How can I learn to wait to deal with stuff?
December 6, 2013 10:58 AM   Subscribe

When I have tension or conflict with others, I get fixated on solving the problem immediately. This doesn't allow me or the person I'm having the trouble with to have time to think about things and deal with them logically and calmly. How can I learn to wait to resolve issues?

I have noticed that when I have interpersonal issues - mostly in romantic relationships - I get fixated on dealing with it right away. If the other person doesn't want to do that, I'll leave them alone, but I spend all the "waiting" time obsessing and thinking about the issue.

I need to be able to put these things aside until it's an appropriate time to handle them. Instead, I will try to talk it out right away - even when all I have are emotions that I don't quite yet understand or know how to handle.

For example, my ex boyfriend told me he was spending time with a new female friend via email the day we broke up (shortly before dumping me). I called him while he was at work to try to talk it out - my discomfort, his behavior (which is actually ok - everyone has friends and I don't think she was a threat) - and instead we argued and he ended up breaking up with me that night partially because I pushed it and told him I had to discuss it as soon as he left work.

This is just one example. I also have done this in the past. I think it is related to certain triggers - feeling like I'm not good enough, feeling like I am going to lose a friend or partner because I did something wrong... but it's a bit self-fulfilling because this behavior is really problematic, especially when it's something that needs to be approached delicately.

I was abused by a different ex for three years and I think sometimes I would push things with him just to get the punishment part out of the way because it was so scary. But I think I was probably like this before him, too.

I just don't know how to put emotional chaos on the back burner. I'm working with a therapist but I could use some help thinking about how I can better compartmentalize and deal with things at an appropriate time.
posted by sockermom to Human Relations (12 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I'm trying to do the same thing. One thing I try and remember is that my own sense of urgency doesn't mean that a discussion is urgent.

Also be wary of having to discuss everything at the time. Sometimes I think that those of us who have experienced abuse can end up with almost an over active "voice"....where we can't let anything go.
posted by misspony at 11:05 AM on December 6, 2013

Sounds like you have anxiety. I'd go to a therapist and get treatment for anxiety.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:16 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You need to have something to do while stewing. I get it, I too want to discuss as soon as possible, but other people process different stuff at different speeds and we need to respect them.

Also, bedtime and during work are just off limits for this stuff. If someone picks a fight with me before bed, they're on my shitlist. Sleep is too damn important.

If you got to bed and all you can do is work it over and over in your mind, get up and take a Benadryl, whatever it is you need to chill out and let it rest.

You may wake and discover that whatever it was that was may, in the light of day, be of no importance whatsoever.

It's a process, and sometimes, you may white-knuckle it until you get the hang of it. But practice it.

With the internet and our ability to access anything, anywhere, at anytime, our reserves of patience have dwindled to nothing. So practice patience.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:16 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

There is a difference between "urgent" and "important." Sometimes urgent things are important ("There is a car coming -- get out of the way!"). Sometimes urgent things aren't important ("Quick, Shazam that song!"). Sometimes important things aren't urgent ("The application deadline for that grad school is in March!"). Ask yourself every now and then, Is this urgent, important or both? And then make yourself listen to yourself. Write the important-but-not-urgent things on Post-It notes and put them in your pocket. Then, when you start getting obsessed with them, tell yourself, "I have done what I can, I have noted that for future effort, and anything I do now will be counterproductive."
posted by Etrigan at 11:32 AM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

You might want to read up on dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), especially the distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness modules. It gives you a nice, clear process for handling these types of situations.

Don't be put off by the fact that DBT is used therapeutically for personality disorders; I'm not suggesting that diagnosis at all. It's just useful, nuts-and-bolts stuff for anyone who wants to develop more skills in dealing with other people.

I don't have any solid online links at my fingertips right now, but if you poke around, you should be able to find some. And your therapist can probably steer you in that direction, and help do the exercises with you, if it appeals.

Side note: you are perfectly within your right to ask someone you are in conflict with, like the ex you mentioned, to set a date and time to work through a delicate issue, and to let them know it is very important to you, and that you would strongly prefer to handle it ASAP. You can't and don't want to force them to jump to your timetable, but it's fair and reasonable to push for a timely discussion.
posted by nacho fries at 11:43 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can be like this, and I've found two strategies that seem to work well for me:
* Talk it over/vent to a third party. For me, this is often a good friend on gchat, so it's does not have to even be in person. Often this will drain off my "MUST TALK ABOUT THIS RIGHT NOW" energy, but let me get out the less well-thought-through emotional stuff with someone who is no directly affected. Plus, you can talk through strategies of how to deal with the issue together. (And, often, the friend will say something to the effect of: calm the fuck down, this is not as big a deal as you want to make it, which is a good reality check!)
* Cardio-heavy workout. Again, seems to drain off that crazy "DO IT NOW" energy into something more productive.
posted by rainbowbrite at 11:47 AM on December 6, 2013

Treatment for anxiety should definitely help.

If you like to do visualizations, imagine yourself holding an empty box. Put all the questions and feelings you're having about the anxiety-provoking thing into that box, and put the lid on the box. Put the box somewhere out of the way but accessible, maybe a high shelf, or under your bed, or just outside the door.

When you find yourself getting anxious about it, remind yourself that everything is in the box for right now and you can open it all up when it's appropriate or helpful, which is not right now.

If you find yourself getting anxious about it a lot, then some sort of thought-distracting exercise can help. Picture a big STOP sign, snap a rubber band on your wrist, say "STOP!" to yourself, or something else that's basically putting you back in control of your thoughts. Then, as others have suggested, go do something else entirely, and make sure it's consuming enough to be distracting. Exercise is always good, if it's possible.

Self-talk can help, too. Remind yourself that whatever happens is not the end of world. Tell yourself that you're getting strong enough to handle these uncomfortable feelings. Let yourself know that you've handled worse and survived.
posted by jaguar at 11:50 AM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Respect the fact that you have the impulse to do that, but recognize that you can choose to act on the impulse or to delay acting on the impulse. You can't really change your feelings or impulses, but you can change how you relate to them. If you were in an abusive situation, it makes sense that your coping mechanism was to try to PROBLEM SOLVE NOW, but it sounds like that is no longer serving you. Are you afraid of abandonment? It might be fear of some sort that is pushing you to want to do desperate sorts of things.

For example, if you find yourself thinking that you must have a conversation about this right away, start by recognizing the emotion you are feeling (anxiety? fear?), acknowledging the strength of that feeling, and by recognizing the fact that you are wanting to do X. Ask yourself if you could delay doing X for five minutes. Or if five minutes is easy for you, ramp it up. If you find yourself planning or worrying about the issue, say to yourself, "planning" or "worrying" and try to let the thought go, as many times as it comes up, which might be a lot.

When I deal with my un-constructive urges this way, I often find that they begin to subside. It's basic mindfulness/cognitive awareness techniques that can be very powerful.
posted by mermily at 11:59 AM on December 6, 2013

You and I seem to have a very similar back story of abuse and I've answered a question of yours before. I just wanted to tell you that it seems like you are doing really well in your recovery process. I'm giving you a round of appluase because this shit is so so SO difficult to deal with. As you continue to work on yourself, things will continue to get so much better for you, and I am excited for you to experience all of the great things that come along with healing!

I struggled with this same behavior pattern shortly after I dumped my abusive ex, so I do think that this is probably something that stems mostly (or probably almost entirely) from your years of emotional abuse. In that type of relationship, it's totally expected for your partner to call you 25 times in a row because of some non-reason, so you are now going through the process of un-learning the wacko patterns and re-learning normal ones. The fact that you've identified this and are actively trying to work on it is yet another step in the right direction for you. Kudos.

To answer your question, something that helps me a lot when dealing with an issue I want to discuss immediately is barring myself from doing ANY communicating with the person in question until I am able to speak to them calmly, face to face. It's far too easy to jump to conclusions and escalate the issue when there is a lack of non-verbal cues such as with texting, emailing, or even talking on the phone. The time it takes for that to happen is usually enough for me to simmer down and sort out my feelings about things. If I'm feeling overly antsy during that wait time, I try to distract myself with something engrossing because I'm a worrier, and if I think about the situation I'll suck myself into an anxiety vortex. Usually that involves talking to a friend about something completely unrelated.

With time (years, not months), the urge to push issues to the breaking point has almost completely disappeared, I suspect because I have learned to become a better overall communicator and am in a relationship with a good communicator and really only keep in touch with my friends who are good communicators, so issues that trigger don't come up as often.

Good luck with everything. Memail me if you'd like to chat more.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 1:13 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Normally I hate physical activity, but when I find myself in this sort of situation I've found that intense exercise (like running on a treadmill or hitting/kicking a heavy bag) does a great job of quickly working off the tension and other negative emotions I'd otherwise dwell on until the situation was resolved.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:52 PM on December 6, 2013

Thinking about it, I suspect part of it is my fight-or-flight kicking in. And that's definitely residual from the ex. I feel all this adrenaline surge through my body, and it's very uncomfortable.

So, yes, more to work on in therapy. Interesting how things get better and then new issues pop up and get triggered and must be dealt with and examined. I hope I do not mess up too many good relationships along the way before I figure it out.

The intense exercise is a great suggestion.
posted by sockermom at 2:53 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I doubt you'll come back to this post -- but your exboyfriend is a douchebag for leaving you on those grounds. I believe his female friend was a threat, and he is leaving you for her, because that is what douchebags do. Stop looking for problems within yourself. Your gut feeling was telling you something, you acted on it, and you are better off.

You did not mess up a good relationship. You identified that your boyfriend was not good enough. That's lonely and it's sad, and it's difficult. Keep doing that and you have some chance of something better. Stop doing it and, well, you don't.
posted by htid at 7:29 AM on December 24, 2013

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