Help me break out of my little black rain cloud.
March 28, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I get lethally quiet when I'm upset, and my relationships suffer as a result. Please help me break out my little black rain cloud.

Hi. When I get upset with someone else, I tend to direct it inwards because I have trouble expressing my feelings. On the surface, this shows as a somewhat foreboding silence that has been described by my friends as the "evil eye". Like most other folks, I've had falling outs with a couple of friends, some tumultuous romantic relationships, and occasionally strained relationships with my family. But this tendency makes those uncomfortable situations much worse. Don't get me wrong, some people have the kind of personalities that this behavior doesn't bother them in the slightest - but I still end of feeling like an asshole and utterly incapable of managing my emotions. This seething introversion has marked all of these relationships and even my close friends have remarked that it can be somewhat offputting. Luckily, my, uhm, charm and other redeeming personality characteristics and even occasional articulation in describing why I get into these 'funks' means that I still have lots of good friends.

However, it still sucks when I get like this and it makes me feel really confused about my relationships with others and unclear when someone has or hasn't passed a boundary that I'm comfortable with. I've been in a few relationships that weren't awesome and barreled through uncomfortable feelings because I didn't think I could trust them. But because of that I have a low level of distrust in all my relationships and when small things go wrong I tend to quickly escalate into character judgements about other people in my own head.Here's an example of what I'm thinking when I get quiet: "Oh, they didn't do x because they are selfish. They are the kind of person who would do this all the time. It's pathetic. Or maybe they aren't selfish, but if I'm this upset than our relationship won't work. Oh god, they can tell that I just thought that and they probably hate me now. I hate myself for thinking bad things about this sweet person. But they aren't that sweet. Oh, they just reached behind me to get a glass of water and my skin prickled because I hate them. Shoot, I just gave them a mean look. Whatever, I'm still upset they did x and since they haven't said anything nice to me and I'm clearly upset, it means our relationship is doomed. I wish they would just notice that I was upset and say they still cared about me. God, I hate this." That is a pretty typical example of inner dialogue that happens, with lots of variation of course. It's exhausting, for everyone. And I end up feeling sorry for myself and stubbornly right about getting into a funk in the first place.

I am really really scared of talking to other people when I feel this way because I feel like I'm gonna crack and they'll realize that.. I dunno, I'm completely weird, or we'll get into an argument, or something terrible will happen. In most cases, I'll feel better after a few hours and we'll kind of breeze over why I was upset, but in other situations it's definitely made my friendships a little unsteady.

I'm not like this all the time - friends and employers have complimented me on my grace under pressure and in most aspects of my life I feel somewhat competent and confident and don't run into this. I have gotten way better at dealing with people over time, and I've done CBT and it works for a while but sometimes I wake up terrified by all the things I'm holding in. It sucks. Have other people gone through this in their own lives, and what are some ways to short-circuit this kind of mental introversion or make talking with other people less scary? Is there anything I can practice doing in these situations that will defuse the tension a little bit?

I know people are gonna say therapy, and I am doing everything I can to either afford regular sessions or find alternatives, but I'd like your tips and tricks, if you've developed a similar pattern and found a way to escape it or at least make it more bearable for the people that you are close to. Thank you thank you.

Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
One problem is that your internal monologue is all about exaggerated black-and-white thinking. It's a crisis, or nobody will ever like you, or this person is terrible, or this person is so great that you're not worthy of them, etc. Extremes. You get upset over a small/medium thing, then you talk yourself into being much more upset, using these extrapolations to unrealistic extremes.

So one step is to think about why you're choosing to do that. What "benefit" do you get from making yourself more upset? (Not a snark - there's some reason why this is a pattern you keep repeating, some part of you thinks you're getting a good result from this. What's the benefit?)

Another step is to try, in the moment, to say to yourself: "I am upset about a specific, small/medium thing. I will keep my level of upsetness in proportion to the actual thing I am upset about." Then name the specific thing you're upset about. Did someone peak with a tone that pushed your buttons (felt rude, maybe)? Did someone startle you by reaching where you weren't expecting? Did someone act in a way that felt like they were ignoring you? Think proportion.

Depending on the cause, it may be helpful to just tell the person: "Whoa, you startled me." (name the specific thing) and they'll usually say "oh, sorry, I didn't realize". In some cases it may be better to be general, especially with people who know you well - just say "I need to take a minute" if you need some time to compose yourself.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:30 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

This book is insane, but I love it, and it may give you the kick in the pants you need. I empathize. I started pushing myself to articulate what was going on inside, and it was incredibly uncomfortable, and it still is, but the quality of my life, relationships, and job has improved dramatically. I did indeed lose a few friends, though, but it was so worth it.
posted by zeek321 at 3:11 PM on March 28, 2011

This is me unless I force myself to be otherwise. One thing that helped me was that I made a conscious choice to start disregarding that internal monologue that doles out the judgments. In many cases, those conclusions aren't right. You have to talk to the other party to fully understand what they were thinking. The hardest part is starting the conversation. I too used to be paralyzed by fears when an issue was looming over me in the way you describe. I found that saying to the other person something less confrontational like "I wanted to talk to you about X" instead of "Why did you do X?" or something more accusatory. When I have a lot of emotions I'm holding in, the very effort of trying to get them out usually results in tears. Oddly, this is about the only time this happens. Funerals and Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials don't phase me, but having to explain why I've been silently fuming for a week turns on the waterworks. Yeah, it's weird, but it got less weird when I stopped beating myself up for it.

That all being said, there are some people I still just can't talk to in any circumstance.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 3:17 PM on March 28, 2011

I'm the same way. Get real quiet, real judgmental with people. I never talk about my feelings until I half hate someone, and then I'm usually so disgusted and angry no good can come of it. Mostly I seem to believe that whatever problem is so evident, a person with an iota of sense would know it, so why the hell so I have to TALK about it?

Some strategies I use...

1) Remind myself to get out of my head
2) Remind myself that sharing feelings is a form of generosity
3) Think about how I would feel if I was the person getting the silent treatment and the evil face
4) Realize whatever problem I think I have with someone else is mostly about me, and my feelings are masking a harsh judgment on my own nature. Try to get to the bottom of my issues and let them go.
5) FORCE myself to talk. Rehearse what I am going to say. Realize that clumsily saying something is better than saying nothing and letting horrible feelings fester
6) Exercise, because it elevates my self-esteem and makes me realize I am a worthwhile person that matters.

If people think you're weird, it's because you are. But they are, too.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:35 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I've heard some people describe your egotistical mindstate as, "I'm a piece of shit that the world revolves around." Mental solitude and disconnectedness, characterized by, as you put it, feelings of self-pity and resentment.

Since you still have a lot of good friends, why don't you grab some coffee with some of the happy ones and ask them what they do when they get into funks. I bet you'd be surprised by some of the answers you get. I know I was, when I went through something similar a few years ago and leaned on my friends for help. There's a lot of people out there that would love to help, you just need to ask.

The ability to tell people how you feel, by the way, is such a great thing. If you don't do it though, you're never going to believe anyone who says so. But it makes the universe around you work. The people that need to go, go, and the people that need to stay, stay. Unfortunately, introverts handle the pressure of potential conflict by shutting down. The pressure, in turn, radicalizes the conflict in one's mind, making the fear of opening up even greater. Long-term introverts are probably self-conscious of the fact that the severity of their internal dialogue does not match up with reality, and thus keep quiet as a rule, and probably drive themselves crazy in so doing. Heh. This kind of sounds like what you're going through.

I recommend meditation and journaling. These are tools that many healthy people use to maintain their mental and spiritual well-being. But I would further recommend reaching out to some people you trust with your problems and asking for guidance. As a person who used to have problems in this area, maybe it would help for me to say you're a good person, it's a really healthy sign that you are self-aware, and you have a lot of learning to do if you wish to do it, which is all good. And I'm telling you all of this, and I don't even know you, because I believe it. See how helpful and good-natured people can be?
posted by phaedon at 3:37 PM on March 28, 2011 [9 favorites]

Last week, I went out dancing and I had been really looking forward to it.

Started out in a bad mood. I knew I was going to miss my train so I dug into my pocket for a cab... which took so long to arrive that I had to wait half an hour for the next one. That set the tone for the rest of the evening.

When I got there, it was awful. Awful band (I stick by that judgement). Standoffish atmosphere. NOBODY talked to me, nobody asked me to dance, I sat at the back for 30 minutes and went home.
Bunch of stuck-up clodhoppers.

Or were they? I knew they really weren't, and because of this there was a limit to how much of a bad mood I could get into, really.

For one thing, I could have gotten organized better so I would have had time to catch my train and maybe gotten there at the start when there was more chance to talk to people coming in. Failing that, could have approached people who were there. I chose not to do that because it would have felt a bit forced in that setting and I didn't want to make the effort, but I also knew that if I had made the effort it might have turned out differently. Or not. But it was me who chose not to find out. I could have gone up and danced by myself, but I just felt like it would have been a bit dorky and attention-seeking in that particular situation, so I chose not to do that either. Of course if I'd really really wanted to dance I would have gone ahead and done it, and I might have made a dork of myself or I might not, but it was my choice. I could have asked people to dance, but, well, see above.

I spotted a couple of people I knew and they didn't even acknowledge me. I was tempted to fault them for this, but it's not like I acknowledged them either, so call it a draw. Maybe they didn't even recognize me, it was dark.

After half an hour, I got up and left. Maybe I should have stayed, maybe I missed the tall dark handsome stranger by two minutes. Or not.

I bought a chicken burger on the way home. It was reasonably good, for a chicken burger. That was the highlight of my evening.

I should've stayed home. But then I wouldn't have spread my wings and had such an excellent adventure! You see? Or rather, I would have been blaming myself for failing to seize the night. I still think the people could have been more friendly, but then again maybe they were more friendly and I just didn't exert myself to find that out. Maybe if I'd done things differently it would have been a better evening, or maybe it wouldn't have, because that's just the way it goes sometimes.

The temptation to write these people off as stuck-up clodhoppers was always there, but I simply couldn't have given in to it if I'd wanted to, because I knew it wasn't true. Keep reminding yourself of what you know to be true, and eventually, it will become a habit. With constant adjustments, you can stay on course.
posted by tel3path at 3:52 PM on March 28, 2011

Duh. This should say:

I found that saying to the other person something less confrontational like "I wanted to talk to you about X" was a better opener than "Why did you do X?" or something more accusatory.

Seconding journaling. My journal is seething with rage and judgment. I go back and look at the entries and can rarely recall what I was so worked up about.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 4:07 PM on March 28, 2011

Your description reminds me of myself. I get especially bad when I'm out and about without energy (e.g. phystically tired/recently spoke to uber extrovert ppl/problem solving). I think what I realized was that I need to be more assertive, and just tell people that you have been upset, and clear the air. I can't mind read, and often times, why ppl annoy me is because I misunderstood them. Once the air is cleared, things usually get much better. And hopefully, the relationship gets stronger in the process.
posted by TrinsicWS at 4:12 PM on March 28, 2011

When I'm in my own little black rain cloud, I write a letter to the person who I'm upset with -- but I don't send it or give it to them. By the time I'm done writing the letter, I usually already feel much, much better. Venting can be cathartic but it has to be going somewhere so it doesn't go around in circles. Instead of swirling around in my mind getting more and more upsetting, the things I'm upset about, including the petty ones and the ones I invented for myself inside my raincloud, are all officially listed and demonstrably finite. I can look at what I've written and think, "Yes, this is the sum total of everything I'm upset about. And it all fits on one [or two, or ten] pages." Because I know all the unhappiness is there on record, waiting for me to come back and deal with it, I can give myself a break and think about other things for a while. When I come back to it anywhere from a few hours to a couple days later, I can look at what I wrote and use it to figure out what the valid points are and what's just my unhappiness spiraling out of control. Then I've got the basis of a second draft, which is the valid points pulled out of the first draft and rephrased in calm, neutral language. Having written this second draft, I feel much better prepared to have a calm, neutral conversation with the person in which I admit what's been bothering me. If I'm really having a hard time, that version can actually be given to the person so they know what's going on without me having to say it out loud.
posted by ootandaboot at 4:30 PM on March 28, 2011

It could help to laugh at how ridiculous you're being. That diffuses anger well; maybe it will diffuse being judgmental.

Also, as your friend, this would really piss me off. Maybe you can forgive them as a fair exchange for them overlooking this aspect of your personality?
posted by salvia at 6:27 PM on March 28, 2011

It helps me to examine the things that make me disproportionately upset or angry, rather than push them away. For example, if you see something that might signal somebody is selfish, ask yourself... Why am I so bothered that this person did this selfish thing? Is it really selfish? What does it say about me that I might be friends who someone who sometimes does selfish things? Do I judge myself for having selfish moments?

You might find that there is some underlying fear or desire hanging out there. It's not really about the other person who may or may not have done a selfish thing. It's about you. Having that awareness is really liberating, IMO.

And if you have time to yourself, LET yourself feel upset about a tiny insignificant thing. Don't push your emotions away. You can't control your emotions but you can manage them.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 6:57 PM on March 29, 2011

If you just need a few hours to calm down--totally normal! In fact, better than saying something impulsive when you're angry.

Try to communicate that, though--"I need a little time to myself right now. Thank you." should be decent.

This might not be compatible with some people's style of communication but I think it's perfectly reasonable.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:24 PM on March 29, 2011

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