009 11:52 AM   Subscribe

I have issues. My new friend takes issue with that.

I think of myself as a complicated guy, and there are any number of things I would like to improve about myself, mostly on the emotional side of things. At times I describe myself as being "broken." I also describe myself as "having issues." I think my issues are a bit more problematic than most people's, but they aren't really anything that prevents me from functioning or living a normal life or being a good person. (I am also actively working on them, but that's not why I'm here.)

I have a new friend that I've become very close to (it could end up as a romantic relationship one day, but circumstances dictate that for now it is not), and she thinks that these descriptors are overly negative and counter-productive, and is encouraging me to find new, more positive language to use.

I can see where she's coming from with "broken" -- it's a harsh word, and I agree that there are more constructive ways to think of myself.

But "having issues"? I've tried to understand where she's coming from, but I just don't see the negativity in it. Can anyone help me understand where she's coming from here?

Follow-up: If you feel "having issues" is too negative, how could I be thinking about myself (the goal being positive and constructive self-criticism)?

(And before you say it, yes, I will be asking my therapist these questions as well. :)
posted by crickets to Human Relations (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps it's a question of frequency? I agree that "having issues" is less negative than "broken", but if you're talking about yourself having issues often, she may think it's too much.
posted by metaquarry at 11:55 AM on April 3, 2009

If you feel "having issues" is too negative, how could I be thinking about myself (the goal being positive and constructive self-criticism)?

"I'm also actively working on things" That implies things will be fixed "Having issues" says "I'm always going to be problem" No one wants to date a problem and if they do, you should run far and fast from that type of person.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:56 AM on April 3, 2009

I have a friend who always describes himself as "broke." Guess what? He never has any money.

In many respects, they way you describe yourself determines your outcome in life. You describe yourself as "complicated," "broken," and "having issues."

Why don't you try describing yourself as "down to Earth," "blessed with abundance," and "actualized / well adjusted?"
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:58 AM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Your new friend may, like Mr. Rogers, like you just the way you are, issues and all. Even if they might agree that in the abstract your 'issues' are flaws, they might see them as trivial flaws. They might also, in their affection, wish you to see yourself as positively as they see you. In short, for now at least, your friend sees you in the best possible light and wants you to see yourself that way to.
posted by Reverend John at 12:02 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, in a sense, everyone really does have issues, so it doesn't make sense to make our issues a focused part of our identity. But it's all about balance. Too much negative evaluation of ourselves can be limiting, as is the inability to see things that need to be worked on in the first place. Perhaps your friend thinks you lean too much in one direction. It's hard to know if your friend's evaluation is correct or whether she is in the "everyone's just awesome as they are" crowd, but sometimes we can get so absorbed in our self assessment that our perspective needs some realignment.
posted by SpacemanStix at 12:03 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

At times I describe myself as being "broken."

Anyone who says this about themselves with total seriousness I would find boring or repulsive or both. Stay in therapy, stop being melodramatic, and stop saying those things about yourself, because it isn't helping you and it sure as shit isn't helping this relationship.

But "having issues"? I've tried to understand where she's coming from, but I just don't see the negativity in it.

Because it sounds like a permanent thing and it's a bit much; see above.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 12:06 PM on April 3, 2009 [14 favorites]

Be specific. Think about specific ways in which you've done good things or been a good friend. Then think about where you'd like to do better. If you have to tackle your issues in a global way, then talking that way to your therapist, as you have mentioned you have planned to do, is a good choice.

But your friends aren't your therapists. It isn't their job to help you get the precise global descriptions for the negative aspects of your life. You may be talking about your global issues/broken state a lot more than you think you are, too. Some people prefer expressing empathy and sympathy, some like to give practical advice, but both types probably prefer to engage with specific issues, from time to time, rather than seeing almost every conversation turn to some wandering descriptions you apply to yourself and your life as a whole.

If you have a specific problem, talking about it with your friend can help both of you (e.g. "I know I often say sarcastic things that are meant to be funny, but I know I've hurt your feelings sometimes ..."). See what the two of you can do.

Then be ready to help your friend with her problems, so your conversations don't risk becoming all about you.
posted by maudlin at 12:08 PM on April 3, 2009

You have counter-positive improvement opportunities.
posted by martens at 12:13 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

She thinks that these descriptors are overly negative and counter-productive, and is encouraging me to find new, more positive language to use.

She's probably tired of listening to you bitch about the problems inside your head. Everyone (everyone!) has issues, but there's nothing more boring listening to someone wallow in their own obstacles.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:14 PM on April 3, 2009 [22 favorites]

Not only that, it also sounds like an excuse. It's clear you're not just passively making excuses, since you're actively looking to fix your "issues," but if you bring it up enough, it will erode the other person's own feelings of you--nothing like hearing from someone you actively like or care about that they're not worth the time you're putting into them, which is how she hears it.

It gets old. She likes you for a reason, and that reason is her own. She doesn't need to be constantly reminded that you think you're broken and subpar and not worthy of her time. (The last is implied by the first two.)

Just lay off talking about your "having issues". I'm not saying don't talk about the issues themselves, or how to approach working on them. But if you just keep falling back on that, or continually describe yourself as some broken, bitter, husk of a soul, it would make ANYone want to slap you, not least of all people who genuinely enjoy your company.

We all have issues, to varying degree. We don't all go around reminding everyone of that fact, over and over, and over again. Hell, how many times must you describe yourself or your "broken" or "issue" status around this girl? It's not something that needs to keep coming up; she knows who you are, and what you're dealing with, why remind her with your pejorative terms? (Passively, you do it because you like to lower the bar and explain yourself away and use it as a preemptive defense mechanism. But that's lame, so stop it, and WORK on the issues.)
posted by disillusioned at 12:15 PM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Follow-up: If you feel "having issues" is too negative, how could I be thinking about myself (the goal being positive and constructive self-criticism)?

Everyone's got issues. Some people make them a defining element of their personality and others do not. The way you put it sounds, to my ears, rather defeatist. That you're going to have these issues forever and it's a defining part of your personality. And bringing it up makes it seem like you think this is somehow unique or noteworthy about you in a way that it maybe isn't about other people.

If it were me, I'd name your issues

- "I have chronic untreatable depression"
- "I have a difficult time escaping the horrors of my childhood and it makes it hard for me to think about having an adult relationship"
- "I am addicted to pain pills"
- "I am embarassed about my relationship with my mother"

Your description sounds vague, unknowable and possibly unfixable. If I were contemplating a relationship with you -- and only mentioning it because you mentioned it about this new friend -- I would want to be with someone who generally liked themselves, not someone who felt that they were at the behest of some miasmic "issues" that couldn't be escaped.

I'm not saying any of this is definitely true, just that on readiung your few paragraphs, that's what I came away with. Broken is a word that implies that there's a fixed version of you that you "work" and I guess my question is "What are you broken from/for?" with a follow-up being "what do you plan to do about that?"
posted by jessamyn at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

If someone said this to me in person, no joke, I'd have to hold myself back from slapping them upside the head.

Stop referring to yourself as complicated or broken or having issues. Those are not part of your identity. Actually, that makes you sound melodramatic, and that is annoying.

I can see EXACTLY why your friend is annoyed, and it would rightly annoy anyone else.
posted by kldickson at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I used to describe myself as both "broken" and "having issues" but I've realized (after more than a year of therapy) that I am, in fact, not at all broken, and I have no more issues than most, and quite fewer than many. There's no point in advertising that, then, since it'd be a bit like saying "I have skin!"

It seems likely to me that these conversations are coming up too frequently for her liking, possibly in terms of whether or not this could develop into a romantic relationship, and she's tired of dealing with "issues" and would just like to enjoy your company without having big, deep, serious, important and melodramatic conversations about your issues.

Just a hunch.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 12:21 PM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

People often use "has issues" as a euphemism for "batshit insane". As in, "Wow, that lady went berzerk yelling at the guy who took 11 items into the 10 or less express lane. She must have some issues!" Your friend may not like you describing yourself with a term that can be interpreted as such. Even taken at a literal level, as others have stated, it's a pretty negative term that doesn't imply any future resolution.
posted by owtytrof at 12:22 PM on April 3, 2009

This is less a quibble over descriptions and more about how you present yourself in general. You really need to think about the foot you put forward, and whether being so wide open about your own setbacks is likely to be of any benefit to others whatsoever, let alone to yourself.
posted by hermitosis at 12:34 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you are trying to fix it... good for you. If that special someone does not want to help you over come your issues, maybe that someone should not be a "new friend," but an "old acquaintance."
posted by redandblue at 12:35 PM on April 3, 2009

do {$honesty++; $needless_drama--} while s/having issues/being human/g;
posted by eritain at 12:37 PM on April 3, 2009 [2 favorites]

Although this may well not be true of you, many humans use the phrases "I have issues" or "I'm broken" to mean "You must treat me with kid gloves and cut me immense amounts of slack because I'm a poor wounded snowflake." So she may have a reaction against this based on other people's uses of the phrase to excuse their lack of common courtesy and clear sense of entitlement.

I myself am crazy as a coot and have been in therapy for about a zillion years and yet I find it uncomfortable when other people tell me they "have issues" because it often comes across to me as Byronic posturing.

If someone says to me "I'm working through some stuff" or "I'm trying to manage depression/anxiety/OCD/whatever" that seems more reasonable.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:46 PM on April 3, 2009 [4 favorites]

You have pecularities? You are funny somehow? (shrug)
posted by Free word order! at 12:52 PM on April 3, 2009

She might feel you're saying these things as an excuse for not trying, even if she doesn't think she's thinking that. (And on "broken", I have a friend who calls herself that. I flinch every time. Definitely excise that word/thought from your head if you can.)

Perhaps she would prefer a slightly stiffer upper lip. If she is from a culture that values stoicism in men (England, Japan, Northern Europe, Latin America, most religious types) she is probably reacting negatively to expressions of weakness, even if its subconscious.

That is: "work on your problems, but for god's sake stop talking about it."
posted by rokusan at 12:55 PM on April 3, 2009

Your point of view seems to be that the two of you are disagreeing about language, but it sounds more like a matter of substance: You like to talk a lot about your problems, and she doesn't want to hear so much about your problems. If you want the relationship to develop, you may be better off crying on your therapist's shoulder and finding other topics to discuss with your friend. I would ask her straight-out: "Would you rather I not talk so much about my problems?" Recognize that she has a perfect right to answer either way.
posted by markcmyers at 1:12 PM on April 3, 2009

It might be a question of tone. Ever read the great book "The Inner Game of Tennis"? He has an entire chapter on this. You can say those things objectively, factually. If your not, the more you say something about yourself, your body and mind will learn this behavior or opinion about yourself and reflect it. Passing judgement and critical thinking has nothing to do with self improvement. Focus, knowing what you want and going after it, awareness of things, seeing things in context/not looking too closely at things, etc. are harder but generally more productive ways to improve.
posted by scazza at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Broke also connotes:
• "outside of yourself"
• it's been "done to you"
• irreparable.

"Having Issues?" Too vague.

Start describing yourself as struggling and be specific. You're 'struggling' to get along with a parent. You're struggling to make the best choice with your free time or struggling to deal with a situation at work.

If you're in therapy, how come you're not describing your life as "on the mend?"
posted by filmgeek at 1:30 PM on April 3, 2009

I used to date someone who said "I don't have issues, I have subscriptions." He defined himself by his issues, past traumas, drama, deep-complicated-tortured-soul, at age 40. Guess what? He turned out to always make every situation about him - no matter what, it was always about him, because he was so much more_____ (fill in the blank, whatever is being described in the moment) than everyone else.

If you are talking about your complicated issues enough to make your friend comment on it, you are talking about your stuff more than you are working on it. Why? I think Sidhedevil 's onto something: What are you getting from it? Is it defining you? Do you get attention because of it? Treated with kid gloves? Cut a little more slack than others?

Figure it out. Don't advertise that you are figuring it out. Just... work on it. Quietly.
posted by 8dot3 at 1:39 PM on April 3, 2009

It's okay to "have issues." They key, particularly when dealing with new friends with whom you've got a romantic eye on and would like to keep around a while, is to not yap about them all the time. If your "issues" or "brokenness" are the subject of conversation often enough for there to be some meta-discussion about the nomenclature of those conversations you are yapping about it too much.

Ask your friends, new and old, to be supportive when you have a specific problem that requires their help. Otherwise you should keep the contextual drama to a minimum.
posted by majick at 2:20 PM on April 3, 2009

When you believe that you're broken, how do you live your life?

If you believed that you weren't broken, how would you live your life?

Which of these lives do you like better?
posted by catlet at 3:21 PM on April 3, 2009

Yeah, you sound pretty annoying from those phrases. Try to not make it so much about you. Your friend is not your therapist.
posted by jcruelty at 3:22 PM on April 3, 2009

I once spent a good amount of time fighting off affection for someone who consistently referred to himself as "nobody," (also "nothing," saying, "there's nothing," etc, claiming this as a real part of his identity). For me, this was really scary -- I didn't know how to respond to it, because it was always half-ironized, but also sort of real?

Finding "positive" or "more constructive" language sounds like a stop-gap -- like "I don't want you to refer to yourself like this, so can you maybe use slightly different language?" FWIW, we didn't last very long. And it's a shame, but I think it's hard to get to know someone when they give you a template for how you're supposed to read them.
posted by puckish at 3:26 PM on April 3, 2009

Here's my take on things:

In a very close relationship, it can be frustrating and hurtful to describe yourself as "broken" or having issues (in the way you seem to be using the phrase) to another person. The reason for this is subtle and deep, and difficult to explain. Perhaps your friend has understood, however inadvertently, that you believe your issues to be a) specific to you, b) too complicated to be understood by her, or c) a part of your life you will not share with her.

There are a few reasons I can think of why she may be hurt. (Of course I'm just hypothesizing.) If you have implied, accidentally or otherwise, that your issues are problems only you experience, she may feel either frustrated that she can't make you see that your problems are not so uncommon after all and are in fact experienced by most people (or at least by her). It may seem as though you are dead-set on assuming that you are all alone in your misery - and she may either know, or think she knows, that you're incorrect about that. If you have implied that your problems are too deep or complex or mysterious to be understood by her, or if you have mentioned them many times but refused to go in to detail, she may feel as though you do not trust her. This can be destructive.

As for other ways you might want to think about yourself: I think you should stop comparing your problems to other peoples'. Viewing yourself as "more screwed up than the average Joe" is not at all productive, for three reasons: it's terrible for your self esteem (low self-esteem is emotionally difficult to deal with), others can view you as somebody who tries to dramatize and aggrandize your problems, and it minimizes other peoples' problems and insecurities, which may or may not be the same as yours. I realize that when your honest opinion of yourself is very low, it can be EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to come up with positive ways to think about yourself - that's the nature of the problem. If depression is the reason for your low opinion of yourself, or if there's some other medical cause, of course the kind and prudent thing to do would be to treat it. But if you are able, it would be better for you and everyone in your life if you began to think of yourself as a normal person who, like everybody else, has his follies. This will allow you to be more open with others, instead of (possibly, this is a guess given your post) hinting at dark issues that others can't reach.
posted by Cygnet at 4:30 PM on April 3, 2009

You have received some good advice here about how-to share without sharing too much. I think that is important because some part of you wants to let people know how you feel.

I think of myself as "damaged" (some of it self-inflicted some of it not) though I do not share that with people. In fact, I try to hide it as much as I can.

Unfortunately, I do not have the partner, job or standard of living I once had so it is impossible to hide it from people I know. Still, I don't talk about it, at all. Don't turn into me. Stay in therapy and figure it out. Good luck.
posted by Francophone at 10:54 PM on April 3, 2009

I find it uncomfortable when other people tell me they "have issues" because it often comes across to me as Byronic posturing.

Sidhedevil's got it. And kldickson, and jessamyn, and maudlin. Listen to them. This is not so much about your being down on yourself as it is that you're not stating the actual problem(s). "I've got issues" is a conversation-stopper. What's your friend supposed to do with that? She can't make "issues" go away, or magically fix your brokenness. State your actual reservations/anxieties/whatever in a given situation, specifically. Give it some thought. Don't throw it into a general category. Make it a point never to speak in those vague terms.

Then you'll have something to talk about. Being able to identify the problem is a positive thing in itself, because then you (and she) can start discussing what the next step should be. A positive outlook begins with recognizing one can help oneself and others (people do like helping others). To do that, you and she have to be able to name the problem.

If you can't do that, then you're just accepting the status quo. That you're a person "with issues." And yeah, that could be a bit of a downer.
posted by torticat at 11:23 PM on April 3, 2009

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