Nothing's wrong. NOTHING'S WRONG.
October 11, 2005 3:53 PM   Subscribe

How do I learn to share my feelings?

I have intimacy issues. I'm not very good at or comfortable with communicating my emotions. I inevitably feel whiny and self-centered and annoying when I discuss my problems or feelings and avoid things with jokes. Occasionally I will find a friend who I become comfortable enough to get close to, but inevitably I will push them away, though I'm never sure whether it has more to do with the intimacy or with a legitimate worry about not keeping things in perspective. I'd be fine dealing with things on my own, but I've heard that's unhealthy, and this issue affects my relationships with other people. I think people may not be as willing to come to me for help because they think I'll laugh it off. And I haven't even thought about romantic relationships because I know that requires emotional intimacy and I don't want to hurt the other person by keeping them distant.

Trust factors into some of it, but by far most of the problem is not knowing when it's OK to talk about myself and when it's silly self-centered whining that I need to suck up and deal with. I did not grow up with really any form of emotional intimacy (whether through friends or family), partly due to lack of social skills and partly due to the belief that I was a terrible person and my problems were unimportant, so it was better to shut up and be there for others instead of wasting their time with my bitching. I think of how many people have it so much worse than I do and wonder why I'm worrying about my issues when I should be helping them with theirs. While I have attempted to let up and open up to others, it puts me on edge because I'm on constant guard for signs of drama-queening emerging. When people open up to me, I'm eternally terrified of referencing any similar experiences I've had because the conversation should about them, not me. It runs in a cycle: I open up to someone, open up a little more, get worried that I'm being a drama queen, shut down, and remain friends with the person but become more distant by subconciously engaging in a variety of avoidance behaviors.

Sidenote: It does no good to tell myself my friends will let me know if I'm being obnoxious, because people are insufferably nice and polite and generally do not let others know (even when asked) when the other person needs to calm down and deal. Inevitably they'll simply tolerate the annoying behavior and either suffer in silence or just draw away quietly. It's happened before, and I'm not so cold to say "That's their problem" and refuse to attempt to consider their feelings and pre-emptively cut out annoying actions.

So Mefilterites, what to do? If you've had intimacy problems, how did you get over them? How do you tell when a problem is worth speaking about? How do you know when you need to suck it up and when it's a legitimate issue? Not just everyday problems, but judging whether or not your relationship with one person or the other is really as bad as you think it might be or whether you're being overdramatic.

(I've been in therapy. It doesn't make this particular issue easier.)
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
For me, I think, figuring out whether the feelings I've had in the past have proven to be valid helps me judge my current feelings. So, for instance, if I've had a friend who annoyed me a long time ago, and I talked myself out of saying anything about it to him and just let it slide, and then that continued annoying behavior, or other behavior that could have been predicted from that one incident, finally killed the friendship, then I know that the next time someone annoys me in a similar way, it's worth speaking up about.

I feel I'm explaining this poorly. Basically, I think there's a huge benefit to analyzing your past relationships (romantic, platonic, and familial), and figuring out what worked well, what worked poorly, what you could live with, and what you couldn't. It's easier to do this with past relationships than current ones, because there's less pressure to "do" anything with the information. Just look for patterns of behavior (yours or theirs), and then try to recognize them in your current relationships.

If you're just talking about sharing the run-of-the-mill "I had a sucky day" - type stuff, rather than necessarily confronting others about their interactions, then I'd say just do it little bits at a time, and try to stay very aware of the non-verbal clues you're getting from your listeners. If they stayed tuned in to you -- don't interrupt, don't change the subject, aren't fidgeting -- then you can probably keep going for a bit. It's a bit of a dance.

And I don't know your gender, but female listeners are sometimes better for these situations. I've had a number of guy friends say they hate talking about themselves to other men, because guys don't tend to listen well and end up getting uncomfortable in these situations. On the other hand, I (a female) can often talk to my guy friends about things that I feel weird bringing up with female friends.

And, more than gender, there are just people who are compassionate listeners and those that aren't. Half the trick may just be picking the right people to open up to.

Since I'm rambling why stop now.... I've also had success in simply realizing that solving my own problems really dismisses other people in a fundamental way. If I talk myself out of a problem with my father, for example, without ever talking to him about it, then I've acted like I'm the only one capable of dealing with the issue, that he's so cold / distant / unstable / uncaring that he couldn't possibly care enough to help me with it. None of those things are true, so why should I act as if they are?
posted by occhiblu at 5:02 PM on October 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


It does no good to tell myself my friends will let me know if I'm being obnoxious, because people are insufferably nice and polite and generally do not let others know (even when asked) when the other person needs to calm down and deal. Inevitably they'll simply tolerate the annoying behavior and either suffer in silence or just draw away quietly.

I can draw analogies only to my own experience here, which is as a sensitive but highly introverted person who grew up with very little exposure to social cues.

But, based on that experience: those people you're describing aren't your friends; they're acquaintances that you're trying to talk to as if they were friends. That doesn't work.

I was fairly lucky, I suppose; I had a good close set of friends during my freshman year in college who pretty much helped me identify these kinds of issues and correct them. I find it's very rare nowadays to make that kind of friend; and it becomes rarer as I get older. But apparently it can still happen from time to time.

hi, occhiblu!
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:20 PM on October 11, 2005 [1 favorite]


Well, I also used to (and still) have problems sharing my feelings. Usually it's a matter of (me thinking) "they're not going to care/don't want to know." Part of the problem, too, is having been burned before.

Do you have something specific that you want to bounce off of someone, or is this more of a general trend ("I feel great today" to "Yeah, the job's been getting me down" all the way to "I need to reassess what I'm doing with my life"?).

For the later, maybe joke about the small stuff. "Yeah, you know what really pissed me off today?" or "You won't believe how stupid some people can be - just this afternoon..."

If it's something specific. Something you want to bounce off someone to get a reality check, do it one-on-one. If you can, choose someone who shares their feelings, but you never know.

I've been accused of being callous, and people have been extremely surprised when I make a "tender" remark because I don't share in large groups. However, some of the people who have opened up to me have remarked that I am a good listener and a good answerer as well.

Starting to ramble, sorry... I feel that opening up is dependant in a large part on trust. Initially, try opening up to people you think/feel you trust. Be prepared to take some hits, but offer trust in kind. It's a risk, but - hey, no risk no reward.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:36 PM on October 11, 2005


I've also had success in simply realizing that solving my own problems really dismisses other people in a fundamental way.

Wow, I never thought of it that way. People open to me all the time and never seem to notice that I don't do the same, or that what I share about is a very narrowly defined area. I'm working on it but it comes in stops and starts, I have a hard time knowing what's appropriate and I'll say nothing for weeks and then suddenly spill my guts. Nobody's been scared off yet though, people seem to have a high tolerance for this stuff. So my advice is to just blurt it out, chances are your confidant will more be flattered by your trust than anything.
posted by cali at 12:00 AM on October 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


« Older Galapagos Island tours   |   Help me get ideas on how to spoil my cat. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.