I apparently give other people second-hand trauma--how do I stop?
April 24, 2011 12:02 PM   Subscribe

How do you cope with other people finding your life strange, depressing, or kind of disturbing, especially when you don't feel the same? I'm really tired of having to choose between everyone telling me I'm "hard to get to know" because I don't share a lot of personal information or floods of tears on my behalf.

I had what might be called an "interesting" childhood. Not abusive or anything--I had loving, supportive parents who did their best to create a stable environment for us--there was just a long string of crazy shit that happened*. I seem to have escaped the drama now, but some of the fallout continues to affect me: lingering anxiety, slightly-triggery things, etc. All of which I recognize and have been working on, so all well and good. To me, it's just these things that happened, you know?

The problem is that if I happen to mention any of those things to people, they freak out, which makes me feel awkward and weird and deeply fucked up, even though I don't feel any of those things normally. So I try to avoid talking to other people about my past, but that means I can't really talk about the day-to-day stuff either because it's difficult to separate it.

I was in therapy for quite awhile (with different therapists at different points), but stopped because their "crying for the little girl I was" made me uncomfortable and miserable. My close friends complain that I don't share things with them. I know that their reactions are meant to be empathetic and validating, and I appreciate that (really), but it actually makes me feel like they don't really get it, or me. Not to mention feeling pretty guilty when, for example, my roommate tells me that she has to deliberately repress information I've told her so it doesn't affect her ability to interact with other people (this weekend, and the genesis of this question).

I've occasionally told them that, to mixed results (apparently just wanting to deal with things and move on makes me an emotionally maladjusted freak, but aside from preferring that other people don't think of me as a freak that's not something I really want to change about myself.)

Is there some kind of way of mentioning awkward information without making the people around me think I'm a kicked puppy who needs tears and cuddles or "damaged goods," as it were? Or do I need to accept that I'm either going to always be a little isolated/distant from people or faking being the touchy-feely type? Most of the time, I feel like a pretty neat person: smart, talented, resilient, generous, accepting of other people--a few quirks and issues, but who doesn't have some?--but more and more I feel like I'm being re-cast by other people into some sort of fucked-up-victim role, and I don't know how to avoid it.

Apologies if that's too vague--force of habit, you know ;). I can give more details if you need them.

*e.g. the drug dealer across the street trying to burn our house down because my naive father had the "abandoned" car parked out front towed.
posted by kittenmarlowe to Human Relations (49 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
How much do you actually need to share with people? I get the impression that you just want people at the appropriate level of closeness to know about this stuff because it's true, right? And you want to say it without people either freaking out or morphing into lachrymose human-interest fiends, is that right?

Excuse me for answering a question with more questions, I'm just trying to get a handle on what you're asking.
posted by tel3path at 12:23 PM on April 24, 2011

...but that means I can't really talk about the day-to-day stuff either because it's difficult to separate it.

What do you mean by that? I've never had any of the issues you are dealing with, but my past rarely (practically never beyond "where are you from") comes up when talking to friends and coworkers unless I bring it up myself. Do you mean to say that you are unable to have typical conversations – work, local politics, arts & culture, hobbies, future aspirations or just weekend plans, whatever it is that most people talk about – because of your past? Can you elaborate on that?
posted by halogen at 12:26 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

i don't understand this either. ppl just don't pry that much into one's past—at least from what i've experienced. most conversations with ppl who aren't your close friends tend to be on superficial levels involving what's happening at present. anybody who knows anything about my abusive/dysfunctional family life knows because i chose to tell them, and not because i was asked about it.

can you give examples of how this topic comes up for you?
posted by violetk at 12:40 PM on April 24, 2011

Are you sure you aren't just misinterpreting people? If you tell them a sad story about what happened to you... what do you expect? People to respond with laughter? They are responding with sympathy and compassion. Trust me-- you aren't (or shouldn't be) scarring anyone. The great majority of people have had some kind of hardship in their life to deal with. You aren't a "special snowflake" in this regard.

I'm the same was as you, though. I don't want to tell people a story about my life and receive hugs and shit in return. So you know what I do, usually? Make it seem more like my life has been a crazy adventure that I survived. Now I'm much stronger for it. Because I am, of course. That way I get high-fives and approving nods instead of sad faces and apologies.

And in general, I don't get myself into support group-type situations. There is really no need to discuss the terrible things that happened to you unless you are exchanging war-stories, and that's normally only with people who are closer to you. And even then, no one is feeling bad about it, it's just an open conversation of something, like crazy childhoods.

As far as I can tell, at one point you say that your friends complain that you don't share things, and at another point you mention that one of your friends complained that she has to suppress something you told her so that it doesn't affect her. I don't really get that... Perhaps when you share you are sharing too much? You have to learn which details are OK to share and which aren't. For example, if you say you saw someone die once, you don't need to share the gory details of the death itself unless they ask. Or if you were abused, don't share the specific details... even if they do ask (unless they are a therapist or someone else who is really trying to help you, of course). That's really the only thing I can see going on there. My childhood friend was a chronic over-sharer. And really the only thing that jumps out at me was from the last time we hung out (for somewhat unrelated reasons). I slept over her house, and after I took a shower, she asked, "Oh, you didn't use the washcloth in the shower, did you?" After I said no, she said, "Oh good, because I clean my butt with that one!" Yikes.

Yeah, so maybe you need to realize that although you are certainly not the only one with hardships and painful memories, you don't have to share every last painful detail. And maybe give therapy another shot, and realize that they hear things that you are saying every day, and it they are doing something you don't like, tell them. Not everything works for everyone.
posted by two lights above the sea at 12:41 PM on April 24, 2011

How do you cope with other people finding your life strange, depressing, or kind of disturbing, especially when you don't feel the same?

First of all, this totally made me laugh, because I get the same kind of reactions. Though after reading your more inside, it's for totally different reasons. Anyway, just a few thoughts.

Guess 1: The people you're talking to are kind of sheltered. I mean, drug dealers trying to burn down your house is pretty foreign to my personal life experience, but I've met enough people who come from different places/backgrounds/situations that if someone told me that story, I'd hardly be shocked.

Guess 2: There's something about the way you're telling them (or the fact that you're telling them at all) that gives the wrong impression about how you feel about these experiences. It's probably easier said than done, but if you tell a story in a funny way, or end it with a casual comment like "Yeah, my childhood was weird. Anyway..." Or don't tell the whole story if you want to. I don't think you should lie, but with the incident above, you could just say "There was a lot of crime in my neighborhood growing up." and leave it at that.

I don't mean to put it all on you because I don't think it's your "fault" people freak out. Just that sometimes you have to sort of manage people's reactions.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:43 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can have acquaintance-level conversations fine (work, local politics, arts & culture, hobbies, etc.). It's the "one level deeper" kind of conversations that become problematic--when people are transitioning from friendly acquainences to "friends."

For example, the conversation with my roommate that spawned this. There's a cute boy at work that I have a thing for. I mentioned this off-handedly to the roommate last fall. Enter months and months of wanting to know why I didn't make a move on the guy, why I wouldn't ask for his phone number, etc. I tell her I have certain anxieties about it, that this flirtation is actually part of how I'm working on those anxieties (which my then-therapist recommended, though I didn't mention that to the roomie) and that mostly I just wanted to do the girl-talk bonding kind of thing ("He told me I looked cute today!"). At first she accepts that, but keeps pressuring me to explain why the idea of just asking him out makes me so anxious (because she wants to "get closer" and because I never tell her about my feelings, etc.) I eventually do, she cries for hours, and now she won't do the casual girl-talk about cute boys with me anymore because it reminds her and makes her sad for me.

I'm sure there's a point in the flow where I could derail the whole process, but somehow I never manage to. Being vague or changing the subject just seems to make people more curious.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 12:45 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

The not being able to separate the day-to-day stuff from things from the past indicates that they are bothering much more than you consciously believe/let on.

Examples from my life: Something happened in my life and it was horrible but I was in denial for quite a while. I was aware that it had happened, but I just didn't want to think about it or deal with it. After a while (years to be honest), things started reminding me of this event. It started as subtle little hints but then it got to the point that everything (classroom lectures, TV commercials, dinner time conversation, etc etc etc) reminded me so much of said event that they made me want to scream that XYZ happened. In other words, my brain was telling me: "hey, you need to deal with this".
Once I did deal with it, I realized that really not many things remind me of said event. Actually it rarely happens. And it rarely did happen before, but I couldn't see this at the time.

Find another therapist that doesn't make you feel like he/she's "crying for the little girl that I was". Honestly, they might just have wanted to convey to you that that was a safe and appropriate place to address these issues.
posted by Neekee at 12:47 PM on April 24, 2011 [7 favorites]

i honestly have no idea why you are getting the reaction you are getting, and i suspect none of us do unless we are witness to them ourselves. as two lights above the sea mentioned, you might be going into too much detail. as i've mentioned, i grew up in an abusive household, and the ppl with whom i have shared this with have reacted sympathetically, but never broken down crying to the point where they won't talk to me anymore. i don't even get why anyone would have that kind of reaction. but i also don't go into detail about the abuse either, i just state very matter-of-factly that it's something i experienced growing up. so—not to blame you or anything, but you might want to examine what you are telling ppl exactly and how you are telling them.

with the example that you gave above, perhaps it's because it sounds like you build it up into this big mysterious thing that needs to get wrangled out of you by the asker instead of just straight out stating why. or, if you really don't want to share, you can just state that you that you have anxieties about it and leave it at that. you are under no obligations to share bc someone is pressuring you to do so, and if that person keeps pressuring you, why would you want build a further intimacy with someone who can't respect your boundaries?
posted by violetk at 12:53 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Yeah, when I do tell those stories I tend to tell them as jokes and/or freaky adventure stories. That seems to freak people out more, for some reason. I've asked a few very close friends if I over-share (I wondered if that was the problem, that I wasn't being vague enough or sharing too many details), and they told me that it was the opposite--that they mostly had to pry details on anything out of me with a crowbar.

Obviously I'm doing something wrong with how I share. What I really want if I share something like that (assuming I'm not just using an anecdote from the past to illustrate some other point) is what two lights above the sea said: that my life has been "a crazy adventure that I survived. Now I'm much stronger for it. Because I am, of course. That way I get high-fives and approving nods instead of sad faces and apologies." High fives and approving nods, or maybe even laughs at the crazy.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 12:56 PM on April 24, 2011

I think you are going to have to go into more detail about what the story is and the specifics of how you're telling it, because I can't IMAGINE anything that would cause me to react to a friend's past-trauma story (or even "happened 20 minutes ago and I am taking her to the ER" trauma story) with crying for hours and being "too sad" to ever discuss it again. Other than, seriously, the untimely loss of a child. (and even then I wouldn't be "too sad" ever to discuss it again.)

If this is happening a lot, either you have immature friends with poor coping mechanisms or you're telling your stories in a truly strange way. I'm not sure if we should be reassuring you your friends are out of line, or helping you phrase your stories better and/or see a therapist.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:01 PM on April 24, 2011 [15 favorites]

Wow, I keep typing this up and then deleting, because I can't come up with a good way to summarize my thoughts without launching into a long anecdotal backstory that is total overshare. Really, though, it all boils down to this: as someone who also has a past that contains incidents that would make many people think or say OH MY GOD NO WAY HOW HORRIBLE OR CRAZY TELL ME MORE EEK!, I've also found myself in situations where I've had to debate how to frame a story. The thing is - while self-disclosure is a necessary component of founding and growing intimate relationships, it is not an all-or-nothing proposition. And that transition from acquaintance to friend is but one of many future transitions, during which intimacy deepen.

Don't feel that you have to share all the details in order to foster that connection with someone. A story, properly framed, can be retold later once appropriate/relevant/you've gotten to know someone better. Not every detail has to come out during the initial share, nor does everything have to be entirely suppressed. It's all about framing, I guess.

Honestly, I think I know where you are coming from, but don't want to get into all of it here. Memail me if want to hear more.
posted by vivid postcard at 1:02 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had friends who have told me that they were molested, that they had witnessed a serious crime growing up, etc... I never really reacted too much, to be honest...just sort of nodded my head, tried to seem understanding....I've always had an appreciation for how hard life can be even though I had a relatively sheltered childhood....I think that you should keep an eye open for friends who might also have this sort of appreciation, because they will not react in a way to make you feel bad, if anything they will just want to support you more in being happy in your current life.

and yes, these issues might be a lot more on your mind than you think...I had some traumatic experiences...and first I repressed them for a few years....then once it all opened up, I couldn't stop talking about it with people I started to feel emotionally closer to....and now, I can't remember the last time I talked about those things. First I had to work through a lot of emotions first.

Hope that you find some calm about all of this.....you'll figure it out eventually, give yourself and the world time
posted by saraindc at 1:02 PM on April 24, 2011

I'd suggest telling your friends directly "Oh, this was just my weird childhood; I'm okay now; don't feel bad about it."

Also, recognize that your reactions are atypical, and most people will either need to know you for a while or to be told directly about how you want to have a conversation. I get the sense that you want to be able to tell your anecdotes, talk about your memories as appropriate, etc etc, just like anyone does, without it being a huge freaky deal. This seems reasonable to me, but lay it all out for your friends: "I had a weird childhood, but remember that my stories sound a lot weirder and more traumatic to you than to me."

Maybe it's just an artifact of your writing, but I get a feeling almost like you feel some...I don't know...maybe some self-protective wish to appear strong and tough and together, like it's a big part of your self-concept that you had this weird childhood and you're in therapy and okay, moving along, nothing to see here, and maybe when people freak out it messes with that self concept. Or are you afraid to get into the whole messy world of sympathy? Or are you afraid that sympathy will mark you out as the tragic battered baby in your social circle and you won't have the status you want? (This could, of course,be projection--I have a tug of war myself with wanting sympathy and fear of being perceived as weak/getting tangled up in emotional crap.)

How are you on intimacy generally? Do you feel that you can make good friends? Do you feel happy and at ease when you're with your friends? (Not everyone does; I have trouble, for example, feeling really relaxed even around friends I like a lot.)

How do you meet friends? Maybe finding friends from a shared project--so that your basic/initial conversations will be shop talk--would help.
posted by Frowner at 1:11 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

As someone else that had an "interesting"-though-nothing-all-that-bad childhood (though no one (except me) ever tried to burn the house down), I've found that it really depends on your audience.

For the most part, I just don't see a need to divulge information about my past with most people (though in fairness, I consider myself a rather private person). If something comes up relevant to one of my experiences I might share it in the interests of social nicety, but really, most people just don't need (or want, for that matter) to know about my childhood.

Then to some, closer friends enjoying an evening of wine, Trivial Pursuit and chatting, I would describe many of my past experiences as funny-in-hindsight.

I also have a few memories I wouldn't relate to anyone, because hey, we've all done things so fabulously stupid that we wish we could pretend they never happened.

Mostly, though, I don't think you should feel the need to discuss your distant past, not even with a therapist. If you want to, do it; If not, don't; But don't let a stranger try to tell you that your resentment over not getting a puppy in 9th grade has ruined your life.
posted by pla at 1:11 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason the population of people you hang out with might have some boundary problems or you happen to know a lot of fading flowers?

Short of your somehow by virtue of profession or study or creative work surrounding yourself with weepy types, it sounds like you want some closeness but want to control how much, and that might cause conflicts, but running off and weeping over someone else's childhood...frankly, that's a little shitty. That seems kind of co-opting of your experience and making it their own and processing it in their way and it would personally make me a little mad and I think I wouldn't trust those people much, because it's a little selfish and a little invalidating.

But there are still plenty of people who can handle a bit of trauma without making it their own--because they've had their own experiences or because they're not too surprised by the world--and maybe you could find some of those people and go easy on sharing with the flowers.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:13 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

(Actually, I see I missed a paragraph of your post and part of mine is thus unneeded.)

Maybe writing some memoirs might help...I've found that I tell my awful stories more naturally and more for laughs once I've worked them through a couple of times.
posted by Frowner at 1:14 PM on April 24, 2011

I probably would not cry, or be traumatized, if I heard your story of the drug dealer attempting to burn down your house. I would probably be curious and empathetic.

Your roommate's reaction seems odd to me. Though, it may be your delivery that is traumatizing people. It could be content. We don't know what you endured, what you are choosing to share with your friends, or exactly how you are sharing these details.

I've heard some of the saddest, craziest stuff, and have endured some sad, crazy stuff myself and would not be crippled by a friend's past.

You can't control how your friends react. You can control what you share. If you find that your friends are a mess after you tell these stories, you might want to stop sharing in the manner you are currently sharing or stop altogether. If it is just one friend (roommate) maybe her coping skills are lacking and she is reacting inappropriately.

It doesn't mean going into denial. Maybe it means sharing the good things or sharing the bad things with people who can handle it. Maybe it means claiming that you don't know why you are afraid to ask the boy out at work. Maybe you fear rejection. Maybe you're old-fashioned. Maybe you are shy. Plenty of people fear asking a person out. It doesn't mean they endured traumatic childhoods.
posted by Fairchild at 1:19 PM on April 24, 2011

I think you need different friends, and possibly even different therapists. I'm sure I could easily find people who find my life weird or depressing were I to look for them, but I choose not to get too involved with people like that. And If, by mistake, I did, I wouldn't consider it my problem that they felt that way. Similarly, if I had a therapist who didn't work with me the way I wanted them to, I'd tell them to work differently, or I'd find someone else. (There's no reason you need to be coerced into crying for your inner child when that's not how you see the situation.) If I were (And I am not) your therapist, I'd wonder why the reactions of others affect you as much as they seem to do. Unless, of course, that's not what you were interested in exploring (which you could say.)
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:32 PM on April 24, 2011

I've also found myself in situations where I've had to debate how to frame a story.

QFT. I need to read this thread more thoroughly, but OP -- I totally get what you're saying. My childhood was tumultuous, to say the least (how 'bout being kidnapped by your own grandparents? They threatened to have my mother killed if she tried to come and get me. Yup.) -- and people are NOT ready to hear it when they ask you a simple question like, "Where did you grow up?" or something.

Last night I told my housemate about how my dad committed suicide when I was in kindergarten. She asked the same questions everyone asks, and even got a little weepy (we were pretty hammered, it was 3AM, whatever). My emotions went like this:

1. Yay! Being honest with people actually feels good! (I used to lie and tell people he died of cancer.)

2. *One hour later* Why the fuck did I tell her that? Is she going to bring it up again? Are we going to have to talk more about suicide now?

3. *Later, shivering* Jeez, being honest with people makes me want to vomit.

It's our cross to bear, those of us that had deadbeat parents, or lost a parent young, or were on welfare or in foster care or moved house 32 times before the age of 18. Whatever it is, or was, it DOES NOT HAVE TO DEFINE YOU.

posted by polly_dactyl at 1:34 PM on April 24, 2011 [10 favorites]

I don't necessarily tell people how I feel or what I do - there are very few people I consider to be close friends who I will tell what I really think or feel. People normally just accept that about me, people who require more sharing just don't become close to me. And there were things that unsettle people in my history like my mother dieing when I was still quite young. But even the year she died, when I was only 14, the people I told, normally because they asked about her health, offered their condolences, some offered their support to the family in general and all moved on to other topics. The only people ever getting upset were people at school, who were near my own age.

So I'm inclined to think that perhaps the people you spend time with at the moment are not the most mature people in the world. What I mean is that I'd not expect anybody to react the way you describe. For example I started a new job within my organisation in the last six months and my new boss and I first met on a business trip. So over dinner she decided to get to know me and we spoke about our respective families. Noting that I spoke about everybody other than my mother she asked about her and was told she'd passed away when I was in my early teens. Now people normally just go - that must have been difficult for you - and move on. She is one of the very few people who did not feel awkward and decided to explore the topic some. We ended up having a fairly pleasant conversation about life.

What I am saying is that most people would just go - oh, that must have been difficult - and will move on. Some people are very open and mature and will explore the topic if you are willing to explore it. But most people you come across will not get overly upset at past events in your life. So a lot of this is the people you are talking to, not you. Do you get this reaction across the board? Who are the people reacting like that?
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:41 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Eyebrows McGee:

It was garden-variety highschool drama, really. I liked a guy, I mentioned to a friend that I liked said guy. She encourages me to ask him out, I eventually do, and he says yes! I enjoye the feeling for a couple of hours, until he comes up to both my friend and I, returns the money she paid him to say yes, and lists off all the reasons I wasn't worth the twenty bucks.

Pretty traumatic to me in terms of my confidence re: attractive boys and a slight paranoia for conspiracies, but not exactly on the level of being molested or raped or something. Mostly I was embarrassed that that highschool asshole still gets to me a little. So my roommates' reaction completely flummoxed me.

Frowner: your third paragraph (well, the whole thing) is pretty spot-on. I have a couple of close friends I feel completely comfortable around, though unfortunately they're all thousands of miles away right now.

A Terrible Llama: right now, I'm surrounded by MFA creative writing types (I'm a much more academic literary type), so the drama is cranked up to 11. But I've had similar-though-slightly-less-dramatic reactions from other people in the past.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 1:43 PM on April 24, 2011

My initial reaction to your roommate's reaction is that she's making it all about her. Perhaps because she doesn't really know what to do, or because she realized that she pushed across a boundary without realizing exactly what was behind it.

I was on the opposite side of the fence a few years ago - a roommate who I had always thought was puzzlingly closed off up and told me some shit about her childhood that did freak me out a bit - though I didn't show her my freakout. For whatever reason I was just uncomfortable knowing those details: even though I cared about her, we just weren't deeply close, and in terms of intimacy transitions she went from "nice weather today" to "this is the shit that went down."

I had an odd though not unusually traumatic childhood - I lay it all out there, own it, and laugh over it. I pick the weirdest, craziest stories and play a bit of a drama queen role with it. Of course, I'm not a very private person, so that's just me....
posted by bunderful at 1:48 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

One thing that stood out: your roomie... wow. Fair enough that two people can have differing senses of what are appropriate levels of openness, but your approach with her comes across as having been entirely reasonable--which is more than can be said for her reaction. Cries for hours? Damn.

Dunno if you might have done this, but it could help her (and take the conversation away from what's going on in your life) to if you delicately relate (not so bluntly) that her that her reactions, approach, etc., are a long way from healthy, mature, etc.

Is getting another roomie an option?

That aside, when Jerry Springer first got popular, got some media attention, a sister opined that darn near every family has at least one thing in its past or present that would be Springer fodder. I agree. But I don't agree that all these things need to be shared.

Maybe there are some things you could relate from your past (or present) in the acquaintances-to-friends journeys that are relatively tame... so you're not being tight-lipped, not going into full-disclosure mode.

Anecdotally, over the years, I've been friends with a big bunch of men and women who've been really diverse in terms of ages, nationalities, backgrounds, faiths, personalities; come across a couple people who struck me (and others) as over-sharers; heard and told some crazy and sometimes-dark stores; and I've never heard or heard of anyone having the reactions you're relating. I say this with some trepidation, but is it not inconceivable that you're drawn to people who react in these ways?
posted by ambient2 at 2:02 PM on April 24, 2011

I'm surrounded by MFA creative writing types

Ah! This explains a lot.

I have this weird story about how my dad was telling people that my mom (they were divorced, I lived with her) was a heroin addict* and when I came to visit that summer, he wasn't going to send me back and he was going to sue for custody. We fled to Europe for a year, and I didn't see my dad for about five years (until I was old enough to be able to get myself to the airport and fly as an unaccompanied minor). I don't tell this story much - when would it come up? - and when I do, the reaction is always "Oh, wow. Um. Gosh." Which is way better than hysterical sobbing.

I think the only time I've burst into hysterical sobs was when a friend called to tell me that his partner - who was also a friend - had died very unexpectedly, and then the sobs were from shock and were as much for me as for him.

Maybe my little group of friends is unusual, but we don't talk about our pasts all that much. Most of us have known each other for a decade or more, so we have a good chunk of shared past, but childhood stuff just doesn't come up much and doesn't seem needed by any of us to feel close and supported and cared about. It's not that context is unwelcome or unhelpful (e.g., it's good to know that so-and-so hates [genre of music] because of [crappy childhood thing]), but mostly it's the present, day-to-day stuff that binds us.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I don't think you're weird, and unless you're vastly misreporting the way you tell these stories, I think your problem will largely sort itself out with a different audience, and getting older will help as well.

*She was not.
posted by rtha at 2:10 PM on April 24, 2011

Obviously I don't know all the stories you're telling people, but from the two that you've mentioned, I feel like people are reacting in really weird ways.

I'm going to college with a ton of people who inexplicably all seem to have had beautiful childhoods full of rainbows and parents who will be together forever and trips around the world and sitting around in circles at school talking about feelings (it seems unlikely that this is actually true, but so it appears)-- sometimes I mention things that I think are pretty normal from my working class, slightly dysfunctional-familied but relatively happy childhood and people act taken aback. These are things that people I was friends with as a kid wouldn't blink an eye at. So I think it could very much be the people you happen to be around.

It seems either that you're around very dramatic people in general, or you're unconsciously being dramatic about the way you're telling these stories.
posted by geegollygosh at 2:14 PM on April 24, 2011

After reading your last update, her reaction was completely bizarre. If that's representative of the other times this has happened to you, then I agree with everyone who says find new friends, or at least don't tell details to the ones you know or suspect will have inappropriate reactions.

For what it's worth, I don't ask guys out because I had several similarly humiliating experiences doing so when I was younger. If this ever comes up - which it pretty much never does - I say I learned through trial and error that asking guys out is just not "me" - it doesn't go with my personality, I'm uncomfortable doing it, and I've been much happier since I figured that out. No one has ever not accepted that as an answer. (Not that you should say that, but you can give a condensed version of what's true for you, and anyone who presses for details after that is either clueless or rude.)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:19 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Having grown up weird in a weird, messed up family full of weirdos, I sometimes have this problem. I'm able to handle all my messed up childhood stuff because I've had the time to learn how to cope with it. Others, not so much.

Part of the solution for you might be getting a new therapist (because, seriously, you do not have to work with anyone who makes you uncomfortable. They are, essentially, your employee. If it's not working out, give 'em the boot.), and/or some new friends (crying for hours and being too sad to ever again discuss boys because one time a guy was mean to you in high school? Dude. Your friend is a huge drama queen who is making it all about her. Gross. Disengage pronto.). But also, framing!

Here's an example of framing in action, in my own personal life: I was raised by a single grandmother, because my parents were drug addicts who could not handle the responsibility of parenthood. Because I never, ever say, "When I was a kid, my parents blah blah..." or "I called my dad yesterday and blerrrrgh," people wonder. And usually they ask. "You never mention your parents, only your grandmother. Do you mind if I ask why?"

Sometimes I have said, "Oh, not at all! My grandma raised me, because my mom married her dealer when he knocked her up and then one night a couple of weeks before I was born he slammed a dishwasher door on her head repeatedly because she wouldn't make him a sandwich. So, you know, that's not cool for kids to be around. Anyway they got divorced and Mom just sort of drifted off into the desert to do more peyote*, and again, not awesome for kids." And usually that has gone over like a lead balloon. Sad, sympathetic looks, arm pats, teary eyes, "oh you poor dear, how awful," et cetera. Definitely sours the ol' work environment for a while, if you know what I mean.

Here's how I frame things now that I know blurting out all my dirty laundry is really, really not a good idea: "Oh, not at all! My parents weren't really suited to care for a child when I showed up, so my grandmother stepped up to the plate." No muss, no fuss, no oversharing of every sordid detail.

When I start spending more time with a new acquaintance, and eventually they become an actual friend, then I start sharing a bit more about my past when it pertains to the subject at hand. But I've gotten pretty good at gauging who is going to be accepting and non-judging, and who is going to flip out and try to, like, rescue me from the horrible ghosts of my past or whatever. I mean, jeez. Those people need to take up volunteer work for the truly needy. If someone has even a whiff of the dramatic about them, they're not in the group of people I share things with. They get the polite, bare-bones surface of the story.

Extra bonus: since I started applying this framing method a few years back, most of the crazy has left my life. There aren't really people in my life now who pull this kind of b.s. on me, and it's really awesome.

*i'm kidding about the peyote. moms is more of a stoner.
posted by palomar at 2:23 PM on April 24, 2011 [12 favorites]

From what you've said, your stories, while understandably traumatic for you, don't sound like anything other people should be freaking out about. Your roommate sounds kind of strange and not compatible with you. It sounds like she's trying to force you to become girlfriends just because you're there, yet you have nothing in common. I personally would avoid sharing things with her and probably try to avoid living with her for very long.
posted by wondermouse at 2:26 PM on April 24, 2011

After reading your update: your roommate is reacting incredibly weirdly. Yes, what happened was traumatic and really sucky for you, but her reaction is a bit much (to put it mildly).
posted by cooker girl at 2:30 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

your roommate is cracked. that was a completely inappropriate over-reaction to what you shared.
posted by violetk at 2:32 PM on April 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Another anecdote -- some years ago a boss was giving me a ride home after work one night - we were still getting to know each other and being in the car together was good "face time" for me. Real casual, she was young, whatever. Anyway, she asks about my life and I gave only the *pertinent* details -- I left out all the abuse and custody battles and fuckedupedness and really JUST gave her the highlights.

Result: She had to PULL OVER, because she got so shaken up -- and I was like???? I'm not even mentioning the *bad* stuff!

She was not a 'wilting flower' type; she had grown up with a single mother & a drug-addicted deadbeat dad (white people from Wyoming, srsly) - but some people just react that way to hearing traumatic stories. Personally I can't watch Law & Order: Special Victims, because it's all rape-rape-rape-sodomy-childrape, and I can't sleep afterwards. And those people aren't even real.
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:42 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Without denying the possibility that you are not framing your stories right, and not discounting that your friends have noticed a pattern about you withholding important information that makes it difficult to deepen a friendship, your roommate sounds like kind of a jerk. Weeping terribly over high school drama, and telling you that she had to repress your stories so she could interact with other people? That's your roommate's problem, not yours. There's nothing in your story that would traumatize a listener (though it may have been awful to experience yourself!), unless the listener herself was a little... overdramatic.

There are people you can trust with information about your past and people that you can't. It seems like your problems come from trouble identifying who's who, especially because the people you can't trust tend to give off the loudest "tell me everything about yourself!" vibes. The people you can't trust will push you hard for your sad stories and ignore all your complaints because they do genuinely want to help make you feel better, and when they realize it's a deeper problem than they thought they panic and run away. The people you can't trust won't have enough experience or perspective to recognize a regular-but-scarring childhood trauma from the truly terrible and awful ones, and thus don't know how to respond appropriately. The people you can trust will give you your space, and will truly back off when you say "I don't want to talk about it." Just because someone says, "tell me everything about yourself!" doesn't mean they care about you.

That being said, your close friends have identified in you a tendency to wall off information about yourself, and that's something you should pay attention to. Does it interfere enough with your life to make you unhappy? If so, practice condensing your stories into one-bite lines like palomar suggested. "I had kind of a shitty experience with boys in high school so I'm a little hesitant to ask one out now." An acquaintance you can't trust will almost invariably push you for more information, and that's when you know it's time to stop. A possible friend you can trust will say, "That really sucks" and respect the implicit boundary you set. That little statement of empathy is fine and shouldn't bother you, but your roommate's weeping and gnashing of teeth is waaay overboard.*

*Do you feel really awkward and weird around anybody's expression of sadness? Even if it's something simple like just saying "that sounds terrible" or "that must have really hurt" at the end of your story and then moving on? Because then you may have some unsolved issues around the experiences that you're trying to avoid.
posted by lilac girl at 2:44 PM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

There are people you can trust with information about your past and people that you can't. It seems like your problems come from trouble identifying who's who, especially because the people you can't trust tend to give off the loudest "tell me everything about yourself!" vibes. The people you can't trust will push you hard for your sad stories and ignore all your complaints because they do genuinely want to help make you feel better, and when they realize it's a deeper problem than they thought they panic and run away.

Damn, girl - so much truth here. And this is a HARD lesson to learn for so many of us.
posted by polly_dactyl at 2:53 PM on April 24, 2011 [11 favorites]

Hmm, that boy thing WOULD hurt. And it sounds like you're barely able to talk about it to people, it's completely affecting your behavior, and meanwhile you're trying to act like you're over it and it was nothing? I think the issue could be that you're trying to avoid the pain, and they notice it (both the pain, and the avoidance).

In terms of how to share, what works for me is a combination of two things: "It sucks (A), but here's why it's not so bad (B)."

(A) First, acknowledge how much it does suck. People seem to react with disbelief if I'm all "oh ha ha, isn't this horrible thing hilariously funny?" They look at me with sadness, like, "you must really be hurting if you have to make it a huge joke. Can't you even acknowledge that it sucks?" So, I first acknowledge, in a serious tone of voice, "yeah, it really sucked at the time," before moving on to the dark humor or "but not so much after two years of therapy," or whatever. You want to give the perception that you're comfortable with the thing, including its hard parts, and that you're doing what you need to do to take care of yourself.

(B) Then, explain why it's not all that bad, perhaps wrapping it all up in something a bit uplifting, in a way that turns the conversation back onto more comfortable and familiar territory to them, and slightly away from yourself. This also needs to be authentic. One that worked for me was "this is my first experience with something really, really stressful, but I'm glad that it's about [XYZ] and not about something like an illness. So, you know, at least I have my health. :) " Trite as this sounds, it works, because I really mean it. Other great options include: "I got through it with the help of my friends and family and was incredibly grateful for their help," "ever since then, it's made me grateful for the good things I have," "I never would have thought I could handle it, but it really made me know myself better. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right?" This is kind of an approach I've fallen into, but I'm sure any way of saying "but I'm okay now, so let's talk about life in general, or you" would work as well.

Going a bit off of what frowner points out, it seems like you might be skipping (a) above, acknowledging the seriousness. I don't know if that's a rhetorical issue, or if it might hint that you aren't comfortable with that yourself. If you say "ha ha ha isn't this a funny adventure, yee haw," about something painful, I think most people's reactions would be to honestly share their own viewpoint about it, like, "actually, no, it would really hurt, and I feel incredibly sorry that you had to experience that painful situation." It sounds like it did hurt, if you can barely bring yourself to describe what happened.

If someone expresses sorrow or sympathy for something painful I experienced, the way your roommate does, I might feel able to share a little about the darker pieces, which is nice. "Yeah, as a result, I really had to give up my dream of doing X, and that was really, really hard." or in your case, "yeah, ever since then, I have this feeling that if I express interest in this guy, the result will be intense public humiliation, so... it's been difficult." Or, maybe I'll explain how I don't feel like going there right now, like, "yeah, it still gets me sad, so I don't feel like talking about it too much right now, since we're at a party. Let's go talk to Bob." But in either case, I don't really feel that uncomfortable. So, while I totally agree that your roommate is weird, it sounds like this is a general pattern with others as well, and I'm wondering if the issue is that they're drawing attention to pain that you're not ready to really admit to yet, and that they're doing it in part because they sense you're not giving yourself the sympathy that you deserve? (And note, I'm not saying you're a wounded victim. You're not. Just that most wounds heal better when exposed to a little sunlight, oxygen, and loving concern (if only your own).)
posted by salvia at 3:01 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like it did hurt, if you can barely bring yourself to describe what happened.

i want to reiterate that you might be coming off as making things a bigger deal than they actually are. i mean, the example you gave was pretty run-of-the-mill high school fodder but your attitude and secrecy around it made it seem like we were going to get some much bigger, traumatizing story. maybe some of your stories are; it certainly sounds like it. but it seems like you don't seem to be able to relate the stories that aren't such big deals as just that while maybe withholding stories that are bigger deals, so everyone is expecting some tragic story from you once you do divulge. that's still not to say your roommate's reaction was, quite frankly, ridiculous. but it sounds like there are a few things you aren't being honest with yourself either about how big a deal these smaller incidents are to you or you haven't yet learned to relate them in a manner which accords to their relative levels of how they affected you growing up.
posted by violetk at 3:17 PM on April 24, 2011

Your roommate's reaction has much more to do with her own issues than yours. It was utterly and completely out of line.
This really is a case of "it's her, not you."

Find some resilient friends.
posted by Neekee at 3:19 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

People upthread have already said most of what I was thinking, but I wanted to add one more idea as a possibility: could you perhaps be sending a different message via body language than the literal meaning of your words? Nonverbal communication is a major factor in how people perceive you, and some people put more weight on it (consciously or not) than on what you actually say.

Your roommate sounds like an oddball but if lots of people respond "incorrectly", maybe they're picking up something in your posture, facial expression, tone of voice, etc. My neighbor is a perfectly fine fellow but he always sounds so droopy and depressed, I hate it when he calls - his tone of voice instantly makes me fear something dreadful has happened.

Maybe this is something your could check with your therapist. The other side of this coin is that, by adjusting your nonverbal message, you can reinforce your verbal message of "I'm OK, my childhood was weird but interesting, and you don't have to feel sorry for me or try to fix me."

If I can use someone here as a wonderful example of setting a good tone, I'd like to point to polly_dactyl's recent question. Of course, it's entirely text so the nonverbal component is smaller than in conversation, but her tone is clearly energetic, positive, optimistic, capable, upbeat, outgoing, fun, etc. I was really surprised to read her posts in this thread about bad stuff in her past, but while I'm always sorry to hear about bad things happening to a good person I certainly don't get the impression she needs "tears and cuddles".

Final random thought: maybe videotape yourself interacting with a few other people? You might see a different vibe from what you think you're giving off.
posted by Quietgal at 3:20 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

If I can use someone here as a wonderful example of setting a good tone, I'd like to point to polly_dactyl's recent question.


Oh, MetaFilter. I want to make out with all of you!
posted by polly_dactyl at 3:29 PM on April 24, 2011

Me first!
posted by Quietgal at 3:37 PM on April 24, 2011

Response by poster: polly_dactyl: that anecdote made me laugh, because that was my exact reaction: but this isn't even the bad stuff! I would have hated to see her reaction if I told her the weird things. It's really reassuring to know someone else has had some of the same experiences (in a general way--I obviously don't know your unique circumstances).

Everyone commenting on the roommate: I'll be moving out in a couple weeks anyway (out of Georgia and back into a state with weather that doesn't make me want to die), so she as an individual won't be an issue for much longer. But having a chance for a fresh start, I wanted to try and avoid recreating the same dynamic with a new social group. A lot of you made good points about maybe being subconsciously attracted to dramatic people, and I'll definitely have to keep that in mind.

lilac girl: you make a really good point about the kind of people I share with that I hadn't considered. I think on some level I associated that kind of questioning with "being really interested" and didn't consider that it also displays a lack of respect for my boundaries. Now that I'm thinking about it, the people I'm closest to, and who have generally reacted the best to what I share, are the ones who managed to express that interest while also expressing a strong desire to respect my privacy if I don't want to talk about things. I should be paying more attention to that dynamic.

salvia: I think you may be entirely right about the needing to acknowledge the suckiness, and that part of the reaction I get from some people is being kind of disturbed that I refuse to act emotional about it--highschool-drama story aside, it's generally a "Hah-ha weird anecdote" when I mention things, and the response is often "No, not funny at all! Why aren't you crying?" (paraphrased, obviously. people don't usually directly ask me why I don't cry). But it does often feel like they're trying to fill in some sort of "missing" emotional reaction on my part, I guess. I had always tried to minimize that precisely because other people reacted so strongly, but maybe I was creating some sort of negative feedback loop?

In a similar vein, violetk: I certainly wasn't trying to make things seem more dramatic by being vague, but I can certainly see how that might be the case. Negative feedback loop again--I keep trying to be more and more vague to avoid the fireworks, and that makes my life seem all that more mysterious."

Thanks everybody (including the people I didn't specifically mention--there was a lot of other good advice/comments as well). You've given me a lot of food for thought.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 4:07 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, your roommate might have some issues. Her reaction was inappropriate.

But...damn, this is so hard to articulate. Don't mistake airing your wounds for actual intimacy. I have a number of friends I would say I know very well, but honestly I don't know much of the super-details of their lives before I met them, and I know that there's plenty that's happened after that I don't necessarily know more than a sentence or two about - if that. Unless those especially hard things come up entirely naturally in conversation, which happens occasionally, I learn far more about them by hearing their opinions and observations about the world.

There are people in the world who wear their traumas like overcoats or even armor. There are some people who will be drawn to that because it feeds something in them, but I think most people really honestly don't give a shit about X incident or Y hurt in your past - in the best possible way. I do think it's something in your delivery or your company, because I know lots of people who had some crazy-ass shit happen to them (in fact, I don't know *anybody* who *never* had some crazy-ass shit happen to them) in their lives, and it's just information. At best a funny or sad story, or maybe a little piece of how they came to be the person they are.

You know what those people don't generally do, though? Those events aren't excuses. Stop telling people you have difficulty with boys because of some mean stuff that happened in high school. That thing that happened to you in high school is never going to not have happened, and so by that definition you'll never get over it. You struggle with some kinds of social interactions. Period. You're working on them. Period. Facing forward into the future, because it's no good to go through life facing backwards.

And when you're going to tell stories about even some of the weirder stuff, like the drug dealer, you need to consider not just the audience but the context. Are you sitting around with friends swapping crazy neighbor stories when you tell that story, or did someone just ask if you had a lighter? Because I know someone who would do the latter. All of his stories are about how special and unique his existence is and how he's such a strong person despite his hardships (some of which are definitely "life is hard" hardships, and some are, you know, he had to take the trash out and it was raining really hard and now he has to be so brave when it's trash day and it's raining).

It is a thin line, and it is possible to be tone deaf. But you might just try paying more attention when you talk to see what the subject actually is and whether it relates to the general conversation. Spend less time talking about you and about your past, and spend more time talking about what you think and feel and know about [external subjects], trusting that not everything needs to be explained by some cause.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:11 PM on April 24, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just to confirm that it really is quite rude of people to ask a question more than (at most) twice. If you're indicating that you don't want to talk about it, they shouldn't be pressing you. If they do keep on at you with relentless questioning, it's really their own fault if they can't handle the answers. So unless there's some piece of information that's not getting communicated to us, your roommate sounds bananas.

And yeah, what polly_dactyl said, for when you need a script.

As for the "why don't you ask that guy out" in particular, something like "I've had more success with other approaches". High school is basically one big emotional torture garden, and it usually doesn't sound that good for an adult to be explaining their choices in terms of something some evil jock did in high school. I say this not to belittle you, but to point out that the root cause of everything doesn't always have to be explained. My mother and I went to a concert the other day and she lost her ticket. So, going up to the ticket desk, she started to explain "we were in the department store, and we went to the ladies' room to brush our teeth, and I took everything out - " I'm afraid I interrupted then, and said "she lost her ticket, can it be replaced?" Ten seconds later we were in our seats.
posted by tel3path at 4:40 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

There’s the possibility that your roommate is reacting out of her own undisclosed trauma; there’s no reason why her own undisclosed trauma couldn’t also be interacting with a tendency to histrionics to create this really over-the-top reaction. A mature person would be able to recognize that their reaction was about their own baggage and not about you, but, well, we all grow up at different rates. I mean, what if her own first lover told her he did it on a dare? I’m not saying that’s likely, just, you never do know.

In general, as someone with a fairly shocking childhood, I find that it helps to preface the Big Disclosures with “this is much less shocking to me than to you, I mean, it’s not like any of this is news to me.” That’s been pretty successful. And I do find I have to give people room to have their own reactions. You may have “normalized” some things that other people rationally and reasonably regard as horrific, like someone trying to burn your house down. Personally, I thought aspects of my childhood were a lot more normal than they were, and the very fact that I thought that they were normal was/is kind of shocking. So I have to take some time to acknowledge and respect people’s reactions, even though, you know, it’s my story.

On preview: yeah, exactly what salvia was saying about having to acknowledge the suckiness.
posted by Iphigenia at 4:40 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

If it helps any, as you get older and you and your friends and acquaintances have more life experiences your past is going to be less and less important to them. Also your childhood and what you did in high school and college become more trivial the farther away in time you get from them. Focus more on making your life today full and happy and seek out friends who do the same.
posted by bendy at 5:15 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's really reassuring to know someone else has had some of the same experiences (in a general way--I obviously don't know your unique circumstances).

Should we all over-share in the twilight of this thread??? When I was 20-ish (in college, away from home for the first time) I was suicidal, anxious, and totally confused - I thought *everyone* felt like I felt. I decided to voluntarily estrange myself from my father's extended family - "for my sanity." It felt cutthroat and mean, but IT HELPED dial down the crazy that seemed to be following me into adulthood.

Things like that continue to be one of those minefields, though - when well-meaning people ask what you're doing for the Holidays or whatever. I dunno - as others have said, it matters a lot LESS as you get older - I meet people with adopted Asian children or one leg or birthmarks on their faces routinely - and part of being an ADULT is to let the shock/awareness *register* but then to recover with grace. Same goes for being the hard-luck story -- keep it succinct, answer the question(s), but really - get on with things. You know?

(I am not "shocked" by adopted Asian children. Hope that didn't come out wrong.)
posted by polly_dactyl at 5:36 PM on April 24, 2011

kittenmarlowe: yes, and you'll get the balance better as you tell the same story (or other stories) over time. I used to not share any bad feelings, thinking it was "rude," but then when people responded with lots and lots of sympathy (that I thought I completely wasn't asking for), I started trying to preempt that bit, gradually converging on something that worked to get the reaction I wanted ("of course, I've been so sad about losing sally the dog. but one funny thing that happened on her last day was...")
posted by salvia at 5:58 PM on April 24, 2011

"I think on some level I associated that kind of questioning with "being really interested" and didn't consider that it also displays a lack of respect for my boundaries. Now that I'm thinking about it, the people I'm closest to, and who have generally reacted the best to what I share, are the ones who managed to express that interest while also expressing a strong desire to respect my privacy if I don't want to talk about things. "

Since you mention leaving Georgia for environs where the weather doesn't make you want to die, I also did want to point out that displays of interest and types of boundaries are very much cultural; I was a little surprised when I moved to the South how intrusive some people's polite concern felt to me, since I grew up in a more reserved cultural milieu in the midwest where people create room for you to talk about something if you want to ... but are very, very reluctant to press you or ask you for details. Sometimes I am absolutely DYING to know what is up with some dramarama a friend of mine is going through but I hardly EVER actually ASK them ... I don't want to be rude! And yet my southern friends were merely expressing polite concern in a culturally-appropriate way ... not being nosy. I've also noticed what's considered empathizing in some places ("I experienced something similar, you're not alone, please keep talking about your thing while knowing I at least understand a little") is considered one-upping in other places ("Oh yeah? Well *I* experienced thing X too! So your thing isn't special! Everyone pay attention to me!").

So yes, absolutely be aware of your personal boundaries and enforce them as needed. But also do keep an ear out for cultural differences in attitudes towards privacy -- are you from a cultural background where those details are volunteered? Or where they are drawn out by others? This can even just be down to family, whether functional or dysfunctional ... some families are all up in each others' business, some families hardly talk about anything ever. So maybe reflect a little on what the social norms seem to be and what your background suggests is YOUR preferred normal, and think about how to navigate the divide between the two.

And your roommate is a loon. That does sound like an ugly and stupid example of human behavior, but more worth making faces and trading mean-girl stories over than CRYING over so long after the fact. Unless your roommate had the same thing happen to her but then her tormentor went and sold the story to Hollywood and it became the movie She's All That and the tormentor made millions AND gave the story a happy ending while your roommate in fact had to be committed to a mental institution to recover from the trauma. In that case, okay, I get why she's crying about it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:59 PM on April 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

I've had the whole awkward disclosure - regret - nausea cycle too, and it sucks, and it's horrid, but it's just something we're stuck with. (Like all the other shit we get stuck with.) The best way I've found to dodge that is all about framing. I've become well-practiced at telling the Good Parts Version.

Like: I would tell you that my mom was sick (true), so my gran stepped in and made sure we were taken care of, and she thought the medicines they gave my mother sounded like the names of Soviet submarine captains, da tovarisch! complete with fake accents, and maybe that's weird to some people but it's normal for me and doesn't normal depend, anyway? Then I sound interesting and quirky, which is sort of Hey Special Snowflake but worlds better than So Terribly Tragic. Then we go on to Estonian Swearing 101, which is always good fun. This isn't the whole truth so help me god, but it's certainly true enough, and the humor keeps things from turning into a Very Special Oprah Episode, instead of just "and that's what it was like being little cmyk, how about you?"

Maybe it's cynical to see it this way, but that's how I handle it: I don't show my scars until I know I can trust somebody to not flip out. Until that point, it just goes unmentioned. I don't tell people there is stuff I'm not telling them; I just don't mention it at all. It's as much for them as for me, because having people go into shocked crying jags about my [life experience of whatever when I was twelve, and good lord I barely remember it], or feeling Horrifically Awkward about something I've long since put to rest, is not something they or I need.

And you know: you don't owe your life story to anyone. It's your decision who gets to hear which parts, or any parts at all. You don't have to offer a biography to make a friend.
posted by cmyk at 7:20 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

As someone who has gone through a tragedy of national attention, I have to agree with the comments above saying that your biggest problem is separating those who are mature and genuine enough to understand the truth, and those who want to know the details of your life for disingenuous reasons. In my experience, knowing how to separate these people takes time, and often requires seeing said people in a range of situations so you know how they react in different contexts. In the meantime, go with your gut, pay attention to their body language, and do your best to differentiate between those who care for your sake, and those who care for their own sake. Most importantly, be honest with yourself as to why you want a particular person to know the truth.
posted by msk1985 at 9:09 PM on April 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

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