August 1, 2013 2:06 PM   Subscribe

I've become an angry, mean person. How does one have a real-life Brand New Day?

I used to be nice, at least, I think I was. Over the past year or two, though, I've noticed a growing change. I've become resentful, stubborn, self-centered and selfish. I hate listening to other people's good news. I'm angry more often than not, and usually about trivial things. And not just inwardly! I'm a huge bitch to other people, too! I drink a lot. I talk about myself even more.

This seems nuts to me because I have a great life. A caring long-term boyfriend, a dream job with good coworkers, beloved friends and family. And I take ALL of that for granted, all the time, except for short bursts of lucidity where I shame myself for being an asshole. I talk a therapist about this, but that only seems to help for the hour or so after our session. After that, right back to the old crank.

What I'm looking for is how to reset my personality, the mental equivalent of a fresh start. I'm afraid of losing the good things in my life to this black hole of negativity that I've become. How can I get into a more permanent positive mindset and remind myself that things aren't always awful forever?

Essentially: How can I be a better, kinder, less shitty person, especially in my day to day life?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
Get undepressed by finding another, better therapist.
posted by rhizome at 2:10 PM on August 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Despite all the good things you have, do you still feel like you're missing something in your life? Do you feel you're no longer progressing towards accomplishing anything concrete, maybe that your life is stagnant, and that's why you aren't happy for others when they share good news? I tend to get like this when I procrastinate too much, putting off projects that are important to me for really no good reason. It's depressing.

I tend to get over it by accomplishing more things, and trying new things sometimes. It's nice to have good relationships and friends and a good job, but I tend to want more from life. If I come home from work and don't find myself working on some sort of project that I'm proud of and driven to accomplish, I can get bitter and resentful if it goes on for a long time. Going on vacation to an interesting and different place has helped also.

Also, since you mention you drink a lot, cut back on that. It isn't helping. This might sound silly, but drinking hot tea - green tea or something like rooibos with milk and honey - often helps my mood a lot, and helps me feel more grounded.
posted by wondermouse at 2:28 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

You might want to try meditating. Also yes, drink less.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:32 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would work on being more mindful of your emotions to become less reactive and more curious about how you are feeling. Work on cultivating compassion for yourself, and then once that is successful, cultivating compassion for others.
posted by Captain Chesapeake at 2:36 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cut down on your drinking. Find a new therapist. Start a gratitude journal and write down something every day that you are grateful for. Find a volunteer opportunity with an organization that you respect.
posted by raisingsand at 2:38 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Take up kickboxing. Or Victorian stick-fighting! Or bikram yoga. Anything that will give you a structured, regular, predictable time to beat the everloving shit out of yourself (and possibly an inanimate training dummy) until the anger has dissolved away.

Then you might find that you develop more clarity about the things that are truly wrong.

You have my infinite sympathies, though. The world, frankly, is kind of ass. People are mostly pretty shitty. Not always at the "raping murdering butcher" level, but more at a level of "yeah, I guess I could be nice/helpful/reasonable but NAH." And after awhile it feels like, "you know? If nobody else is gonna bother to be decent, then neither am I."

It's really, really hard to deal with even a pretty cushy life, day in, day out, and keep gratitude and positivity intact. (Unless, perhaps, you are blessed with a personality that doesn't incline toward anger or resentment, but if you were, you wouldn't probably have this AskMe.)
posted by like_a_friend at 2:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Cognitive Behavior Therapy gets you out of your own head. It sounds like it would help in this situation since you know your feelings are out of whack.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:53 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

This is quite possibly medical. I went through a similar phase while taking prednisone for a chronic bout of mono. Incredible anger and at the stupidest things. Rageface all the time inside and out. It was bizarre and weird but only after I calmed down. While it was going on it all made perfect sense. The mind body junction is a complicated space.

Go see a medical doctor and tell him you are experiencing inexplicable anger. There may be something throwing you off kilter.
posted by srboisvert at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Read Pema Chödrön's Awakening Loving-Kindness.

Pulled me out of a few deep dark blue holes.

Plus, it's really short and to the point.
posted by sonascope at 2:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hope this doesn't seem random, but sometimes my allergy medicine (Allegra) interacts with my other meds and makes me weirdly socially anxious. It often manifests as exactly the kind of anger and hostility that you describe. I work it out by going for a long run and skipping the allergy pill for a day or two.

In times past, when I used to drink a lot more, my blood sugar would get super low and I would feel similarly cranky and upset if I hadn't eaten in awhile. Cutting back on alcohol (and sugar) has ameliorated this to a great degree.

Good luck!
posted by Schielisque at 2:55 PM on August 1, 2013

Well, "shaming yourself for being an asshole" is unlikely to help you cheer up and feel very good about yourself -- though god knows I relate to the impulse!

So start from there and give yourself a break. Slow down enough just to observe the moment where you start to shame yourself. See if you can just refrain from following that particular line of internal monologue. Step back from it, even just a little; see if you can trade "ugh, shame on me, I'm an asshole" to "ugh, shame -- oh yeah, this is the part where I call myself an asshole because it's become a bad habit. Okay. Deep breath." This is the practice of mindfulness, and it's the first essential step in getting unstuck.

So, once you've opened up a little space on this score, see if you can inquire -- in the spirit of genuine, open curiosity -- into what else is going on simultaneously in those moments of anger. Can you name the other feelings that are swirling around? This might be a combination of outward and inward directed feelings. For me, the moments where find I'm getting knee-jerky with others and shame-y with myself tend to involve a combination of jealousy (for example, jealousy of others' creative endeavors and accomplishments) and regret/self-criticism (for example, a sense that I'm wasting my own creative potential). Maybe there's a similar unspoken narrative going on behind your anger as well.

As another Mefite put it in another recent thread, anger is often about unmet needs. What needs of yours are going unmet? (And yes, even with a good partner, a good job, and good friends and family, you have additional needs and you are not a bad person for having them.)

This might take some time to tease out. I suggest simply getting very, very gentle with yourself for your failings in the meantime. We all fail, we all suffer, we are all imperfect. In fact, our shared imperfections are the starting point for our shared humanity. If you can soften your heart a little toward yourself, you may find that your heart softens a little more for those around you, too.
posted by scody at 2:59 PM on August 1, 2013 [20 favorites]

A yoga practice with an emphasis on mindfulness could part of your plan.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:04 PM on August 1, 2013

On the off chance that something this simple will help: coffee makes me into the person you're describing. So does Dr. Pepper. So does too much sugar. So does drinking.

Try a super wholesome, no-sugar, no-alcohol, no-caffeine diet for a couple of weeks and see what happens?

Exercise also helps, as does lots of sleep, as does having a hobby that's unrelated to the rest of my life, but these last three things don't do much if my diet's a mess.

YMMV obviously.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think this could be the signature of an auto-immune condition of some kind.

About 90% of the time I've been explosive one day, the tell-tale rash shows up on my lower legs the next, and the worse the outburst, the worse the outbreak.
posted by jamjam at 3:32 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Try a super wholesome, no-sugar, no-alcohol, no-caffeine diet for a couple of weeks and see what happens?

Looking at your diet, especially the booze, is a good idea. But don't jump on a radical dietary change like this, because it will affect you, and those effects will likely not improve your disposition. One person I know suddenly switched to a 100% sugar free diet and went nuts, basically. My wife cut caffeine out 100% and went through a week of hell, between headaches and sleep disorders.

Change like this should be gradual and with much attention paid to the effect it's having.
posted by fatbird at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Were I you, these would be my big three steps:

1. Go nutritarian. (Eat to Live is a compelling read to check this out.) I have done this and it has had an amazing effect.

2. Give up alcohol.

3. Join a yoga class and practice daily. Pay attention to the 8 foundations of yoga, which are very grounding.

I second exercise, too, but yoga deals directly with materialism and anger.
posted by bearwife at 3:38 PM on August 1, 2013

Whoa, actually, the medical recommendations reminded me that apparently, parathyroid issues are WAY underdiagnosed, difficult to spot, and basically result in --among other things-- turning the owner of said dysfunctional parathyroid into a one-person Rage Against The Machine.

Something to check perhaps, if you have any of the other symptoms associated with parathyroid issues.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:39 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

This may sound silly, but I changed from being widely perceived as cranky by making it a personal rule that I MUST smile & pleasantly greet people every day when I go to work, no excuses allowed.

It wasn't easy at first --- I'm afraid I'd gotten into the habit of always going in with a stern look on my face: Work Is Serious and all that. I had to CONSCIOUSLY make it a new habit to get out of my car with a smile whether I felt good or not, to keep on smiling and pleasantly tell people 'good morning'. Over time it's gotten much, much easier, and I rarely have to remind myself anymore. It's worked so well that nowadays, I find people refer to me as a NICE person who is always cheerful --- and that's quite a shock!

So basically, it all came down to fake it till you make it.
posted by easily confused at 3:52 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Okay, so I'm starting by nthing the stop drinking recommendation. It's a depressant. You'll be shocked at how much more pleasant your life is when you're not drinking. If you find it hard to stop, ask yourself this question: "Do I want to slow down to a reasonable level (which for the time being is no alcohol) or do I want to have to stop all alcohol forever?" Because if you can't control it, you'd better not even pick it up, you know?

I was a very pleasant child and young woman, and I learned to be assertive, yet still pleasant (although less so) in my 20s, and then in my early 30s, I realized I wasn't very nice any more. I can still fake it really well with strangers. But man, I can burn the fuck out with people I am around all the time or who have long histories with me. And of course THOSE are the people I want to be nicest too!

It took forever but I finally realized that I have what is known in Buddhist psychology as an "angry personality type," which means, in the most general terms, that I see the bad in everything first, and have to kind of push myself into seeing the good bits. Sometimes it seems as though my boyfriend is deliberately doing things to push my buttons! And then I remember. It's not the thing that's bad, it's not him that's bad, it's just a perception thing on my part. When I get it in a neutral, nonjudging way that it's just a habit of mind, it takes way less effort to let go of the anger and the crankiness and the selfishness.

The lovingkindness meditation mentioned above works for a whole lot of people. There is a small group of people who get the exact opposite effects from it, and I am among them. It bugs me, because there's every reason to want and expect the lovingkindness meditation to bring peace and happiness into your mental state, and it's frustrating that it doesn't. I'm a little better with equanimity and sympathetic joy, but lovingkindness? no can do. I think you should try it, but I want you to know at the outset that there's nothing wrong with you if you don't find stability or calm through it. And also, if you've never done mindfulness meditation, don't expect that to bring peace, at least not at first. If your mind isn't accustomed to sitting still with no stimulus, it will fill the empty space with chatter and noise. And that's fine, unless you're expecting to float on a peaceful cloud, in which case you might give it up in frustration. But oh boy is it worth doing in the long run!

This is all in addition to the very good recommendations for exercise and yoga and medical checks and everything. This is just my own focus and what helped/helps me.

Anyway, as someone who works with anger on a regular basis, and who also has a committed mindfulness practice, please let me know if I can offer any help or guidance, such as for books or guided meditations, etc. If you memail me I will respect your confidentiality.

Take good care.
posted by janey47 at 4:17 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

When you hate listening to other people's good news, is there a particular genre of good news that upsets you? That might be a clue toward what's missing for you.

Drinking is a symptom, not the cause. If you forced yourself to stop drinking, you'd probably take up some other pressure-relieving habit.

My hypothesis is that you really want to do something, and you already know in your heart of hearts what it is. But it is a very scary thing, so you've procrastinated on doing it for a long time. Just like you would be depressed if another person prevented you from doing the thing you want, you are unhappy now because you yourself are preventing it.
posted by cheesecake at 4:27 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I sympathize, because I know I've gone in stages where I've done this. The key is really to stop the loop of "well, what makes YOUR GOOD NEWS SO GREAT"--because, really, everyone's good news is great for them, and there's no reason it shouldn't be. It kind of comes back to one thing: other people aren't responsible for your own unhappiness (usually. If you're in an abusive relationship, romantic or not, then that's a different question.)

So, you know, do your best to focus on being kind to other people. Remind yourself, as often as you need to, that they are not responsible for the bad things in your life, and that a lot of the time, they are just as confused and sad and mad as you are, and all you can really do for one another is try to listen and understand. If you're really in a mental place where you can't--where all you want to do is lash out--then remove yourself. Say that you're tired, that you're just going to go home and watch a movie (you do not actually have to then go home and watch a movie, but I find it does help.)
posted by kagredon at 4:32 PM on August 1, 2013

You sound depressed to me. And, having a great life has nothing to do with depression. Terry Bradshaw was diagnosed as clinically depressed from 1975 to 1980. During that time, he won 4 super-bowls, became a celebrity superstar, appeared in movies, dated models, and earned millions of dollars. Depression is an illness - not a measure of quality of life.

But really, no one can diagnose you over the internet. You need a doctor. Not a therapist, not a social worker - you need a medical doctor (M.D. degree) who specializes in mental illness. That is a psychiatrist.

Unfortunately, many insurance plans will send you to a therapist first, and may never send you to an actual psychiatrist. Spend the money - see an MD specializing in mental illness, a psychiatrist.
posted by Flood at 4:58 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I remember reading an anecdote about someone who had a really awful car. She'd dream of having a car that started instantly, that had heating and air con, that didn't break down on a regular basis, etc. When she finally got that car she was rapt for a few months. Every time something that had annoyed her failed to happen, she was joyful. Then she got used to it - the well-functioning new car became the new normal and she took it for granted.

Which is to say you can have a great life and nothing to complain about and still not feel happy, still feel irritable and angry with people. I agree that there may well be something specific you are missing. Last year I would get extremely grumpy and irritable every time I saw a couple being mushy in public, and had to avoid books/films/etc that involved love stories. It wasn't hard for me to work out why, given the break-up I'd just been through. There could be something similar but more subtle going on for you. It may be worth keeping notes/journal to see if you can detect a pattern. But don't use this as an excuse to beat yourself up, like evidence of what a horrible person you are! You're trying to do something about it, and in order to do that you need to understand what's going on.

You could also try keeping not necessarily a gratitude journal, but a happiness/positivity journal. For example, instead of focusing on how much you hate having to get up in the morning, think about how much comfort you get from your bed. Bed can be a refuge, a haven, not just where you get sleep but where you heal and restore yourself. And having a nice, comfortable bed with a good pillow etc instead of sleeping on the ground is a really wonderful thing. This is echoing the mindfulness strategy - if you are prone to seeing the annoying/irritating aspects of things, just try to reframe if possible (sometimes it isn't, things just suck) or at least concentrate on different good things.

I echo others' advice about eliminating alcohol, at least for the time being, getting medical checks, trying to meditate. And FWIW, the Dalai Lama says he's had a huge problem with anger in his life, and doesn't he seem like the most serene and easygoing person ever? You don't have to be the Dalai Lama, but you can change if you want to. It just takes practice.

Good luck!
posted by Athanassiel at 5:15 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

fwiw, quitting coffee was good enough for me- it turned out it was the coffee (even decaf!), not the caffeine.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:35 PM on August 1, 2013

If you are a woman approaching menopausal age, the hormones can make you cranky. Mayo Clinic list of symptoms.

Check here to do an online depression assessment.

Irritability can definitely be from either emotional or medical issues. Check with your doctor, if you can.
posted by annsunny at 6:38 PM on August 1, 2013

This sounds like the way I felt before I started on SSRI medication.

It also sounds like the way I feel if I have been watching too much media. Or if I haven't been eating enough.
posted by windykites at 7:14 PM on August 1, 2013

what happened a year or two ago? my guess is something is triggering this for you be it an emotional loss of some sort or health changes or something. maybe you picked up a bad habit at that time that has spiraled?
posted by wildflower at 8:35 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Irritability is one of the signs of depression. Check out a depression self-test. Your therapist doesn't sound effective - spend time with him/her, reviewing your therapy goals, and making sure you're both on the same page. It's okay to find a new therapist. Go to your doctor for a checkup, making sure your thyroid is okay, blood sugar, iron, etc. Make a serious effort to eat healthier and at regular intervals. Reduce alcohol, review your caffeine and sugar intake, and make sure you get adequate sleep. Take a walk at least 3 times a week, ideally someplace in nature.

Recognizing that you feel angry, mean, resentful, stubborn, self-centered and selfish is a huge step. Once a week or more, review what you're grateful for. If your boyfriend did you a favor yesterday, and you're not sure you were sufficiently grateful, thank him again Yesterday, when you did __, that was really thoughtful, thank you. Bring donuts to work, or orange juice. A couple of times a week, review your kindness To Do list, and do something nice, like calling your Mom, or picking up all the extra junk mail in the lobby of your apartment building.
posted by theora55 at 9:55 PM on August 1, 2013

CBT, SSRIs, and marijuana. Marijuana helps.

Also, maybe just avoid the things that avoid you? If you keep seeing media or interacting with people that make you irritated, cut them out of your life.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:38 PM on August 1, 2013

Quit drinking.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:45 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Marijuana interacts really badly with some anti-depressants.
posted by small_ruminant at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's not easy to just stop drinking when you're drinking in response to anxiety issues. You will still have the anxiety, and it will likely be worse for some time.

I think it's almost impossible to have a mental freshstart. You didn't consciously choose to be this way mentally, so it's difficult to choose just to act differently. Your anger might not be rational but it's probably a response to an anxiety that you can't articulate but is very real. So is the drinking.

There's no quick fix to changing yourself, you just have to work at it little by little everyday and forgive yourself when you mess up. When you feel like complaining about someone or responding in anger/irritation to something, put it off for an hour and see if you still feel that way. A lot of times when I'm like this it's because I'm anxious about the immediate situation I'm in, but I don't realize it at the time.
posted by WhitenoisE at 9:18 AM on August 2, 2013

OK - I could literally have written this question about a year or so ago. I was exactly like this. I couldn't see the good in anything, despite being in a really good place myself.
I was making myself miserable over it too, I had periods of intense self-loathing too. I just couldn't understand how I had become this miserable person who got frustrated with everything.

One particular example stands out for me, and it involved grocery shopping. I seriously could not get over how many STUPID people were in the store that day. 100's of people with absolutely no common sense, getting in my way, making me angrier and angrier throughout the course of my food shopping. I swear, I left the store that day with a literal black cloud hanging over me and my poor boyfriend didn't know what the heck had happened when I got home, but by that point, I was so wound up that I was a complete bitch to him for no reason whatsoever. It would take hours for me to calm down and then I would be overcome with remorse and regret - WHY did something so simple annoy me so much?

Anyway, to cut a very long story short and to echo @easily confused, The next time I went shopping, I took a breath, I calmed myself and I just smiled. I mean, I made a conscious effort to smile at everybody... and you know what? People smiled back, I had several good conversations with people, and I left the store that day feeling glad.

I think it boils down to too much technology and an over-load of information honestly. All we do is interract with people over the phone, text message etc. and we are bombarded with too many images of "perfect people" in magazines, websites and facebook, and this breeds detachment from society as well as successfully making us feel inferior.

The best advice I could give is just make a conscious effort to smile more and start from there. The next time you see news about someone that annoys you, take a moment and try to figure out WHY it annoys you. Then, reflect on all the things you have that make your life so wonderful and try sending good vibes to that person instead.

It is MUCh easier to be happy than to be a misery guts. It takes much less energy to smile than to frown and you'll feel like a better person because of it.

Good luck - you'll get there!
posted by JenThePro at 9:23 AM on August 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Go find a good relaxation massage therapist, and commit to a weekly session for a few months. It's remarkable how much a regular hour spent blissing out under a compassionate practitioner's skilled hands can improve a person's world.
posted by flabdablet at 10:58 AM on August 2, 2013

I see that you have a million suggestions here, so maybe a filter is in order. Just pick one little thing that you can with consistency each day.

Every day you might wake up a little earlier and take a walk around your neighborhood. Or write 3 things you are grateful for. Or cook yourself a decent breakfast. Or maybe it's a little thing you do before bed. Or during lunch. Just one little piece of time that's for you to feel better and healthy each day.
posted by jander03 at 4:13 PM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you on hormonal birth control? That stuff really brought out my bitchy side. It really seemed like the world was set up just to annoy me and piss me off. Once I got off it, I was better. Something to think about if you are on it.
posted by marble at 12:40 AM on August 3, 2013

« Older Dealing with UTI symptoms   |   I have unintentionally become an internet stalker Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.