just please don't hate me more
July 6, 2011 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I would like some help in dealing with my insecurities. How can I ask it from my loved ones without coming across as selfish or annoying?

I have pretty low self-esteem and a high tendency to over-think things. In particular, I frequently become convinced that everyone around me dislikes me, even when rationally this doesn't even make sense.

In an ideal world, I would like people to constantly reassure me that they don't hate me. That's really all I would need: every once in a while when we're talking, just to let me know that I'm still doing all right, that I haven't completely lost their respect somehow with something I've said or done.

However, I don't know how to ask for this without annoying other people and conversely driving them further away with my ridiculous insecurity. I know that it makes people uncomfortable having to listen to my self-deprecating comments, because how are you really going to respond to that? Moreover, I don't want to be needy, or selfish. I mean, when it comes down to it, everyone would like to be told nice things all the time; asking for it just seems greedy. Plus I can't exactly go around asking people, "So, do you think I'm a colossal waste of space yet?" because there's no way they can possibly answer that honestly.

Example: I was talking to my boyfriend last night and said some things I shouldn't have. After we hung up, I had a miserable night, and then woke up physically pained and nauseous, unable to stop going over and over all the stupid stuff I'd said in my head. I started picturing break-up scenarios - not that I thought he would dump me out of the blue, but I was worried that he might be looking to but feel too guilty to do it right away. To save us both the trouble, I wanted to figure out how I could make it easier for him to leave me. But to my astonishment, when we finally talked in the evening, rather than being distant or uncomfortable, he instead asked me to meet his parents for the first time.

In this scenario, it would have been really nice to somehow have him let me know that he didn't hate me or think less of me for what I'd said. I badly wanted to contact him this afternoon, just to hear his voice and try to convince myself of just that, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. After I'd met his parents, we talked a little more, and again I wanted to ask, "Are we okay? Have I exhausted your patience? Is this when you first begin to feel that first inkling of disgust for me?" But there's no way he'd be able to say, "Why yes, in fact, I feel utmost disgust and loathing for you, you hideous creature." The only purpose the question would serve would be to fish for reassurances, which seems unacceptably self-indulgent to me.

Is there anything else I could have done instead to get the reassurances I needed, rather than spending all day in misery? In fact, I'm still unsure that we're completely okay, even though we had a lovely conversation. Maybe he does like me a little less than he did 24 hours ago, and the thought absolutely crushes me.

For what it's worth, I'm a female in my early twenties who has this problem in all her relationships (friends, parents, strangers). There are people I've been best friends with for half my life, and I still regularly have moments when I wonder if they hate me for this or that thing I've done. Is there any way to find out if they actually are annoyed with something I've done (and then correct it), rather than just getting the expected response back? Is there any way to stop worrying so much what others may or may not think of me, to the point where it actually does start to get them annoyed?

Finally, I believe that some MeFites might suggest I seek therapy, which is probably a good idea, but wouldn't really make sense at the moment, since I'll be moving in a few months. I might look into it once I've settled into my new location, but I'd really appreciate some advice about how to handle myself in the meantime.

I can be reached at: insecuremefite@gmail.com.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (21 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
OMG I do the same thing! (Not that I am happy *you* feel it as well but it's nice to know I'm not alone)
3 things I've done:
1- stopped that inner voice! I did the old fashioned rubber band and snapped myself every time I had those thoughts and replaced them as if I were comforting a best friend
2- with my SO "I have a tendency to over think things, so to save us both strife-if I ever do/say/wear/eat something that grates on you let me know immediantly instead of letting it fester. I'm going to take silence as 'all is ok' Yes?"
3- Paxil
posted by Frosted Cactus at 10:30 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think you're going to get all kinds of good responses about managing your insecurity so I'm going to answer a different question you asked.

Is there any way to find out if they actually are annoyed with something I've done (and then correct it), rather than just getting the expected response back?

Could part of the problem just be the people you're encountering generally in life? I grew up in the midst of a lot of Italian-Americans, Israelis, and Russians, and never at all felt as if I wouldn't hear about it shortly if I were bothering someone.

Then in college I moved to a state full of a lot of Scandinavian-Americans, and after that to the Pacific Northwest, and I felt like I never knew what anyone was thinking, people hid their annoyance, and would just drop each other all the time in anger over the most random stuff. It was crazy-making for me and I have a hard time living in cultures like that.

If this could be a part of it, the problem might not be entirely you, but also the people around you. The answer to the question I highlighted may be: make friends with blunt people.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

So, I get this feeling often, too. I've always chalked it up to clinical depression, as it comes in waves. Part of how I've taken care of this is to do exactly what you said: let certain people know that sometimes I'm really insecure and constant afraid all my friends don't like me. As part of this, I've mentioned that it helps when people remind me they care, etc.

The other thing is texting. If I'm afraid somebody is pissed off at me, etc. I allow myself to send them ONE (and only one) text per wave of crippling insecurity, asking if we're cool and saying something like "i feel bad about X, and hope we're cool."

I actually think for me the hardest part is admitting that I did X in the first place. But remember that we're human and nobody's perfect and that most humans allow for the fact that people they like and care about aren't always perfect, but that we're acting in good faith and are doing our best with the circumstances we have on this fucked-up planet.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:40 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

To save us both the trouble, I wanted to figure out how I could make it easier for him to leave me. But to my astonishment, when we finally talked in the evening, rather than being distant or uncomfortable, he instead asked me to meet his parents for the first time.

In this scenario, it would have been really nice to somehow have him let me know that he didn't hate me or think less of me for what I'd said.

To a certain extent, you're going to need to learn to "hear" people differently from how you do now. By inviting you to meet his parents, he was telling you that he didn't think what you said what dumb or offensive, and he doesn't want to break up with you. If someone wants to break up with you, they don't invite you to meet their parents.

You yourself will have to do a large part of the work required to stop catastrophizing every interaction. You yourself will have to be responsible for really listening to what people say to you - both with their actions and their words - and prioritize those over the voices in your head.

This doesn't mean that it's bad to ask for reassurance sometimes. It would have been okay (in my opinion) to call your boyfriend back last night and been all "Honey, I feel really dumb for the thing I said earlier. I'm really sorry if I hurt your feelings." That gives him the opportunity to say "Aw, thanks, sweetheart. It's okay - we all say dumb stuff sometimes," or "Ok, I have no idea what you're talking about, because I don't remember anything you said being dumb or hurtful, but whatever! Love you, talk to you tomorrow."

It can be awkward and annoying to be asked specifically and frequently for reassurance you feel like you're already giving - it can feel like the person asking for reassurance isn't really listening to you or paying attention to your actions. If you, a dear friend with whom I initiate contact on a regular basis, asked me every day to reassure you that I still like you and think of you as my friend, I'd feel like all the times I call you up to go to the movies or have dinner don't count as "me liking you." And that would be strange to me.
posted by rtha at 10:50 AM on July 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am like this too. And while it does cause me some misery, my solution has been to just keep my mouth shut and go with the flow under the premise that everything is just fine. Because all that insecurity is damned unattractive.
posted by amro at 10:52 AM on July 6, 2011

This is just speculation, so take it with a grain of salt. I get the sense here that you may not actually want reassurances. You don't trust them. At some level, you're convinced that you're disgusting and worthless and that you're hiding these qualities from your loved ones, which is another sin. You're constantly worried about being found out. The only relief would come if other people confirmed what you yourself know and feel you're hiding -- your worthlessness, etc. That would be the time you could be sure they were telling the truth. Then you could breathe a sigh of relief.
posted by shivohum at 10:57 AM on July 6, 2011 [18 favorites]

Christ, this sounds familiar. Like when you described the pain you woke up with, it was like a kick to my gut, remembering feeling that way. But here's the (potentially) good news -- those feelings are a memory and I don't feel that way anymore. (And not just because I have all kinds of other problems to focus on.)

As for advice, I'm not sure I have any that directly meets what you're asking for. But I can tell you how many of my insecurities went away. Short answer: I stopped caring. Long answer: At a very, very, bad point in my life, I just stopped trying so hard -- not because I didn't care what people thought but because I didn't have it any me any more to try to be something that I felt like I wasn't and spend so much time trying to be the person I thought other people would like. Instead, I just started being myself. And while doing that (and at a point where I needed to meet new people), I met someone who I was slightly crushing on, who, it turns out, was even crazier about me that I was about him. And he didn't like the guy I always thought I had to be. He liked the real me. And then I started to like the real me too. (Strangely, for a relationship that helped 'fix' me a lot, it was, in other ways, a wholly incompatible mismatch.)

But how can you implement that change without the drama that went along with it....

It sounds like, based on your description, that you have this problem with people who you've known for a long time -- and that makes sense -- because people who you've known for a long time are people who you feel comfortable with -- and the problem with those kinds of relationships is that they get comfy and nobody has to try as hard. Try meeting and spending time with more people, especially acquaintances with whom your relationships aren't very high stakes. Not that they "don't matter" as people but spend time with people who don't matter "as much" -- so you aren't as worried about what they think. And from those people -- or at least the ones you get along with -- you'll be able to get a lot of positive re-enforcement and hopefully be able to see yourself as someone worth spending time with while still having the deep connections that family, boyfriends, and long term friendships provide.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:58 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Finally, I believe that some MeFites might suggest I seek therapy, which is probably a good idea, but wouldn't really make sense at the moment, since I'll be moving in a few months. I might look into it once I've settled into my new location, but I'd really appreciate some advice about how to handle myself in the meantime.

It's my suspicion that you will always be able to easily find reasons why it won't make sense at any given moment. Right now, it's because there's a move coming up, so therefore any therapist would be short-term and plus there's move logistics and that'd just add to it and also and and and. After you move, it'll be you just got there and there's work/education prospects and getting the new place unpacked and fixed up and the schedule's pretty busy and really after getting settled in it'll be easier and and. Then after you get settled in by any reasonable measure, there'll be something else entirely that'll make sure it won't make sense at the moment.

As far as the short term goes, I'll second populating your social circle with people who are direct in how they communicate. I'll also second the need to remind yourself frequently about how to perceive interactions--friends and loved ones spending time with you, doing things with you, are already saying that they don't hate you, are already saying that they value you.
posted by Drastic at 11:00 AM on July 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

If your entire social circle isn't naturally direct about how they communicate, find a couple that you really trust and really just emphasize to them "hey, I suck at the reading cues thing, if ever you're mad at me for whatever just flat out tell me, okay?" They'll probably be perplexed at first, but if you explain (even briefly) the reasons why, I think at least a couple of them will accommodate.

I'm like this too. It took me months to recognize that a formerly very good friend was having Issues with me, and then I chalked it up to her busy life and got totally blindsided when she did an Angsty Dramatic Friend Dump some more months later. I don't read cues well, and I'm worried that I just won't see it when someone is mad at me, so I get all up in knots when I think I said something stupid, etc. etc. I made an (admittedly in bad taste; I didn't think it through) joke at my boyfriend once and he pouted and didn't take it as in stride like he normally would've (but he was still really easygoing about it, really) and I was agonizing over it for the rest of the night, apologized about a million times, etc etc...and at the end of the night when I was reiterating my nth apology he was like "...I don't even remember what you're apologizing for anymore." Durr. So to mitigate that, I actively set (rather than hoping they're just going to be blunt when I need them to be) ground rules with my close(r) friends and boyfriend that If You Are Upset At Me (and it's something I should change/know about and not just they're briefly mad at some random thing), Tell Me, Because I Might Never Figure It Out. And this way, when they don't say something, my anxiety is all in my head because hey, we've set ground rules about open communication, so when they're not speaking to me about issues then I can safely assume that I'm just making Mount Everests out of anthills.

This tactic does require you to have friends and support systems who will be honest with you, though, and would probably backfire if they are also the ones you are seeking frequent reassurances from ("if I'm the one soothing her insecurities, I don't feel comfortable raising real issues because I don't know how she'd react"). So if your social circle is the passive-aggressive type rather than the upfront ones, consider finding some more friends.

It's not a bad thing to ask for the occasional reassurance (see all the good comments above), but if this is as frequent as your post sounds, I agree with the previous commentor that not only do you not believe in yourself to be [positive trait], you actively believe in the negative (I am worthless, everyone hates me, etc), which I think is a deeper problem than constant reassurances (a bandaid for the surface) can fix. If you absolutely won't go to therapy before you move, consider volunteering or doing some activity that you're Really Good At, and be gentle with yourself as you actively try to feel better about yourself. But yes, therapy.
posted by Hakaisha at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

shivohum has it exactly right. From a previous comment of mine:
I found Mr. Amazing 5 years ago, and he has been very patient with me. I struggled with a lot of the same issues: fear that he'll leave, fear that I'm going to ruin it all, etc. I read or heard somewhere that people are self-destructive because it allows them to control the outcome. Take this example of piling building blocks on top of each other: the only way to know when they're going to fall is to knock them down yourself. I'm scared of the unknown, and self-destruction perversely feels safer than facing the what-if. However, life is an endless series of what-ifs.

Do you have a pet? When you adopted it, did you reflect that one day it might run away or that it will definitely die someday? Probably not. You enjoy their cute fuzziness as it is right now and don't let the inevitable future destroy your affection. Newsflash: you're going to die and your boyfriend's going to die. It's guaranteed, but it need not destroy your life as it is right now.

I'm honest with him about my feelings, he tries to reassure me but it really doesn't help much because of trust issues.

His reassurance is never going to help, it's throwing words into an abyss because you don't believe there's anything behind it. You know "the truth," which is that you're not good enough, and you're going to twist anything he or anyone else says to fit that. One time I was dumped by a guy and I kept asking "why? what's wrong with me?" He told me that no matter what he said, I was going to use it to validate whatever I already believed about myself.
Anyway, the answer is therapy. Don't make excuses. You're worth it.

And until you get some, here's another previous comment from a very similar question (this topic comes up a lot on AskMefi):
While mantras and other self-talk may help, I've found it much more helpful to focus on myself as little as possible. Walk the dog, go smell the flowers, go for a bike ride, volunteer at a food pantry, clean your house, visit an elderly neighbor. Let your thoughts go - your thoughts are the problem, thus the answer cannot be found within them. Meditation is great for practicing letting go.
posted by desjardins at 11:48 AM on July 6, 2011 [5 favorites]

Here's something I've been thinking about lately that might be applicable to you too: I've realized that I construct a lot of situations in my head so that I'm unhappy no matter what the outcome is.

In other words, somewhere along the line I've gotten very good at turning everything into a yes-or-no question where I feel stupid if the answer is yes, and I feel stupid if the answer is no. E.g., I ran into a cute guy the other day, and after our conversation I realized I was feeling stupid both for being shy with him AND for talking honestly with him. Or, I wrote to a family friend to tell them about something I'm proud of, and then I got embarrassed about bothering them when they wrote back with congratulations. It sounds like you're doing something similar: your boyfriend gave you reassurance that he didn't want to break up with you by asking you to meet his parents, but you don't count that in your torturing of yourself.

I think the trick is to start trying to construct situations in your head so that you're at least happy with one side of the yes-or-no question. i.e. so that you're happy with at least one potential outcome. Even if sometimes it will take a while to figure out what you're really holding out for. In my case, once it was the non-existent Grand Poobah of Life, the Universe, and the German Language coming down in his flying hippopotamus chariot and pronouncing that I could consider myself competent in German. Once I figured that out, I realized that I wasn't allowing anyone else to forgive me for my mistakes, so I was going to have to learn how to forgive myself. Haven't figured out how to do that yet, otherwise I'd tell you that too.

The short version: figure out how to construct situations in your head so there is at least one possible answer that you'll be happy with.

Also maybe figure out what benefit you get out of torturing yourself, because that's probably one of the keys to stopping. That was for me at least: I realized that some part of me must like torturing myself, because I did it so often and so unnecessarily, and once I started thinking about it like that, I started realizing how to stop.
posted by colfax at 12:41 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm the same way, though perhaps not as extreme. I think of it as just another personality trait I was born with. Like if I had to make a list it would go: introverted, curious, conscientious, easily amused, loyal, don't trust anyone, etc. And I really was born with it, apparently - my Mom says I was like that from the moment I could speak. I just assume people are going to turn against me. And in my case, it has nothing to do with what I think of me and everything to do with what I think other people think of me.

So, I'm just going to tell you what I do, though this may be the "wrong" answer. First, I remember how good I am at fending for myself. If the worst case scenario happened, and everyone revealed they actually hated me and abandoned me, I know that ultimately I would be ok. If you know that underneath you are really strong - even if it doesn't look it - that helps. Second, even though it's not natural, I try to trust people. If my parents and closest friends haven't gotten sick of me yet, they're probably not going to. They've known me for decades. It would be going against the empirical evidence not to trust them, and I'm too practical to do that. I agree that actually asking for constant reassurance would seem needy. But I think it would have been fine, after that conversation with your BF, to ask if he was mad about what you'd said. In the "I'm sorry if I offended you" sense, not the "Do you hate me?" sense.

And I love Ashley801's answer. There are a few reasons why I feel more "at home" in Israel, though I'm American born and raised, and that's one of them. There's something wonderful about being surrounded by people who are so blunt and honest and not afraid to show how they feel at any given time. I'd never associated my preference for that kind of culture with my fear that people will suddenly and randomly hate me, but they could very well be connected.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 12:58 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

You might trust the positive feedback you get from people a lot more when it comes without any outside prompts from you. Talking negatively about yourself or fishing for reassurance are clear signals that people pick up on. They say what you need to hear, but--and it's not that they don't love you--getting validation via prompting means you cheat yourself out of the genuine, in the moment feedback that comes your way. Try to see what happens when you don't act on your anxiety at all. Just wait it out. It might be uncomfortable, but you'll start to trust the positive feedback you get more spontaneously and start to trust that it's true. Therapy, though. To get to why you feel insecure in the first place.
posted by marimeko at 1:10 PM on July 6, 2011

I'm a recovering chronic worrier and also struggle with self-esteem issues. I think the first step is to practice stopping the cycling in your head when you start to worry about what you've said or done. Literally, tell yourself to STOP, then have a little self talk and check in with yourself about what you've said or done. If the situation were reversed and a friend said X to you, would you think any less of them? I know the feeling of wanting reassurance, but I don't believe that it is always a realistic expectation, nor is it the path to feeling like a solid, strong you. We have to get to that place of feeling just fine on our own. I'm going to recommend a book with an uncomfortable title that a friend and I have both found helpful for all-around feeling better about ourselves: Compassion and Self-Hate by Theodore I. Rubin. I hope you find it even a little bit helpful. Best of luck.
posted by sassy mae at 1:15 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

A couple of thoughts, since this sounds and feels very familiar. (Do you do that thing where you find yourself rehearsing conversations in your head in which you're explaining that you really did try and you really did do your best but it still didn't work out and you're sorry and you totally understand why they think you suck and... Those conversations?)

One: Based on what you've written and my own experience, you sound depressed. I think Drastic is right; now is the time to find a therapist. I went to my first appointment with my therapist wanting it to be a short thing (six months! no more! no eternal Woody Allen therapy for me!) and wound up seeing her for about seven years. The work I did with her was extremely valuable to me and I learned many useful tools for dealing with my depression and feelings myself, without needing her external facilitation. One of the things I found most helpful that she did was to ask questions I hadn't asked (for example, "Could you ask your family for help?"). Usually the question was something worth considering, and "why didn't I think to ask that myself?" was always worth considering.

Two: the book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Zen teacher Cheri Huber might be very helpful. I recommend Cheri's work a lot because it has been literally life-saving for me (I would have attempted suicide by now if I hadn't found Nothing Wrong With You and another of her books, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth). It's also what's helped me almost completely cease having those "I'm not a total screw-up! I'm not! even if you think so and even if I think you're actually right " conversations in my head. If her work clicks for you, she's written lots of books, has a weekly call-in podcast radio show, and tons of resources both online and off.

Three: for people you have an ongoing relationship with and whom you trust, consider explicitly discussing your need for occasional reassurance. My husband and I have an agreement that either of us can, at any time, say to the other one, "Tell me you love me?" and the other one will. And because my husband knows I've been struggling with depression for 30+ years and the depression has worn deep, deep grooves in my thought patterns, he will sometimes tell me, "I love you. I will never leave you. And it's okay that you have trouble believing that when the depression is talking to you. I will remind you of this as often as you need to hear it, as long as I have breath to say it."

To paraphrase from memory something Cheri's said in a couple of different places, "You have been listening to the voices of self-hate and conditioning for a very long time. Because they're inside your head, they sound very authoritative and very convincing. But they're wrong. They're false. The fact that they're believable doesn't mean they're true."

The good news is that it's possible to learn to ignore them. Very best wishes!
posted by Lexica at 2:06 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's another book, which gets recommended a lot: Feeling Good.
posted by foxjacket at 4:09 PM on July 6, 2011

I have pretty low self-esteem and a high tendency to over-think things. In particular, I frequently become convinced that everyone around me dislikes me, even when rationally this doesn't even make sense.

In an ideal world, I would like people to constantly reassure me that they don't hate me. That's really all I would need: every once in a while when we're talking, just to let me know that I'm still doing all right, that I haven't completely lost their respect somehow with something I've said or done.

People seem to be reacting to the part where you ask how to ask for reassurance, but I'm more interested to know: why do you feel this way in the first place? What makes you think that suddenly, in the middle of a conversation you will have completely lost someone's respect - to the point of them disliking you? This might seem like an easy question to answer " oh because I'm insecure", but the real answer to that question might take some time to uncover with a qualified professional. You can call a crisis line and talk to someone right now! There's many resources available in most places to enable people of all income levels to access some sort of help. You need to understand why you feel this way because as you state yourself it is not rational.

Let me repeat that : it is not rational to believe that people will suddenly hate you, and it is totally unacceptable to expect that the way to deal with this is to ask people to randomly reassure you that they don't hate you. In fact, the very asking of this sort of question might even provide you with a self-fulfilling prophecy, as it is pretty annoying in and of itself. You need to let go of your obsessive thoughts and just go about assuming that everything is ok, and that you are awesome. For real, you rule! But, you don't rule when you constantly ask for reassurance that you rule.

I say this as someone who no longer has a couple of friends because of the burden of having to answer these kinds of questions ("do you hate me?") constantly and also because I realized they wanted me to basically function as an unpaid and certainly unqualified therapist. Go to a professional, your friends aren't qualified to help you, nor should you ask that of them. I also say this as someone who sees a professional regularly. Go, please, you will be so much happier once you actually get some help.
posted by smartypantz at 6:14 PM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

In an ideal world, I would like people to constantly reassure me that they don't hate me

That world sounds horrible. I think you want to re-evaluate your premise, that the ideal is you continuing on with a bizarre degree of neediness.

This does want sorting out with a therapist; wouldn't you rather drop the thoughts about "reassurances I needed" &c and get on with the business of being a grown-up, instead of fantasizing about a planet where somebody gives you a gumdrop every half hour? You don't need reassurances, at least not of the sort you are contemplating -- you need to be a healthy, fully functioning, self-reliant individual. And then you will be able to stop worrying about this sort of nonsense.

"The only purpose the question would serve would be to fish for reassurances, which seems unacceptably self-indulgent to me" -- right -- so -- don't ask questions about how to fish for reassurances in subtle fashion. You know this is not a good way to go about living an enjoyable life, you know this is selfish and not a healthy part of healthy relationships, and yet the question is not "How can I take the focus of me?" but, instead, "Is there any way to find out...?"

Do everything you can to step outside of your mind and put yourself into the larger world. Volunteer work is a wonderful thing for this and I would suggest doing as much as possible. You do not 'need' the sort of reassurances you crave and it is not useful to think along those lines. If you want to stop worrying about what others think of you, stop thinking about: you. And, once you are freed from that particular burden, you will probably find yourself becoming a much more likeable person as that particular stress lifts.
posted by kmennie at 6:17 PM on July 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Please check out Feeling Good by David Burns. It will teach you how to stop overthinking. It worked for me.
posted by islandeady at 9:59 PM on July 6, 2011

This is an interesting question. You explained something nebulous so clearly. Good answers, too.

This is probably something that will slowly get better over time, rather than something that you can solve when the symptoms are acute. But when you're "triggered" into some nauseous state, you may have to both: 1. stop letting your mind tell your body it is in danger, and 2. do physical things that communicate to your freaked-out body that everything is actually okay (such as working out, going for a walk by the ocean, taking a bike ride, dancing in your room). Doing either without the other doesn't work for me once I'm freaked out.

Over the long run, what helped me the most was to stop trying so hard and to test all the boundaries I'd imagined. I had to, because some bad stuff happened, and I just couldn't keep it "together" (AKA constantly trying to meet many arbitrary standards) anymore. I learned that many of those boundaries were illusory (many of my friendships actually got better once I stopped trying to be perfect) and others were real but not a big deal (you'd be surprised at how much nicer it is to have a friendship ACTUALLY fade than it is to fear it fading).

So, I encourage you to try just being yourself and see what happens. Think about the phrase "a coward dies a thousand deaths" -- by worrying about losing people you're watching that friendship die a thousand times, whereas if you lived fearlessly, you might go through that pain once. Or your friendship might be stronger, because true intimacy is feeling accepted as the person you really are. So give in, stop trying, and stop worrying. Another good mantra could be "fuck 'em if they can't take a joke," where "take a joke" is "accept you for who you actually are and forgive you for your screw-ups."

It'd help to befriend the realistic worst case scenarios (someone gets mad at you, or you lose a friend). Because that'd help you deescalate. I think what you really fear here is not any realistic scenario. I think you fear confirmation of your own deepest judgments / fears about yourself (that you're a bad person, unworthy of being loved, destined to end up alone, or whatever). Reminding yourself that if Betsy never calls back, well, your life will go on, in concrete terms ("we only talked once a month anyway"), might help you stay grounded and not go from Betsy not calling to "I will die alone and I deserve it" or whatever fear cloud you jump to.

What would also help with this process is developing compassion for yourself, your suffering, and how hard you try. Honestly, you deserve compassion. This anxiety clearly makes your life hard and painful. You're probably trying your hardest all the time and still not succeeding by your own standards -- which sucks to go through. You're doing the best you can. You really can't do any more than you're already doing to avoid annoying others. And now you're in this Catch-22 of worrying if you ask whether you've annoyed them would annoy them? :( If you could view yourself as this suffering person just trying to get through and find a place in this world where they belong, it might help.

Sorry this got so long. (And don't hate me for it!)
posted by salvia at 10:59 PM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh one last thing. Something interesting is to learn about other people's actual emotions. What they feel, when, and why. Of course, there's common courtesy. But beyond that, you might find out how unique their pattern of annoyance vs. non-annoyance is. They might not mind certain things that you'd NEVER consider doing. Whereas certain things that you consider to be fine do annoy them. Learning how random and quirky my friends' emotions are has made me less worried about angering them. Very often, the fact that "this thing annoys Joe" is really a quality of "Joe" much moreso than a quality of "this thing." The easiest way to learn this is actually to probe your own patterns of annoyance.
posted by salvia at 11:07 PM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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