How NOT To Wear Your Emotions On Your Sleeve?
June 3, 2016 12:04 AM   Subscribe

I have become aware that I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Specifically, bad emotions. How can I stop doing this?

I've had a few friends tell me that it's very easy to tell when I'm upset/mad/in a bad mood. I really try to keep my emotions under control but apparently I'm not very successful at hiding them.

This has been noted by several people and I'm now kind of worried that it's affecting people's perception of me. Also, I don't want this to be a part of my persona.

I tend to feel negative emotions very strongly until I "process" them, and then I'm okay. But in the meantime I have a hard time keeping it hidden from everyone. I try so hard not to let on that I'm upset or angry, but I guess I fail at this. I don't act snippy and it doesn't come out in verbal attacks. But I might be a bit curt/short and kind of shut down and probably look "angry". I'm a people pleaser and am horrified of acting mean towards people, so I don't really lash out. I'm fairly aware that whatever might be bothering me is my own problem to deal with.

One example is from a place where I work out...someone commented to my friend "wow I can really tell when argylesockpet is in a bad mood!" And I don't think it was a complaint in bad blood, because I don't believe I've ever acted poorly towards this person (I really like and respect him), but apparently he can just see that I'm angry or upset about something on occasion. I think he was just commenting in good humor. But the point is that he even said anything/noticed enough to say anything.

Recently my roommate thought I was upset at them because of this issue. I lived on my own for quite some time and I'm an only child so I guess I'm used to having my own space to unwind. I've been going through a rough few months in my life lately and I've been in more bad moods than good (depression and anxiety related). So I guess I seemed in a bad mood all the time. When confronted with this I apologized and assured them I'm not mad at them. But I'm upset with myself that I have such a hard time with this. I think I knew on some level it was a problem....for instance if I was upset over something I had a hard time "Faking" it and being upbeat. And I didn't want to take it out on them by being moody. And I could feel the internal struggle. But I wasn't really holding a mirror up to myself so I didn't know how it was affecting anyone. Until now.

I don't think I'm being passive aggressive. With my roommate, for example, it's just that I need quiet time....and sometimes when I'm home I feel like I just don't want to talk or be chatty. And the reason for the bad mood may have nothing to do with them at all. When I'm home I sometimes turn into a serious introvert. It's like my recharge space. I just don't know how to communicate this when it's happening without sounding like a jerk. (Incidentally we talked and things are cool. And I've been making a huge effort to change and she's noticed the change, so at least that's positive).

But I also sometimes find it hard to be outwardly pleasant when I'm in a bad mood, even when it has nothing to do with the people around me....and I'm not fond of this with myself. It obviously needs to change. But it feels ingrained...even when I know I need to be pleasant it's like pulling's like I can't pretend to act one way when my emotions are another. I don't lash out or say mean things...but apparently people can see there's a storm cloud following me around.

Usually when I'm like this I avoid people...but I can't ALWAYS do it. Such as roommate situations, gyms (a place I go to get rid of the bad mood, haha) when I'm traveling, family, etc.

This isn't 100% of the time, by the way. I'm not in a bad mood constantly. But apparently my behavior is a pattern. I really do wear my emotions on my sleeve.

Many people really do like me and I have a very silly, cheerful, life of the party side, and I'm genuine (when I'm really happy you can tell...the emotions on the sleeve works both ways). But it seems to become an issue in certain areas of my life, such as people who I'm around long enough and can't get away from when I'm going through my bad patches.

How can I fix this? How can I temper these inner emotions and not let it affect my friends or people around me? I really don't want this to be a part of my personality. People probably think I'm moody or sullen if they're around me long enough. And sure it's good to show feelings, but too much of a good thing ain't so good. I'm literally going to ask my therapist about this tomorrow but I'm just curious if anyone has been through a similar issue and if they were able to successfully beat it.

I don't know if I can totally change my emotions (or hell maybe I can?), but I do want to change how I express them outwardly.
posted by argylesockpet to Human Relations (16 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I"m wondering if mindfulness meditation would help. The idea is that as your mind wanders, you just notice the wandering and bring your focus back to your body or breathing. Over time, you get better and noticing your thoughts and, in this case, especially your feelings and not get all caught with them. This might give you more space to contain them until you have a chance to process it. It's not a quick fix but if it works, it would be a real change, not just trying to fake something you didn't feel.
posted by metahawk at 12:31 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Could this be due to Resting Bitch Face?

FWIW I apparently have a completely unreadable resting neutral face (and vocal tone!) that makes some of my potential clients and dating partners uncomfortable because they think I am stand-offish, aloof, or keeping them at a distance. They don't read negative emotions into me (usually), but the utter lack of positives seems to be enough to seriously squick some people out. (caveat - mostly extroverts who want to be matched for enthusiasm, which I have a hard time with as a business consultant or otherwise.)

This is entirely the product of a really unhealthy childhood dynamic from an abusive parent. Whee.

Are you super sure this is people reading a negative and not just stumbling over a lack of expected positives? Introverts sometimes get the shit end of the stick (as my esteemed mother used to say) when it comes to this.

PS some people take everything you do (or don't do) super personally and this is NOT YOUR FAULT
posted by ananci at 3:17 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

You know, it's completly normal and human to have bad moods. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being sad, angry, frustrated, and tired. There is absolutely nothing wrong with needing space when you're upset. There is no requirement that you hide these facts from the world. If you are not actively taking this out on people by being curt or nasty or mean or vengeful or whatever, then I think you're doing pretty darn well.

Why do you think you need to shield people from this part of your humanity? What if instead you let your openness be the way that you get comfort and help from other people? Why not acknowledge that, yeah, you're feeling pretty upset today, would you mind if (I took a break for ten minutes/I talked about it a bit/I ask for a hug)?
posted by Sublimity at 4:26 AM on June 3, 2016 [15 favorites]

How about instead of trying to hide it you just own it. "Yup, I'm a moody bitch sometimes." Have you told your roommate, "I'm just one of those people who needs an hour of decompression time to feel human after work, so I'll just sit here with my Pepsi and watch mindless TV without saying anything. It has nothing to do with you."

It's okay to be angry or in a bad mood. It doesn't make you a bad person.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:33 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Consider that concealing your emotions isn't the only alternative to lashing out at innocent bystanders. Given that you can't really pull off that deception (and few can), people you interact with would probably be more comfortable if you were up-front about the fact that you're in a bad mood. The way you're doing it now, people who can see through your act will feel pressured to play along, and that's what they'll find disturbing. That's how it affects me, anyhow.
posted by jon1270 at 4:39 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you're relatively pleasant about being moody!

The wrong way to do it is to expect other people to read your mind/mood, and walk on eggshells. That kind of behavior would definitely be a problem.

Saying, "Sorry I'm irritable, its not about you," and so forth is perfectly fine.
posted by yesster at 6:17 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

The only ways I know of to truly change how you feel is 1) therapy 2) deep, insightful meditation.

I have almost the same problem as a poster above - I am an expressive person (people have called me bubbly, to my surprise) but while I feel like my negative emotions are written on my face, people tell me they can never tell when I'm upset. The only thing I can think of why this is is maybe because I know that anger is my own problem to deal with. Even if someone legitimately pissed me off - there are two problems in that case, the person's actions and my anger. I deal with the two separately.

Here is what I would say to you:

When you are angry, no crashing around. No slamming doors, exasperated sighs, or taking out your tension on things. Stop it now. You are 100% in control of this, it's just a choice. These actions are not ok - it's childish, it's like a teapot steaming over, and you are creating bad karma for yourself. It can be challenging to change a habit but remind yourself that this is your character we're talking about. Actions create a character. Have pride in your character.

Make sure you validate yourself ie don't try to convince yourself that you shouldn't be angry or some such nonsense.

And sit with yourself until you really truly believe that anger is your problem to deal with, not other people's problems. Expressing anger in a negative way implies you believe other things cause your feelings, that they are at fault or somehow deserve to be steamed at.

If you need some meditations to help transform anger feel free to memail me. Or google "wheel of sharp weapons" for the Buddhist take.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:19 AM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

I don't act snippy and it doesn't come out in verbal attacks. But I might be a bit curt/short and kind of shut down and probably look "angry". I'm a people pleaser and am horrified of acting mean towards people, so I don't really lash out. I'm fairly aware that whatever might be bothering me is my own problem to deal with.

Somehow I missed this paragraph in my above post.

What I am hearing here is a LOT of buried anger. People pleasing and buried anger pretty much go hand in hand. So try to validate yourself more and release yourself from the "disease to please" and I bet your anger will reduce to a more manageable level.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 6:23 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

You are my husband. He doesn't get into bad moods often, but when he does, it's like he *inflicts* them on everyone else. It drives me crazy, because he never actually says he's in a bad mood, we have to divine it from his behavior.

He says he can't control it. (I say it's selfish and that he can and he subconsciously just wants to bring everyone else down. No doubt I am wrong, but it's easy to build resentment from there!)

So, from the POV of someone who has to be around him, I would appreciate just owning it. "I'm sorry, I'm in a bad mood -- it's not you!" would do a lot.
posted by gaspode at 6:25 AM on June 3, 2016 [3 favorites]

You're allowed to say you're in a bad mood. That's okay - I know that sometimes we're told that copping to negative emotions means we're awful attention-seeking drama llamas, but that's really not true. It might take you a long time to believe it's not true, but it isn't!

If you are going to do this, do make sure you're really good at expressing your positive emotions, though.
posted by blerghamot at 6:33 AM on June 3, 2016

Could you learn how to express it with humor? If I need let someone know that I'm in a foul mood I will make it into a joke. Not that I belittle my anger, I just tell them in a way that is communicated with humor so they know it isn't directed at them.
posted by Vaike at 8:26 AM on June 3, 2016 [2 favorites]

I generally say something like "I'm in a bad mood today. I'm sorry, it's nothing to do with you. I'll try to keep it from slopping over on everyone else." And then I do my best to follow through, with no sighing or grumbling or anything like that, just being quietly in a bad mood.
posted by Lexica at 2:41 PM on June 3, 2016

It sounds like most of your issue happens when you feel trapped with other people. You find you have unprocessed negative emotions and you don't want them to your immediate situation.

Take a few moments away from whatever you're doing to acknowledge your bad mood and plan for what you're going to do about it. Focus on when you will have the chance to be alone and think and do your self-care. By reassuring yourself that those times will happen (and hopefully soon), you might have a better chance of putting them aside and being civil or amiable in the moment.
posted by itesser at 4:59 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ah, I have the same problem. I cannot control my face. If anyone can tell you how to fix that, I will favorite them so hard I break the mouse.

So I don't know the answer to your question, but I can tell you how I get by, in the hope that it is helpful to you. At work, I quite consciously walk around smiling. It was really awkward at first, and I'm sure I just looked pained, or maybe deranged, but now it is second nature -- the work face I put on as soon as I hit the office parking lot. People tell me, "You're so happy, you're always smiling!" So I know my face is doing what I want now, even when I'm not thinking about it. The other thing about work is this: I never think ill of anybody. Not just speak ill, obviously -- but even think negative thoughts about anybody while on the clock. If I catch myself thinking someone is, whatever, dumb or incompetent or lazy or an asshole -- I immediately make up a story for myself that makes their behavior OK. They're super-busy, their dog just died and they have no PTO left, *I'm* not being clear -- something -- to make their behavior exactly what I could see myself doing, if I had the struggles I imagine them to have. Some people at work have, in my head, lives worthy of a telenovela. But because it's not considered politic to tell people at work you think they're dumb, incompetent, lazy and/or an asshole, and because my face will tell them for me if I ever think so -- I don't think it, ever, at all. Another thing that gets easier with practice. And I know it is working, because I am a pain-in-the-ass by trade -- a project manager -- and everyone seems to like me despite that, and my interactions go pretty smooth even when I am "following up" for the upteenth time.

I personally let my face run free when I'm off the clock. My family, people who know me, are allowed to know how I feel about things. I don't think the situations you describe are ones in which you should need to practice total mind/face control -- you are allowed to have emotions! But if you really do want to hide them, I am proof that it can be done, with (a) resting smiley face, and (b) mental discipline.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:33 PM on June 3, 2016 [1 favorite]

So, my dad is like this. He is shocked that we can all tell when he's angry, I guess because he's not yelling "I AM ANGRY" therefore he thinks his emotions are hidden. In real life, when he's upset he has a VERY sour, even aggressive expression. His responses to questions or comments get very curt, and engaging him becomes impossible. If you could try to pay attention and notice if you do any of these things, then I'd recommend (as others have noted) to just try to admit to the anger instead of "hiding" it, because some people's version of hiding it is not convincing at all, and it's more awkward to think someone is personally mad at you than to be given the knowledge that something shitty happened and they're working through their mood. "Ugh yeah, rough morning but I'm hanging in there" is still totally professional if said with a smile or wink or chuckle.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 9:12 AM on June 4, 2016

Thanks for all the input guys. I guess I got bummed about it recently because my roommate took it personally and I just don't want that to happen. Most people don't "see" this side of me unless I'm stuck with them for a while because I tend to isolate until I process. However if I can't isolate I get stressed. I'm doing a lot better at monitoring how it comes out though now that I'm aware of it.
posted by argylesockpet at 3:10 PM on June 6, 2016

« Older Name a film that includes a transition/mix between...   |   Rock back inside my heart, to the house dresses of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.