Hereditary plate of beans: coping strats for overthinking family.
October 9, 2014 10:49 PM   Subscribe

My overthinking things was making me unhappy... so I cut way back on it, and now I'm enjoying life more. Yay! But now I'm way less tolerant of the same behavior in family and loved ones; trying to ignore it leads to awkward, anxiety-producing silences. Boo. Insert your advice here.

Seeking coping strategies for otherwise highly functional and well-adjusted adult child - parent relationships.

I love my family and (in theory) enjoy their company, but in practice find them really stressful to be around as fellow adult humans who I'm interacting with. Lately I'm realizing that some of this stress comes from the fact that a lot of the traits I really try to put a lid on in myself are ones I inherited from them. Specifically, overthinking. Planning All The Shit. Obsessively checking weather reports. Indirectly asking about things, without ever really asking about them. Treating everything as a matter for serious discussion, almost nothing lighthearted unless it's sarcastic. Basically, a whole lot of traits I've trained myself out of doing because for me, I'm in a lot healthier place when I'm just getting on with doing things as opposed to beanplating them to death.

I'm not looking to change my folks' behavior; they get on great, this mode of operation clearly works for them and meshes with many of their relationships and hobbies, and there's very little that I could *directly* point out and ask them to please change around me. But I'm spending a lot of time with them this month (and hopefully in the future - again, they're smart, intelligent people! my husband loves them! I feel like I should enjoy their company in the moment much more than I do!), and looking for ways to just let other my loved ones' overthinkiness roll over me instead of taking me on an anxiety rollercoaster.

Hit me your thoughts, MetaFilter. (Uh, in moderation.)

Anon b/c I really think they'd be hurt if they found out how bothered I was by this. And yes, I recognize the inherent irony, here.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This combo worked for me.
- Visualize wearing a jacket or top, closed by a front zipper with a BIG zipper pull. Zipper pulls are on the outside, where anyone can reach them, causing your (intentionally or otherwise) discomfort. Your jacket allows the zipper pull to be flipped over so it's on the inside. Visualize the zipper pull, inside, under your control, out of the reach of others.
- Repeat to yourself a mantra or affirmation or coping phrase as often as needed. Mine was 'They love me. They're doing the best they can.'
- Literally bite your tongue as needed.
posted by Homer42 at 11:19 PM on October 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think this is "a thing" and boy I can relate. This is a form of "you're too hard on yourself," a phrase I often hate hearing. I almost feel like "you're too hard in yourself" might be a better phrase, since this is about having difficulty processing judgments of other people internally, after having made some personal improvements.

If you are trying to have some integrity in this area, then the wisest thing I've heard is this. It goes something like, the most important part to having integrity is understanding that other people won't always have or behave with integrity.

The more I think about it, the more I think this is the actual definition of integrity. I mean, it's not really integrity if the minute you are triggered by someone that acts the way you used to act, you fall to pieces, inwardly. There is no integrity in this.

Integrity may just come down to letting people be different, in your heart and soul. And practicing keeping it together mentally. I don't know why I (sometimes problematically) need people to be on the same page with me, this is some kind of deep coping mechanism.

So now that I have a little practice with it, I will do anything I can to avoid that brain of mine launching into overthinkland, because I've noticed that can snap in very quickly and never takes me anywhere good. I'll email myself or write down exactly what is bothering me, the moment it happens, no matter how big or petty. Or during the event I might close my eyes and meditate, not necessarily in an obvious way, and let it pass, and find something else to say or hook onto. Then I am in the business of protecting my mindspace, and I can weather a storm or two, and my experience starts to change. Same parents, different me. Also, if you are spending an extended amount of time with your family, make sure to spend some time away from them to recharge.
posted by phaedon at 12:52 AM on October 10, 2014 [6 favorites]

I sympathize. I love my parents and we have a pretty great relationship, but spending time with them is always full of anxiety triggers for me because, through no real actions on their part I always feel about 13 years old around them, which makes me make weird decisions or say odd things or need different spaces and things that before-parental-visit-me could not have predicted. It's definitely largely from me seeing parts of myself reflected in them and that stressing me out plus reinforcing them.

Some of the things I do to handle the incipient crazies:

-Spend lots of time alone, not just at night and in the morning but scattered throughout the day. Even if we're visiting somewhere together, I make sure to step away and sit quietly somewhere for a few minutes, or suggest we split up and see different things and meet back in half an hour. Sometimes if there's a performance we can watch together but not talk during it and that kind of semi-counts as alone time. You may vary.

-Be totally straightforward, particularly with my dad, when we're falling into crappy patterns of behavior. "Hey Dad, when you make deliberately off-color jokes about women it makes my skin crawl. It's not funny." "Hey Mom, I know you love to make lists but let's not worry about this right now. It'll be okay, I can help you tomorrow, you taught me well." "Ugh, can we change the subject? I don't want to talk about the death penalty over dinner."

-The phrase "it's none of your business" is really powerful in my house. Maybe your family has one of those? It's convenient shorthand for "hey, I'm reminding you that I'm an adult. Chill out." It's a thousand times better than "don't worry", which makes my parents just ramp the worry up.

-I do a little pregaming. No, not drinking, but research, reading up on topics I know my parents are interested in, the local area, thinking about my life and friends and the things that would make good stories I can tell. I also think up projects to do with my parents, like a couple years ago my mom re-taught me how to crochet, and last year I learned how to make rugelach, and the next plan is for my dad to teach me about gardening things. Basically, yes, overthinking, but it's more like preparing for the social onslaught. If you have a sort of library of things to do and lighter topics to talk about, when there's a situation that's dragging you down you've got stuff to fall back on instead of stewing in your brain and being bored.

-The disarming compliment. Tell your parents you love them. Tell your parents nice things they did for you as a child or a young adult. Tell them how your husband likes them. Tell them how they're respected and appreciated. Tell them they're funny or smart or cool. This will make them confused, happy, stop them in their tracks, and sort of reset the whole... everything. Bonus of course is that hopefully it's true so that's nice, and they might reciprocate which will be good too.

-Have excellent reading material on hand. Not only can you retreat to it when you need to mentally block yourself off, but it's a go-to topic of conversation and a social signal of "alone time for child" that parents more often respect.

Best of luck! This is definitely a thing and you're not unusual or bad for having this problem. It's part of the friction of growing up.
posted by Mizu at 1:12 AM on October 10, 2014 [10 favorites]

OMG. My mom starts planning in which order we are going to file across the street (her, the baby, then me) while we are still two blocks away from the crossing.
She makes plans days ahead for the safest way for me to do the most mundane of my shit that is none of her business! She drives me batshit.

But I figure while overplanning is her problem, being driven batshit is mine. It means I still have to do some distancing from her. A truly mature person with an appropriate distance from her family would recognize this as mom's own problem, nothing to do with me, and I could react with patience and kindness instead.

It's a learning opportunity for me! And yay, thank goodness my mom presents me with so many of them!

Other thoughts that have helped:
It's a sign she's getting older and she's not gonna be around for so long, so enjoy her presence because you're gonna miss her foibles like crazy.

And: when you were small you asked your mom stupid questions all the time and she displayed a saintly amount of patience! It's your turn now!
posted by Omnomnom at 1:57 AM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

What omnomnom said. They are not your responsibility. Their thoughts are not your responsibility. You are only responsible for yourself. So if they're going to beanplate, let them. You don't have to participate. Remind yourself that this is who they are, and they are people you love. If they're driving you crazy making twenty contingency plans for the weekend picnic, it's okay -- let them make the plans, do a crossword puzzle or something so you're there but not really in the conversation, and if they keep asking you, just say, "I'm not worried about it," or "I think we've done enough planning, I'll leave the rest to you."

Still, you may feel anxious just hearing these conversations. Notice that anxiety and how it is physically affecting you. Is your throat tightening? Do you feel a pit in your stomach? Focus on those areas and try to physically relax them. Taking away the physical stressors will make it easier for you to recognize that the anxiety isn't real, nothing is threatening you, and you can appreciate your parents despite the beanplating.
posted by chickenmagazine at 5:47 AM on October 10, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just make fun of them to their face.

"Mom, we're three days away from the Golden Gate Bridge, you can put the money in your pocket."

"Dad, really, it's okay, a quarter of a tank is plenty of gas to get us to the grocery store."

"Sissy, I'm pulling into McDonalds RIGHT NOW!" (Okay, when Sissy gets hungry all bets are off.)

I could go on and on, I employ a respectful ignorance of their aggitation at whatever it is I'm doing that's making them anxious. For example, on vacation in Philadelphia, we rode the Philly Phlash. A little bus that takes you from the monuments. The conductor was marking our tickets but she was behind my mother. Mom starts in on her paranoid, filterless rant, "Ruthie! She's not supposed to take your tickets, you need them to get on and off! Tell her to give you back your tickets!" Meanwhile, I'm watching the conductor doing her marking. Finally I get them back. "Mom, I've got this."

Turning a blind eye in the interest of maintaining peace is a good thing. A mantra is another, "I am not my parents. I am not my parents. I am not my parents."
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:47 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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