Dealing with myself when I become Ms. Grumpy
December 23, 2011 7:46 PM   Subscribe

I am finding myself behaving too much like my bickering parents and I hate it. How do I catch myself before I become grumpy and bicker with my partner?

I have no idea how to search for other similar questions, so please point to any other askmefi posts that might be applicable!

I don't want to bicker and bitch. I try taking a break, taking a walk, breathe, etc. I have seen suggestions to make sure I'm not hungry, tired, thirsty and try to think about if one of these is lying behind my mood. But somehow it can balloon before I know it. I know my sleep is hugely sucking and I'm on various medications to calm down my hypomania and anxiety. I do seem to be getting more sleep over the last week.

Sometimes I get ridiculously grumpy and it may be related to my Bipolar. (which is under treatment and pretty well managed but even with medication I have trouble when under a lot of stress). I don't mention that as an excuse but as general background.

I finally caught on that sometimes I actually pick a fight because, for some reason it was a way to vent stress. I've found other ways to vent instead (and communicate better to my partner about what's going on in my head) and have improved in this area.

This is more the low level bickering that is bothering me. I know the issue is primarily me. We have some rules such as no fighting in public. I hate myself when I cross those lines. I don't seem to see it coming -- I can catch myself in the midst of things now and -- again -- walk away and breathe. How can I get better at catching myself before Ms. Grumpy takes over?

The whole situation is crazy because for many years I had trouble expressing any anger because I was terrified I'd lose control. My therapists all swore that wouldn't happen. Well, I don't throw stuff and go quite as far as my family did but I still feel like I"m in a self fulfilling prophesy. Any reading or exercises or general how to tips are welcomed!

I realize I could use therapy -- I'm in a bind because my ability to drive is very restricted (due to vision loss I've experienced in the last year+). I already have to get rides for too many dr. appointments. If I can get my health calmed down, I'd feel better about hitting my mom and uncle up for yet more rides. I've looked through my insurance's list of providers that are within my driving area and none (called @ a dozen offices, some of which have multiple therapists) are accepting patients. :( My GP informed me that there is a problematic shortage of psychiatrists and therapists in my area.
posted by Librarygeek to Human Relations (15 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh apologies for the wall of text! I'm off to bed but will respond to any questions tomorrow.
posted by Librarygeek at 7:53 PM on December 23, 2011

Acting like my mom is one of my greatest fears. I love my mom, but she can be a beeyatch!

The best strategy for me is to be aware of this and keep it in mind when I start to get upset. I think "am I actually upset, or am I upset because that's the pattern I learned?" Most of the time I can catch myself and calm down by paying attention to it and being aware of where my upset is stemming from. This took a while to learn, but it was paying attention to my feeling and where they stemmed from that helped me figure it out. Now, I can calm myself down most of the time, but when I can't I know there's something that needs discussing. Really when that happens, only talking it over helps. Having a partner who cares, understands, and can communicate is vital though -- when I was with someone not like that, my anger and upsets never resolved, and neither did his.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:01 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get in the habit of "Always keep your eye on the ball", ie. whenever you are discussing or arguing with anyone about anything, always consciously keep in the forefront of your mind "What is my goal here?" and "What will best achieve this?", and don't do or say anything except things that make sense in that light.

It forces you to stick to making progress and keeps you honest, and any crap stemming from ego or venting is suddenly quite naked and exposed as the counter-productive bullshit it is.

It's ok to be angry so long as you're also being honest, and making good-faith progress towards a resolution. If you stick to the rules, it should become easy to notice when you don't have a goal beyond chewing someone out, so you can get in the habit of acknowledging what is really happening, so you're in control of what you do. You might need to find another outlet to vent though, because if this works, you'll be less able to pretend that you're sticking up for yourself when you're really just fighting for the sake of fighting.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:10 PM on December 23, 2011 [4 favorites]

always consciously keep in the forefront of your mind "What is my goal here?" and "What will best achieve this?"

Or even better: "What is our goal here?".
posted by -harlequin- at 8:14 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a therapist once help me figure out what was happening just before I got upset. Trying paying attention to the few minutes/seconds before you start to lose control. Once you have some insight into what's happening in those moments, you'll be able to watch out for it and make another choice. Good luck!
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 8:47 PM on December 23, 2011

I'm a little unclear on what's happening - are you both equally bickering with each other, or are you bitching at your partner? The first is a two-person activity, and the latter one-sided (or one-sided until you pick enough that they finally engage). If it's a two-sided thing, please clarify as I'm slightly favoring the one-sided from your description thus far.

If it's one-sided coming from you:
You need to pull yourself up the moment you're about to say something unpleasant. I used to pick at my best friend ALL THE TIME. One day at a function, he asked me to go get him a lemonade, and I was getting myself set to rip him a new one for being so lazy and masochistic and yadayadayada. Then, for no real reason, I decided to just let it go and go get him one. And all our other friends seated around us looked at me like I'd grown a second head. It was ridiculously humbling; I was such a consistently bitchy person to him that it was shocking to them that I'd go get my best friend a lemonade. I felt ugly. It was one of those personality-changing moments. When I feel myself about to fall back into that pattern, I go back to that moment. And whatever slightly annoying thing anyone is doing, compared to how I was behaving, is inconsequential.

So if you're lucky enough to have not yet experienced that humbling moment, channel mine.

How do you do that? You practice. Maybe in front of a mirror or maybe with your eyes closed, alone or with a friend. You visualize (and maybe actually talk through it out loud) one of those moments that might set you off, and you let yourself get worked up, and then you let it go. Maybe you go to my moment and decide you look best with just the one head. Maybe you excuse yourself to go get a drink instead. And physically get up, and go get that drink.(Mutually exclusive behaviors are a godsend - you can't both be picking at him and drinking some water at the same time.) Maybe you'll use those mutually exclusive behaviors again and ask your partner to dance. So practice picking up the invisible hand of your partner or your friend's hand and going and dancing. Whatever works for you. Practice until it feels like an option, and then choose that option the next time it happens. Choosing it while you're filling yourself with adrenaline and without practice is much harder.

As for sometimes just feeling like a fight, I know MeFis say this a lot, but exercise burns off a lot of those emotions in a constructive way.
posted by vegartanipla at 10:04 PM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would be willing to bet that a lot, maybe most, of this is physical. If you're sleep deprived, and if you feel like shit on a regular basis, you're simply not going to be able to will yourself to act better. It just doesn't work like that.
posted by facetious at 11:10 PM on December 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Adding to what facetious said: watch your blood sugar. Many of the times I feel unreasonably cranky, I'm actually "hangry" (hungry/angry).
posted by Bergamot at 11:42 PM on December 23, 2011 [3 favorites]

exercise. how much you move your body can have a huge effect on mood.
posted by saturn~jupiter at 2:55 AM on December 24, 2011

Everyone has physical signs when under too much stress. Some are universal, such as increased heart rate and breathing; some are more individual. Practice noticing both the common signs and your own indicators, whether it's tension in the shoulders, tightening the fists or a clenched jaw.

After you get good at noticing them start diverting yourself. Instead of directing the anxiety outward, pull your attention inward for a moment or two to address the signs of stress. Use some self-awareness techniques and just notice the tension. Just notice what is happening, without judgment or expectation. Then notice where you are less tense. Track where the tension goes, how it rises or falls. How does that feel? Notice your breathing; how does the tension change as you breathe in and out? The simple act of attention can moderate your emotions and lower anxiety quickly. It does take some practice to get started (and to do it without judgment) but the effects can be felt after just a few attempts.

Even in times where you don't feel grumpy it can be helpful to practice muscle relaxation techniques one or two times a day. The theory is that tense muscles bring on tense moods, and by breaking that cycle with relaxing we're less likely to get into a 'stress feedback' situation that's harder to handle.

Also, there are a lot of stress management techniques to read up on this article called 'Ways to Calm Yourself Down.'
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:56 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Therapy might, indeed, help, but there's plenty you can do on your own. You might really enjoy the book Mindsight, which I and many of my friends have found super helpful in getting a more "right" relationship with our intense emotions.

Mindsight makes a lot of the value of meditation, and I agree with that -- sitting or walking meditation can be incredibly helpful in finding a way to feel your feelings but not be taken over by them. I really enjoyed Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart for some introduction to meditation.

In particular, Chodron creates a great framework for compassion, and especially being compassionate with yourself, which I think it's hard for many people to do. That has been my main focus in the last year, and it's really made a difference in how I talk to myself and engage with the world.

Good luck! I think this is great and valuable work to do with yourself.
posted by rosa at 7:45 AM on December 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Thank you everyone! If I pick best answers, i'm going to have to pick all of you.

For clarification,
I think it is a bit of both. I get bitchy and manage to get my partner into bickering w/my bitchiness. We both have said we do *not* want to turn into my folks :/

Thanks for the article and book recommendations. Was there anything in particular that helped you become more mindful?

I used to do muscle relaxation exercises and stopped for no obvious reason. I think I need to start doing them again!
posted by Librarygeek at 8:25 AM on December 24, 2011

Are you sure that there aren't underlying issues with your partner that aren't getting resolved and are getting expressed through the bitching?

I know that when I'm mad or upset about something big that is not getting addressed or resolved, little things seem to be symptoms of it and I have a hard time controlling myself. The undercurrent of anger never goes away.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:05 AM on December 24, 2011

I'm so glad you asked that question! Just wanted to let you know you're not alone in trying to get a handle on this.
Sometimes it helps me to name what's going on out loud. I'll stop in the middle of gearing up to a fight and say "why am I bitching at you?" amd he'll snort "damned if I know." and then I might say "I was starting to feel like you always expecting me to pick up after you, but that's not true, you cleaned the whole kitchen yesterday!" and he'll say "See?!" and suddenly the tension is gone.

But that works because my husband is genuinely goodnatured and ungrudgy and used to my ruminations.

Anyway, that's all I got. I'm going to redouble my efforts now.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:30 AM on December 25, 2011

In another context I heard a rule called HALT: when you are Hungry, Anary, Lonely, or Tired you shouldn't make decisions. I suggest that these four conditions might also feed into your irritability. (I know it does mine!)
posted by wenestvedt at 8:02 AM on January 4, 2012

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