Insight versus entanglement
May 10, 2013 11:27 AM   Subscribe

How do you strike a balance beween talking things out constructively, versus wallowing in negative emotions?

I find I do my best thinking out loud; in fact, sometimes I don't know exactly how I feel until I've talked or written about an issue. Silent thinking doesn't usually help me move ahead, but through talking or writing I often surprise myself by finding a new insight or perspective. This can be very helpful.

But sometimes talking or writing about an issue just winds me up without generating any insights. Especially if the person I'm talking to plays devil's advocate and debates what I'm saying. Sometimes I really appreciate being disagreed with- I've learned tons from friends who weren't afraid to call me out on my shit. But if I feel someone is disagreeing only because they missed a subtlety in what I was trying to convey, I can get carried away trying to clarify my points, finding numerous examples of what I meant and getting kind of stuck and increasingly adamant about what I'm trying to explain. Then I get really fast and reactive, almost desperately trying to clarify what I meant, and my emotions can get triggered so I find myself ranting to prove my original point, and I end up feeling emotional and negative and overall worse than I felt before.

Basically, talking through a problem is very helpful for me, but "venting" makes me feel terrible, so I try to avoid it. Despite this resolve, sometimes talking turns into venting, and once I start venting, it's hard for me to stop and re-set myself into a calmer emotional place.

Wondering if anyone has any concrete suggestions for ways I can avoid venting, catch myself earlier when I start venting, change directions if I'm venting, and overall keep my process slow and insightful? Thanks in advance.

(Writing this has already provided me with the insight that I should probably avoid talking about emotional subjects with people who habitually play devil's advocate, for starters.)
posted by pseudostrabismus to Human Relations (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
(Writing this has already provided me with the insight that I should probably avoid talking about emotional subjects with people who habitually play devil's advocate, for starters.)

I think this is key. Engaging people who give you the kind of feedback that best feeds your creativity and insight, and avoiding certain topics with people whose responses push your buttons.

I can identify a little bit with this, only my reaction isn't to ride the arguecycle with the other person, it's to self-censor and take fewer chances. But whatever the way it manifests, I think identifying the angels-on-your-shoulder and devils-on-your-shoulder is important. And if you find you keep going back to the devils, you probably need to cultivate more angels.

Another thing to consider is how appropriate your attachment to these "issues" is. What do you win when you convince the other person that you're right?
posted by headnsouth at 11:48 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Blogging has been helpful for me.
posted by Michele in California at 11:53 AM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Breathing. Detaching yourself emotionally from your thoughts. The only way I've learned to do such things is trial and error. You could pause in your discussion more, and write down your points-making sure that way you stick to them with out circling back around to the same old thing more. I write down a lot of my ideas in moments like that-so I don't forget them-so I can think about how to word them correctly. As far as how to not vent- well that's something that you have to be consciously aware of, and try your damnest not to do, but it helps to keep a journal. For me it's paper not web. Also, just get up and walk away for a bit, get some air, grab a cold drink, flirt with a pretty [human].

If you live in a college town-or any town-go to a bar-find a trivia night and join a team-make some new friends that will give you some new perspectives. If you are in school-join a debate team. That is a really helpful resource-learning to debate with out getting pissed!

Otherwise it's tranquilizers and therapy, the status quo or no participation. Such is the human condition. But honestly-just being consciously aware of it is 90% of the battle.
Good luck on bettering yourself....we all need it.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 12:02 PM on May 10, 2013

As I have become more secure about my own values and identity, I have felt much less need to argue with other people. However, I also have a much lower bullshit tolerance and tend to spend time with people whose values are similar to mine (or, at very least, whose values are not in flux or in conflict with mine). Reminding myself that I am solely responsible for my own emotional equilibrium and that if I don't want to engage in a stressful conversation, it's my job to keep myself from engaging both help. I guess this is the popular concept of "boundaries," but in my experience the boundaries that matter are internal. Having them helps me to disengage when I'm just upsetting myself.

When you're venting or angry, try to see what's behind that emotion. Anger is usually a second order emotion. For me, anger often springs from revealing an insecurity about my own identity or values (sometimes my relationship with the person on the other side of the discussion, too). It can be an opportunity to reflect on and clarify those things. It won't solve your disagreement, but you'll be much more aware of why you react to the disagreement in the way you do.
posted by sweltering at 12:51 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seek out those who have experience, preferably situational, but at least emotionally with what you are currently going through.

To play devil's advocate for the sake of disagreeing or just to provide a counterpoint doesn't necessarily work for me, as it's purely conjecture and opinion.

What does, however, is someone who has experience with my current struggle, or at least a core facet of it that they can actually relate to or have had experience with (e.g. they may have never been stuck at a dead end job, but perhaps they've foundered in making a life changing decision elsewhere, so can relate to the anxiety and fear inherent). Sometimes it's better to go with someone who can understand the emotions I'm feeling rather than the exact situation. I'd rather talk about the death of a grandparent with someone who was struck senseless when their pet died, than someone who lost both their grandparents and was relatively unaffected.

Of course, we are all different, and have different goals and tolerances for things, so even in these circumstances I try to listen for the things I can identify with, and forego those things I find myself negating or considering that don't apply. The one caveat being that if everyone I talk to says the same thing relatively, I should probably listen to it, regardless of what I think applies.

Failing that, you can always talk it out by recording a voice memo on your phone or a tape recorder. Once you're done, go distract yourself with something fun or mindless, and listen to your recording later on. You can see if your perspective on the current situation is any different once you're out of an emotional state.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:53 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I used to react the same way. For me, the biggest thing is to not worry about what the other person thinks about me. If they misinterpret what I said, I don't try to correct them. If they disagree and I don't want to engage, I just shrug and say that I see their point. They're not my therapist. I may feel upset, but I don't argue with them about it. I can think about what they said later after I calm down.
posted by chickenmagazine at 1:06 PM on May 10, 2013

I think that if you start creating a regular habit of checking in with yourself at times, regularly and randomly, you might get better at catching yourself before emotions get triggered and venting begins. By checking in with yourself I mean simply asking yourself the following two questions:

1. What's the feeling right now?
2. What do I want?

The first question gets you good at labeling and noticing. This is awareness and introspection. By learning to identify your feelings, big and small and at various times, you'll have some meta-knowledge that you didn't have before. Things that make you feel sad, happy, frustrated, angry, etc. You'll get quicker at recognizing emotions to the point that you won't really need to ask anymore. They'll come to you and you'll know them. And possibly why they're there. You'll be able to make connections between seemingly unrelated things. "I'm standing behind this very disorganized person in the line at the grocery store and I'm feeling irritated. It's the same type of irritation I had when my boss didn't give me the report that had been sitting finished on his desk all day. Ergo, I'm not keen on depending on people, especially when they're delaying me on getting me where I need to go. Maybe the same approach is required in both these situations."

The second question is for focusing. When our emotions are intense we often slip away from the goals we initially set out with. Especially when new emotions crop up and we are derailed and must deal with them. Stopping to ask what it is you want can show you how your priorities have shifted (e.g., no longer "I want them to understand what I'm saying" and now "I want to win this argument" or "I want them to shut up"). It can remind you of what you care about, what the big picture is, or what you initially set out to achieve. So you can go back to that as the main priority.

Both of these questions complement each other. If you get good at labeling (emotions) and remembering (goals/desires) you can quickly recalibrate at times when you've got a processing load going on in your head while talking to someone. You won't be as blindsided by your reactions because even if they're surprising to you you'll know what the feelings *are*. And you'll keep your eyes on the prize (whatever you want to achieve from the argument/debate) while emotions are doing their thing.

It takes practice. The good thing is, you can do it anywhere.

You said you benefit from writing and not so much silent thinking. Maybe start with the checking in using a small notepad and pen you can carry around. Decide to check in, write out the emotion and the goal. Maybe if you do it enough the writing out won't even be necessary anymore. Like training wheels that become pointless? I don't know if that's a silly idea or not, but it's worth a try.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:39 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the recording and listening technique of awareness practice that Zen teacher Cheri Huber has been focusing on recently (past few years) might be helpful. Here's an interview with Cheri about it.
posted by Lexica at 8:46 PM on May 10, 2013

« Older Ethically Produced Duds Similar to Everlane, U.S....   |   Re-Learning to Fly Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.