When people get frustrated with "human stupidity"
June 26, 2013 2:01 AM   Subscribe

Dealing with an SO who thinks "people are stupid."

My SO is very opposite me in many ways. She's very hard working and driven, and her view of the world is largely driven by reason and logic. I on the other hand am very laid back and I view the world on a more philosophical, empathetic level. What we both have in common is that we're both perceptive introverts. We both like to exchange ideas about society and how the world works. People just seem to annoy her for the most part though. I usually give people the benefit of the doubt when they make mistakes or are on the wrong side of the fence, but usually she just chalks it up to her "people are stupid" idea.

The thing is, she cares about people at the same time. It's quite a contradiction. She's studying medicine and wants to open a clinic in the disadvantaged part of the world that she comes from. She also volunteers in the local community when she has the time. Once we were walking, and a homeless man was having trouble getting his wheelchair across a construction zone. She offered to push him up the street, and I was just so in awe of her (because people don't usually do things like that in L.A).

When someone or something upsets her though, it really upsets her, and she will go on and on about it. That's one difference between us, where I will lament and sympathize, she will rant and rave. Not that I don't do my share of ranting and raving though.

I don't think humanity is stupid. I think people do stupid things, but we also do good, productive, amazing things. It's just easier to notice the bad. That's what I've told her, but she disagrees. Am I being too optimistic? I don't think so. Today she told me "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" because of a news headline that upset her quite a lot. Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers? How stressful must it be to believe that you live on a planet full of stupid, hateful people?
posted by Cybria to Human Relations (52 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The obvious question is whether or not this is something you've discussed with her (and what her reactions were if you have).

If she's open to your view, countless good books out there, for you and her, that I'm confident people will recommend.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if she's not open to your observations and concerns, at least throttling it back in your presence, it's your choice to deal with it or move on.

As an aside, my sense is that people with this general view are arrogant: "People are stupid... except me."
posted by ambient2 at 2:18 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: People just seem to annoy her for the most part though.

When someone or something upsets her though, it really upsets her, and she will go on and on about it.

A lot of people just process their experiences in certain ways. It sounds like your girlfriend is an empathetic person who volunteers her time to help the disadvantaged and who notices things in the world that she would like to fix. From what you're saying, she seems like a pretty caring and awesome person, and complaining about things is just a quirk.

I'm definitely a ranter/raver (not to the world in general, but in my journal or to people who I know won't get annoyed by it)... I'm not saying it's the BEST way to process your feelings but it's one way of doing it. You get your feelings off your chest and you move on. It's nice that you are a more positive thinker than she is, but some people's minds just don't work that way.

Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers?

Sorry, but it's not your place to try to change her. Does she dislike her mindset, and think it is disruptive? Does she seem stressed out and unhappy?

You use something she said today - "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" - it could be indicative of deep misery OR it could just be a standard, over-the-top expression of frustration, in the same way that someone saying "I wanted to kill her!" isn't necessarily expressing homicidal urges.

If YOU find this trait of hers difficult to live with, that's a separate question.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:21 AM on June 26, 2013 [11 favorites]

I don't think so. Today she told me "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" because of a news headline that upset her quite a lot. Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers? How stressful must it be to believe that you live on a planet full of stupid, hateful people?

You're heading for disappointment and misery if you set yourself upon changing something that fundamental to the way she views the world. She's different from you, and you're going to have to ultimately be okay with that. You're not her therapist, you're her SO.

I've been friends with lots of people like that, and I think that most of them take it less seriously than you think they do and are not as stressed about it as you think. Lighten up a bit and roll with it.
posted by empath at 2:22 AM on June 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

You seem to be assuming your girlfrind is like you, just with a different "half full, half empty" point of view. She's not. You ask:

Today she told me "I don't want to live on this planet anymore" because of a news headline that upset her quite a lot. How stressful must it be to believe that you live on a planet full of stupid, hateful people?

It's not stressful. Well, it's not stressful to her, but apparently you find it stressful.

I also think I live on a planet of stupid, hateful people. I do not find it stressful and in no way does it preclude me from offering to push the occassional wheelchair up a road. Note also that stupid people deserve (and indeed, have a basic human right to) sound medical care because we all do. I'm not sure why you seem to believe that thinking people are idiots would also mean your girlfriend has no compassion.

Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers?

This is an interesting statement you should examine more closely. You've given ample evidence that her mindset is different than yours. You've given no evidence that it is destructive.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:27 AM on June 26, 2013 [20 favorites]

I thought you were going to describe a Snobmonster from Hell, but actually you've described a kind person who gets angry at the world sometimes.

If you're asking how to change her to be more like you, maybe you're not quite as laid back as you think? Some things you're just better off leaving to roll off your back.
posted by tel3path at 2:28 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I actually don't think it's much of a contradiction at all.

To be honest, I agree with her that there is a shocking amount of stupidity in the world. To pick some trite examples off the top of my head, consider things like celebrity worship (the Kardashians ??), how successfully nutritionally-empty junk food has been advertised, the rise of reality tv, the sexualisation of children in the media, the fashion industry that convinces thousands of people to spend $150 on poor-quality sweaters made in Bangladesh for pennies...

Personally, I try not to rant and rave, because it's unproductive. But I don't disagree with her point of view: it often seems that humanity, en masse, is headed in a pretty stupid direction. That belief is in no way incompatible with 'caring about people at the same time'. (No offence, but your example about the guy in the wheelchair was quite surprising to me. I absolutely would, and have, done exactly the same as your GF, in LA or anywhere else. I think most people I know would.)

For what it's worth, I don't think I'm smarter than everybody else (just smart enough to know that I'm really not all that smart, if that makes sense), and I certainly don't walk around feeling miserable.

I think this is an integral part of who your girlfriend is. It's the same passion that makes her want to use her medical degree to open a clinic in a disadvantaged part of the world, rather than, say, becoming a cosmetic surgeon specializing in breast enlargements.

You have to take the good with the bad. Embrace who she is fully, and leave her be.
posted by Salamander at 2:31 AM on June 26, 2013 [10 favorites]

Okay, so she thinks people are generally stupid. But aside from saying this, what does she do that has you so worried? I'm not seeing anything for you to be worried about.

Because it looks like even though she thinks people are overall just stupid, she is trying to ease their way in the world anyway - she helps push wheelchairs, she's going into medicine, she's starting a clinic for the disadvantaged, etc. - so it looks like her attitude is "well, people are stupid, but I'm gonna help 'em anyway". And consider, it could be "people are stupid so fuck 'em".

If all she's doing is saying "people are stupid", then that's just her making a lot of noise to herself as a coping mechanism, and a lot of people do that. I can get damn grumpy and vocal about it sometimes about how Everyone Sucks And People Are Idiots And Fuck Them, but that's not an accurate reflection of what I really genuinely think about people, it's just a temper tantrum.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:35 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

She sounds like me. I tend to agree that most - or at least a significant proportion - of human beings in this world are more-or-less stupid. It isn't hard to find hard evidence to back this up outside of personal anecdote. I could give plenty of examples but it would probably be a provocative derail, so I won't.

I'm with the folk who say that it's not a contradiction at all to be compassionate and empathetic yet to believe most people are dumb. I may think someone has made a stupid life decision or is indulging in a stupid practice or belief but that doesn't mean I can't also get it, and empathise (at least to a degree).

For people like us - that is, me and your girlfriend - sometimes ranting and raving is simply a pressure valve that allows us to vent our frustration. It might be a sign of deeper unhappiness but it also might very well not. It is not necessarily destructive. It can be just what some of us need to get through this mess without becoming destructive.
posted by Decani at 2:40 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

How is she doing apart from these episodes? How much of her time is she frustrated at the world? Can she also be content or happy some times? No need to answer these questions here, but if this dominates her life, she might have more going on than just a cynical personality (stress? depression? culture shock?)
posted by meijusa at 2:48 AM on June 26, 2013

Sounds like there are a lot of us who share your girlfriend's view of humanity. Instead of viewing this belief as "destructive", however, why not see it as a symbol of your GF's "sensitive nature"? I.e., she is SO sensitive to the pain in this world committed by humans, that it makes her upset?

To my mind, NOT being upset about humanity is the greater problem.....
posted by Halo in reverse at 2:49 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I don't see how that is a destructive perspective, especially after reading how motivated and empathetic she is about people and life in general. She probably feels safe to share her impulsive disappointment in human kind with you, and I have a feeling she would be surprised if she learned that you've been psychoanalyzing her about this. I wouldn't take the "not wanting to live on this planet" comment literally. I see no problem saying that to someone you trust just to rant.

Also, you make it sound like your view point is correct, and much more productive, but the question of human beings being innately good/bad and its consequences has been tackled throughout the history of philosophy. Perhaps you should read up on this subject philosophically (since you've described yourself as philosophical) before passing judgement on your SO. For the record, personally, I find how you described the world to be naive, and I relate more to your SO's stance.
posted by snufkin5 at 3:03 AM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

She sounds like some very committed environmental and social activists I know. Heck, she sound like me some years ago. We care so much about the earth, life, justice, and the fact that others (in the general public) don't care much at all is very distressing. So distressing that there were times when we didn't want to live and care so much amongst these idiots (idiots being those who didn't see how destructive their lifestyles/priorities were to the rest of humanity).

If you love her, cherish her. These extreme caring situations/frustrations can pass. A number of friends of mine who felt like me softened under the pressure of the love of children, partners, self.

What is relevant and important is that these extreme feelings can often occur when one feels that it is all on their shoulders. Is your gf working long hours and giving so much of herself that she doesn't have reserves? If so, maybe you can step up and take some initiative to provide, nay impose, some whole loving and care upon her.

Don't ask her to change, just be there as a support. People like your gf are rare and you are a lucky person to know her. She will soften once this extreme caring has passed. It is a case of acceptance and maturity. But don't assume I mean you are more accepting and mature, I don't. You are more accepting of your own limitations, perhaps. Your gf probably accepts no limitations when it comes to solving the world's painful problems.
posted by Kerasia at 3:24 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your girlfriend sees many things that are wrong with the world and actually goes out of her way to try and make things better. This is a feature, not a bug.
posted by Jubey at 3:36 AM on June 26, 2013 [7 favorites]

She sounds like a wonderfully empathetic passionate person who gets ranty. Her actions show she's caring and kind, and isn't that what really matters?

Imagine the opposite situation...your SO speaks of kindness and light and the joys of people, but she steals parking spaces that others were waiting for, uses her phone during movies, doesn't move on sidewalks, doesn't give up her seat for someone who needs it, doesn't hold the door open when she sees someone coming, etc. Imagine that she talked the love and lightness talk but her actions demonstrated rudeness towards others.

She's not that person. She is compassionate and then rants when "other people" act stupidly. That's pardonable in my eyes.

But yeah, I would imagine that it would be difficult to listen to her rant. Why not just tell her?

Something like, "SO, when you get upset about the stupidity of other people, it makes me feel upset/sad/whatever because I know what a good heart you have and it's hard to hear you being so dismissive."

Try that instead of trying to infuse the ranting moment with your philosophy of people are good and they make mistakes (which I would imagine annoys the crap out of her...she just wants to rant and you're jumping in and correcting her), let her know you find the rant difficult to listen to. I think that's fair.
posted by kinetic at 3:41 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers. From what I'm reading, I guess I should have included that she tends to drink a lot. Not just for fun, but to actually get through some days. That says to me that she's unhappy in some way. She has had some negative experiences in her life that I believe contribute to that. I didn't mean to suggest that I wanted to change her traits. I just want her to be happy.
posted by Cybria at 3:49 AM on June 26, 2013

she cares about people at the same time. It's quite a contradiction

Not really - people you don't give a shit about have no power to annoy or upset you. As John Cleese put it - I can cope with the despair: it's the hope that's killing me.
posted by Segundus at 3:53 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Her outlook sounds a lot like mine also. I think that most people are stupid and also get frustrated in a "why don't people just understand" kind of way as well, but I also go out of my way to help random people on the street and even give money to possible scammers because if they're willing to put on a big line about how they need the money to get on a bus to go somewhere they need it more than me and giving out £2 to someone isn't going to hurt me much.

I take the stupidity angle much further though. I have found that my interaction with the public tends to work better if I assume that most people aren't sentient. I look at most people as non-sentient animals and treat them as such. I treat animals well, though so everyone gets responded to with kindness and conversation. I find that assuming stupidity fits in with my worldview and how I interact with the world at large. Friends and coworkers tend to not be stupid, but random people on the street usually are.

on reload I am always reminded of the Hemmingway quote:

An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.

Allow her to relax and realise that humanity is very stupid, and in many ways those stupid people should be pitied and treated with kindness.
posted by koolkat at 3:54 AM on June 26, 2013

You both have different worldviews, and different ways of dealing with the frustrations of life. You're every couple there's ever been.

A successful relationship is one where each learns to value and accommodate the other. If something about your SO really, really bugs you, then address it openly, but not as something that needs to be fixed; rather, address your differences in terms of finding a middle ground where whatever-it-is can be expressed and acknowledged without one party being right or wrong.

On preview, you need to discuss the drinking - not in connection with any of the other stuff you've mentioned - just as a thing on its own that can lead to very negative outcomes.
posted by pipeski at 3:57 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I want to nth that this is just her way of venting, of coping with a horribly messed up world. But I also think you should talk to her about it. "Are you unhappy? I hear you talking about how stupid people are, and I feel like you must be unhappy and that you must hate them."

But some people use "______ is stupid" to mean "_______ is bad, or unacceptable, or contemptable and I despise it", and some people just mean that they're annoyed or frustrated or tired. A big part of a relationship is learning each others' language. This is a great opportunity for that.
posted by windykites at 3:58 AM on June 26, 2013

Thanks for all the answers. From what I'm reading, I guess I should have included that she tends to drink a lot. Not just for fun, but to actually get through some days.

People drink a lot because they like drinking. They don't do it to cope. Alcohol is an end in itself.
posted by empath at 4:06 AM on June 26, 2013

I should have included that she tends to drink a lot. Not just for fun, but to actually get through some days.

Oh. That's an entirely different question. So you're asking what to do about your SO's drinking problem?

Go to Al-Anon.
posted by kinetic at 4:08 AM on June 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

You seem keen to have us all condemn your SO. There's no need; you're doing a fine job of that on your own.

I just want her to be happy.

Concern trolling. Her happiness is her own to achieve. If what you're asking is "are her reactions within the spectrum of normal human reactions when under stress?" then you've received ample testimony that they are.

If I were to give advice, it would be "Let her be herself; and carry on being yourself. Live and let live."
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:13 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

Like you, OP, I really dislike calling people "stupid" or "idiots" or being around people who do this. I have a friend who expresses her displeasure over people who have different beliefs or value different things by calling them these things, and it upsets me. I've told her I don't like it, she doesn't care. But we aren't a couple so ... there you go.

It bothers me because usually it's a gloss of the situation. It makes it really hard to have a thoughtful conversation about why our society is the way it is. And since often this breaks down along political lines it plays into my concerns about how we can possibly maintain a functioning democracy if we continually dismiss everyone who disagrees with us as evil, lacking intelligence, or misinformed. I was pretty dismissive and more like that when I was younger, and I feel now that it hurt me - and others - in many ways. And it bothers me because I believe it's counter to the principle of respecting the inherent worth and dignity of all human beings, which is important to me.

I think we all do things - every single one of us - that are .. misinformed. Or not well-thought-through. Because none of us can be well informed about every single decision we make in this life. I wish we could respond to these things with "I'm not sure why you did that, tell me more." Or "I'd really like to understand why they voted in that guy, I'm going to read more about it." Or "How can we inform people about the importance of recycling?"

On your part, is it possible that you have a problem with anger? I do. Because of my childhood I am on tenterhooks when I am around someone who is angry - always waiting for them to slap or verbally attack me. It's exhausting and wearing to listen to someone vent and to be around someone who expresses their feelings toward the world through rage and dismissal.

Why not just have a calm and thoughtful conversation with your girlfriend about where you stand on this and how you feel when she rants? "It bothers me when you call people stupid because ..." And see how she responds.
posted by bunderful at 4:15 AM on June 26, 2013 [12 favorites]

she sounds like she has a choleric personality which tends to be negative and easily irritated. they are also driven and hard working. i think the best thing you can do is to accept her how she is and not try to change her which i do think you want to do despite your saying otherwise. she may have a drinking problem which is a serious thing. i think the real question is is her negative attitude and drinking behavior bothering you? if so, then you need to decide what you can and cannot live with. you may decide she is not the type of girlfriend you want after all. just don't try to fix her. first, you won't be able to, and second, it's not your place. set all the boundaries you need to but keep the focus on yourself. you might want to check out an al-anon meeting.
posted by wildflower at 4:28 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I told my husband this evening that I wanted to 'ragequit the world' and just finished off a pint of G&T because, seriously, fuck the world at this point.

But, y'know, I also just watched some cute videos and tomorrow I'll make dinner for my extended family, and probably write, and a bunch of stuff that isn't rage-quitting the universe.

Now, my husband and I have been together about a decade at this point, so we've got routines, but he doesn't take the ragequit + G&T as evidence of some deep problem I have that he needs to fix. He snuggles me and tells me that, no, I don't really want to ragequit, but yes the current political situation is vile and sometimes self-care is a hot bath and a cold drink and mindless videos. Because he knows, intimately, that the actual manifestations of depression/anxiety/alcoholism is not my verbal tics, or the occasional drink.

It's when I stop watching cute videos because blah. It's when I stop giving a shit about politics. It's when I drink, solidly, without joy or happiness. It's when no amount of snuggling can make me happy. That's the danger sign.

Not a well-founded irritation with the world. Because seriously, the world is fucking awful sometimes and if you don't get irritated with it, then there's some gap between you and humanity.

I guess the biggest question is this - does it bother her? In which case, help her however she (or a therapist) thinks will be the best way.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:01 AM on June 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

I once had a roommate who was a lot like your SO, as far as I can tell from your short description. She had a very active social conscience, was easily upset by bad stuff in the news ("I don't want to live on this planet anymore" is a sentence I'm pretty sure I recognize), and would also "go on and on about it": many of our conversations quickly veered towards one-sided rants on her part about what a terrible place the world was, though her tone was usually one of gloom or despair, rather than anger as in your SO's case. Like you, I'm more laid back, and I found her very hard to live with, partly because it felt like she was implicitly condemning me. It felt like she thought anyone who didn't express a sense of horror at human injustice on a daily basis was ipso facto part of that injustice. I have no idea if you feel, consciously or not, that your SO's frustration at human stupidity may occasionally implicitly include you, but this might be something to ask yourself, since her behavior seems to bother you on some level.
posted by zeri at 5:05 AM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

"I don't want to live on this planet anymore" is a popular meme, and an expression I've used in response to so many rage-inducing news stories. So much out there really is stupid and worth raging over.

I think both your stances are well within the range of normal. I think it's normal to seek out the good in people, and it's normal to get upset about the bad. Her anger might be born from idealism, not cynicism.

I'd draw the line at how she talks about the people she knows. It's one thing to get upset at political figures, it's quite another to declare all your coworkers/neighbors/acquaintances idiots. Excessive meanness about the people in her life implies that she looks for the worst in people, and it can be a warning sign. If it's just about news, it might be good to work out some sort of compromise, e.g. you're willing to listen to X minutes of venting but she has to find another outlet for the rest.

The drinking is a separate thing altogether, and cause for concern in itself.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:17 AM on June 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

She sounds like someone who is very driven and has very high standards for herself and for others, and gets really frustrated when people don't meet those expectations (and likely beats herself up when she doesn't meet her own expectations).

This is a personality type and I don't think is something that needs to be fixed. It's just a way of perceiving the world. She sees how a system is supposed to work, and when it doesn't work that way, she gets disappointed and frustrated. The mindset seems fairly intuitive to me, actually, because I think that way, as well.

Keep in mind that actually being a doctor is just going to reinforce this mindset in your SO. Doctors deal with a large swath of humanity. In my job, by its nature, I deal with people who are intelligent and reliable. Doctors deal with some patients like that, to be sure, but also patients who are self-destructive, who don't follow instructions regarding what their doctor tells them, people who are unable to understand their health issues, and people who blame everyone else for the problems that they created. That can be very frustrating, but driven doctors tend to keep on going.
posted by deanc at 5:31 AM on June 26, 2013 [8 favorites]

Does she also think that stupid people are too lazy to work as hard as she has and succeed as well as she has? Whatever the circumstances of her childhood it's obvious that she was born with a high level of intelligence and that her parents were able to keep her well fed and healthy. She did nothing to deserve that, she did not choose the family/circumstances/genes she was born with.

At some level she probably knows that her sense of superiority is bullshit. I would worry about her "I don't want to live" statement, regardless of how common it is, and about her drinking. If you really want to help her don't drink with her and consider going to Al-Anon meetings, they're for family and close friends of people who drink too much.
posted by mareli at 5:44 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your SO has some real problems. Based on the few words we have, if I had to boil it down, I'd say that she is VERY sensitive, and she adopts a hard outer shell to deal with all of the emotions and sadness that fly her way.

She is not coping well, and I think you recognize this.

Get to Al-Anon and learn about alcoholism, because someone who drinks as you've described how she drinks is either an alcoholic now, or on the road to becoming one. Also, you need some skills and tools to deal with someone who has some serious problems.

My armchair diagnosis of your SO is that she's depressed and not dealing well. She's drinking because she hurts and can't articulate what's wrong.

That's a handful.

At some point you are going to want to have an intervention, because if we truly love someone, we won't love them to death. And she may not even be aware that her world-veiw is colored by her depression, her alcohol dependance and her sensitive nature.

Good luck.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:03 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Farnsworth meme can sometimes be a "gotta laugh so I don't cry" exhortation - invoking the meme as a touchpoint to try to bring humor into a situation that seems hopeless.

I also fit the bill, and just a day or two ago I noticed how full of rage and negativity I was getting due to some recent stressors. I wasn't letting go of things like I should and so I was the one making myself suffer. What happens if I let go? Change the things you can, and let go of the things you can't.

She may benefit from mindfulness meditation and by exploring the boundaries of things she is able to control/influence and things she cannot.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:08 AM on June 26, 2013

Her reactions sound pretty normal to me, but her method of coping (the drinking) is not necessarily terribly healthy. I mean, I had a drink last night in the midst of watching/listening to the coverage of the Texas filibuster last night, but it was not a drink-to-drunkenness kind of drinking.

Some of us are pretty happy people, despite our grousing about how Humanity Is Going To Hell In A Handbasket. My stress is definitely lower when I pay less attention to the news, but that doesn't make me more "I love people people are great, yay!" - it just makes me less stressed.

If it's her method of coping that's distressing you, then yes, get yourself to an Al Anon meeting.
posted by rtha at 6:18 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not your place to make her adopt your world-view. It's not your place to make her be happy. I don't think you can do that; especially not through convincing her that people aren't stupid.

She has a drinking problem, though. Or she might. Maybe she drinks to cope with depression, or to cope with past trauma, or something else. That's what you want to address. Maybe you should post a new question about that. The stuff about her partial misanthropy is interesting, but, I think, not going to be central to what to do about her drinking issues.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:31 AM on June 26, 2013

I'm a lot more like you, and I have decided I can no longer spend significant amounts of time around people like your SO. Sorry, people upthread- it's exhausting to be around, and it makes me feel like the other person considers me foolish and naive for daring not to hate the whole rest of the human race.

It does come from a place of empathy- but, more specifically, it comes from her expecting the world to be perfect and feeling wounded when it turns out not to be, so she protects herself by pretending she never expected anything in the first place. But she did, otherwise it wouldn't hurt her so much when bad things happen.

She sounds like a very caring and intelligent person, but it also sounds like she views the whole world as a child whose grades just aren't cutting it.

Maybe it's good that some people can't accept the world as it is, and expect it to be better. But to me personally, that attitude is a recipe for frustration and misery.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I think the only thing you can say is that you recognize she is angry, but it's really unpleasant for you to listen to her rant and rave. Therefore, you get to ask to change the topic, or go get up and do something else, etc., to let her sort it out herself.

I say this because I totally get that this is part of people's coping mechanism, and they have a right to it, just like their feelings. Hell, I'm like this sometimes and I would say my husband listens to me for about 2 minutes and then goes off to workout or read or something else because being ranty is my problem.

I do think if I kept it up he would reflect back to me that I seem unhappy, and should consider therapy, etc., but he would also realize that I would have to want to do it. If I was drinking I suspect he would seek to understand the issues facing people with drinking issues via al-anon, etc. to consider what his options are....but I know in the end that he wouldn't think it his job to fix my unhappiness. I imagine he would seriously consider whether he wanted to remain with someone who is unhappy but refusing all efforts to do anything about it, even if he loved me. He'd probably wonder if we were long term compatible, because although I was fabulous and caring when feeling great I was an absolute downer when miserable (and the behavior was a package deal).

I know that's what I'd be doing if the situation was reversed.
posted by It's a Parasox at 6:35 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I used to do the "people are stupid" thing a lot. I was raised by hyper-rational emotionphobes (surprise surprise, both doctors), so the only way I knew how to express my personal feelings was to project them outwards on to the world. It's not that I'm sad, or afraid, or frustrated, or overwhelmed. It's them. People are stupid. Voila.

Self-acceptance has helped me overcome this tendency, but it's a long road. One thing that helped was reading books about irrationality. Stumbling on Happiness, Predictably Irrational, Influence, that kind of thing. It was a relief to know that all human beings are hardwired for irrationality, myself included.

Another major factor that helped was being in a group therapy setting where I could see that other people I respected had the same supposedly not-okay vulnerable feelings as me -- that they often felt stupid, or afraid, or self-conscious, or frustrated too.

The third thing that seriously helped was taking up mindfulness meditation, which taught me how to feel my feelings without becoming overwhelmed by them.

I still think people are stupid. Or at least, some people are stupid most of the time and everybody is stupid some of the time and humanity as a collective can be monumentally stupid. But now I can include myself in that, and it doesn't send me into blind rages or make me want to kill myself.
posted by stuck on an island at 6:59 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband is like this. He's very passionate about things, and once he gets annoyed he tends to extend that annoyance to a global scale. It won't be, "some voters don't seem to consider issues well before voting", but instead, "our country is going to crumble because everyone is an idiot." I'm a research psychologist and I see a million reasons for most things, and try to rationalize based on that. I also hate lumping people together in one big basket. However, I've learned just not to engage when he's ranting. His actions in the world don't match these thoughts, and the rants are just private at our house anyway. His feelings just come out in a different way.
posted by bizzyb at 7:08 AM on June 26, 2013

Well, people can mean different things when they say that people are stupid. For some people, it's just a hyperbolic expression of dismay at the dumb things humanity is collectively doing -- "how can we be so stupid to overheat the earth and then ignore it," etc. It's not personal or hateful, it just reflects the fact that people suck sometimes.

For other people, it is personal -- it reflects a belief that some sectors of people suck all the time, while others, like the speaker, are pure but powerless. I find it really difficult to deal with people who have this worldview, because it's not just arrogant but lazy -- rather than assuming that most people are basically reasonable and thus have some kind of (emotional? incentive-based?) reason for doing the harmful things they do, you just decide you're smart and the rest of the world is dumb, problem solved. There's also often a lot of classism mixed in -- when people who are highly educated and politically liberal say "Most people in the world are stupid," they often have very specific demographics of people in mind. Nothing irritates me faster than people assuming that I, as a really liberal person with a degree, will be eager to join them in bashing the intelligence of Christians or Southerners or, in the worst-case scenario, "trashy" people (read: low-income).

I think you might be misreading the first kind of frustration as the second. She doesn't necessarily believe that she lives on a planet of stupid, hateful people (other than herself); she might just be saying that, frequently, things suck and it's humanity's fault.
posted by ostro at 7:24 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

From what I'm reading, I guess I should have included that she tends to drink a lot.

Is she coming home, getting tanked and ranting? Because listening to drunken ranting is not something you need to do on a daily basis. Come to that, listening to repetitive ranting is not something you need to do, but alcohol tends to reinforce the repetitive and fruitless nature of the ranting.

If your partner's behavior is annoying you, then that is what you should say. Stuff about how it makes you feel bad for her and you want her to be happy sounds patronizing.
posted by BibiRose at 7:30 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your question here seems to be that your concerned that your partner's negativity is making things hard for her, and you think it causes excessive self medication with alcohol. And occasionally she needs to blow off steam by saying reductionist things that make you uncomfortable.

The right time to address this is not when she's in one of these moods, except to address the emotional content of what she is saying. Don't engage with the "logic" here, you'll just get into an argument. Your relationship will decide if its a hugs and nurturing situation or a listen a bit and redirect situation.

You have a few choices- if it hurts you to be on the other end of a torrent of negativity, you can ask her not to do that to you, or remove yourself from the situation.

Otherwise, you need to address it in terms of being supportive. The drinking is a big red flag, and something that takes more than just love to fix. But if it is not a problem, you can be supportive emotionally without having to defend the human race.

"I feel like you are very upset. Would you like a hug/me to make you some tea?" (Address the emotion, not the problem)
"I hear what you say, that does sound very frustrating." (Repeat variants of this, don't engage, you don't need to defend all of humanity)
"I see what you mean, selfishness can be so depressing. What makes it easy for you to be so caring?" (See if you can gently steer back to something that makes her happy and restores her sense of efficacy, although this is very tricky)

When she's not ranting, you can also talk candidly about your feelings:"I need to feel like the universe is a caring place. It makes me happier to do that. I know you really care about helping people, being with you really enforces that there are loving people in the world. When you are angry, I feel like I need to defend humanity, and I don't want to invalidate your feelings, because I know you try really hard to do the right thing."
posted by Phalene at 7:42 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

You describe yourself as empathetic. Why is your empathy for her failing?

Often people who see the negatives in human behavior, which are very real, are frustrated idealists who also are humbled and awed by the glorious potential of humanity. Every day there is an example of that potential being wasted or perverted to cruel ends. It's not wrong to see things the way she does. She is doing something about it.

I suggest you try to connect with her idealist side.

I also tend to feel more misanthropic when I'm not surrounded by positive people. I wonder about your social life. What connects you to your community? Who is in your friend circle? Do you do volunteer work? I tend to feel better about people in general when I can be around some really good ones.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am sure several people have already mentioned this, but it sounds as if her optimism, intelligence and empathy are a very front and center part of her identity and the reality of day to day life is frustrating her. This is common for many intelligent people who want to have an impact on the world but cannot cope with their limitations and, well, reality. She probably also feels dissonance between her desire to care for and help others and her logic, in that that she feels sympathy/pity for those who cannot help themselves but is peeved that they, for whatever reason, cannot seem to help themselves. There is the extra layer of understanding that the reasons they cannot help themselves are also influenced by factors that may be out of their control and that she also has no power to influence. So the whole "people are stupid" rant is probably more out of frustration that she has no control over people's destructive behaviors than it is superiority.

I could be wrong, but as a person with hyper-empathy who is constantly peeved by the limitations of others, this scenario sounds very familiar (sans drinking, although I might take up the bottle if I could tolerate it more).

Honestly, the best thing you can do is to support her when she rants, unless she starts to become visibly depressed and or abusive toward you as a partner. She doesn't want to be fixed, she just wants someone who cares about her to understand her strife. It's catharsis. But I can also relate to not wanting to be an audience for someone's strife. My partner has a lot of anxiety/depression over people's selfishness and even desire to harm others, and sometimes that line of thinking really, really gets to me because, hey, I want to live in my own, oblivious head where terrible, scary people don't exist. If the content of her rants bothers you on a fundamental level, well, be clear and tell her that it distresses you or that you simply don't want to hear it, and she will have to find a different outlet. It perfectly acceptable to put forth those boundaries in a relationship where two people are emotionally interdependent, but you'll just have to come to an understanding that there is A: nothing wrong with her feelings and B: nothing wrong with your not wanting to bare the brunt of them.
posted by Young Kullervo at 7:56 AM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think that her actions speak louder than her words, with the caveat that a homeless guy in a wheelchair on LA's Skid Row isn't looking for assistance--he's looking for a handout. Anywhere else in the city might be a different story. I encourage you to read Barb Oakley's Pathological Altruism.

And rather than listen to her rant and watch her drink, find a physical activity that the two of you can pursue so she can let off steam and have fun. Working out, climbing, dancing, surfing, swimming, etc. will help with her depression, too.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:16 AM on June 26, 2013

I don't know whether your girlfriend is actually unhappy or actually an alcoholic or whatever, but if the ranting and raving bothers you, can you ask her to not do it around you? And would she be able to comply?

I wouldn't want to listen to that kind of talk. You don't have to want her to stop for her sake; it's OK if you want her to stop for your sake (she might not stop either way, of course).
posted by mskyle at 8:18 AM on June 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wonder if it would help to think less about this being indicative of her being unhappy. A lot of people rage and it's not really a deep indicator of how they feel about themselves or the world - they just like being rage-y. It's actually kind of FUN for them in a weird way.

I, however, dislike raging like this and find it exhausting. I feel like ruminating about things you can't change just sucks the joy out of the good things around me.

Does that resonate for you at all? It might be that this is less about being worried about her and more about the way her expression of her thoughts pollutes how you'd like to experience your life. If that's the case, that's a discussion to have with her to see if you can find a happy medium - perhaps one where she has her rage episodes with someone else once in a while.

For the record, I just went through this with a partner and he was not able to accommodate me at all. I think this is actually a really important topic to consider long term - after a number of years, this sort of daily negativity could become intolerable if you don't share the desire to discuss topics in this manner.
posted by amycup at 8:27 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I don't really like being around ranty, judgmental, negative people either. They suck the happiness right out if everything. If I was you, I would probably leave the relationship.

It sounds like she needs better ways to deal with her stress. She's not handling it well. Maybe suggest therapy to her.
posted by discopolo at 8:37 AM on June 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

From what I'm reading, I guess I should have included that she tends to drink a lot. Not just for fun, but to actually get through some days. That says to me that she's unhappy in some way.

If your girlfriend is drinking to get through her days, that doesn't say she's unhappy, that says she's an alcoholic. The treatment for this is not an attitude change and positive thinking, it's treatment for alcoholism.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:59 AM on June 26, 2013 [5 favorites]

She's studying medicine and wants to open a clinic in the disadvantaged part of the world that she comes from.

When there's some kind of natural disaster and people talk about how stupid the victims were and how they should have done this or that, the conventional wisdom is that saying those kinds of things helps those people feel more secure. It makes them feel like bad things wouldn't happen to them and they would be more in control over the situation because they would make better choices.

Depending on what disadvantaged part of the world your girlfriend came from, and what her experiences there were like, and what she saw there, she might have built up some very deep fear. Which she might be dealing with by going, "None of those things will happen to me, I'm smart and logical and make good choices, and those people who are in bad circumstances are just stupid and made bad choices."

If she cares about people, which it sounds like she deeply does, that can make everything more stressful. Because then you're not just stressed out about your own circumstances, but those of the other people. It seems like blaming and ranting is her way of coping with that.

I dunno, I've met a lot of arrogant young guys who go "humans are stupid" and it's not out of any kind of fear, they truly do not care about others, and really believe that they are better than everyone else. It doesn't sound to me like that is what's going on with your girlfriend.

The alcoholism is only one more indication that your girlfriend needs better ways of dealing with her stress. I have a feeling that if she could get into treatment for alcoholism, where she would learn better ways of dealing with stress, then she might be open to therapy where she could learn better ways of dealing with fear and uncertainty about upsetting things that happen in the world, too...
posted by cairdeas at 10:45 AM on June 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

I am exactly like your g/f except that I don't think people are stupid. I think they are inherently selfish. No, not self-interested, s-e-l-f-i-s-h. At the same time I go to great lengths to help disadvantaged people, at times to the detriment of my own well-being. I am also very sensitive to what people say or do to me, and I have endured quite a bit of selfishness and stupidity at times of my greatest needs.

So, I see the contradiction but I don't see what the problem you really have with it. If she thought you were "stupid", she wouldn't be with you. Should she think exactly like you do? Is disagreeing not acceptable?

Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers?

If I were your g/f this statement would be like pouring gasoline on fire. She is an individual with her own set of concepts and the problem really is that YOU think the mindset is destructive. So maybe YOU need to change YOUR mindset- just enough- to allow her to think independently and share it with you without you reacting like this, whether you agree with the ideas or not.

As someone similar to who you describe, the most obnoxious thing people can tell me is something like that, and then add that I am too stubborn to not change my stance.

How stressful must it be to believe that you live on a planet full of stupid, hateful people?

Did she tell you that her thinking is making life stressful for her? Now this is the kind of assumption where they say if you assume something, you make an ass of you and me.

You are two individuals in a relationship. You are supposed to get along with each other and add to each others lives. Not become clones as far as thinking is concerned. Find the right balance between living as individuals and being in a relationship, and give each other the space to BE for goodness sake.

I find your question disturbing. I mean I get that kind of BS from other people but if a b/f thought that way then I'd question the long term prospects of the relationship.
posted by xm at 11:56 AM on June 26, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a friend at work who is like this and I just walk away when she starts on a rant. It's exhausting after a while. I don't mind being her work friend but I'd hate to have to be her girlfriend. So, yeah, I think what you have here is a personality thing and now you have to decide if it's something you can live with or not. It's ok if it's not. Really.
posted by dawkins_7 at 2:55 PM on June 26, 2013

Is there anything I can say or do to help her let go of this destructive mindset of hers?
No, but you can tell her that its bothering you, and that she shouldn't rant in front of you. Encourage her to get out her anger in other ways, like by writing a letter, arguing online, or playing violent videogames.

How stressful must it be to believe that you live on a planet full of stupid, hateful people?

Very, which is why she needs to blow off steam by ranting to you.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:01 PM on June 26, 2013

Your girlfriend sounds a bit like me. I can get extremely frustrated by what seems like rampant human stupidity, cruelty and ignorance - I mean, just reading the news sometimes feels intolerable. It is not because I think I'm better than other people, and I do care about people. It's just the type of person I am and how I process the world.

If her ranting is affecting you, yes talk to her, but take care not to make it sound like you're trying to fix her. Honestly, I got a bit irritated reading your question because it sounds like you kind of want her to hey, just lighten up, ignore that atrocity you just read about that's got you all upset! My relationship is a place where I don't have to put on the social smile, or act positive or optimistic when I don't really feel that way. Not that I only spew negativity or use my partner to just absorb my ranting, but if I got the sense from him that he wanted to change my worldview and something I consider a basic part of my personality, well, I don't think we'd have lasted long. That is not to say he'd be to blame; just that we would not be compatible. Is this something you can live with if it's just a part of your gf's basic personality?

Oh and like many people I drink sometimes to take the edge off after a hard day. You haven't given enough information to say about your gf, but just drinking while unhappy does not make one an alcoholic.
posted by asynchronous at 9:03 PM on June 26, 2013

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