Talking to you, not at you.
August 27, 2016 8:32 PM   Subscribe

After this question, I resolved to do what I could to change my situation. I'm struggling, but managing, to be less aware of my inner monologue and more focused on using new strategies for conversation. But it *is* still very much a conscious process. I feel an almost physical pressure to talk exclusively about myself, and exclusively about struggle. I have to force myself to ask follow-up questions, to laugh even when things are genuinely funny. It's so rare that the volume of my self-talk lowers and I'm able to enjoy interactions for what they are.

I've succeeded, during the past couple months, in keeping people around ( so far) by just Not. Letting. Myself. bring up certain things ( depression, job struggles, etc) in person, or bringing myself back quickly when I find myself drifting into the Land of Self-Induldgent Bullshit. But, it's still like keeping one's thumb pressed over a leak.

What is this? Why do I do it? Anxiety? Depression? A corollary issue around the stutter? How do I learn to talk ABOUT the details of events and one's day/life in an interesting way and ask the right " meaty" questions? Sometimes I feel like I'm just not interested in people, but there is too much collateral and too much of a desire to be around others for that to be true.

I should note that this is not a verbal-vs-nonverbal interaction issue. This happens online too. I'm getting better at it after being very intentional about it this summer, but it's still hard. Hope me?
posted by marsbar77 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you in therapy? This is something therapy helps me with enormously, because I can dump all my "me stuff" onto my therapist so that I have the emotional space to have a more mutual conversations with my friends. Dar Williams wrote a great song about the therapy process with the line "oh how I loved everybody else when I finally got to talk so much about myself" and that's held really true for me.
posted by MsMolly at 8:54 PM on August 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Also, it sounds like what you're trying is working! It won't seem natural at first. One of my best therapists made the following analogy about trying to change any ingrained behavior: it's like you grow up in an environment where you only know a single swimming stroke. Then you get out into the world and suddenly that stroke isn't helping you move through the water any more, it's drowning you. So you need to learn a new way to move through the water. Will it be easy at first? No! It will be difficult and you'll splash around and it will feel all wrong! But if you keep at it, eventually it becomes more natural. And then finally you're swimming in that pool like you grew up doing it.
posted by MsMolly at 8:59 PM on August 27, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Two thoughts -
The first is that it sounds like you could really use an outlet to talk about yourself and your struggles. I'm wondering if a blog or becoming involved in an on-line disability community where it would be appropriate and supportive to talk about this stuff. If not, maybe a journal would help you feel like you got a chance a put words to what you are experiencing. (For some reason getting it on paper can be a much more powerful release than just thinking it in your head.

Second it takes practice to think of interesting things to say. Not just the specific details but the habit of thought that lets you notice things and then recall them at the right time. Try this - at the end of the day, write down three things that happened to you that you could share with someone else (no struggle or depression but the kind of thing, no matter how small that fits with the more positive face that you are trying to develop. Then, think for each person that you talked to that day, think of one question that you might ask. (Just promise you don't beat yourself for not asking them - this about developing the skill when you have time to think about it inst4ead of the pressure of being in the moment) As you get better at doing this at the end of the day, you will gradually also get better at doing it real time.Try it for a few weeks and see.
posted by metahawk at 9:04 PM on August 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Not in therapy, though reconsidering it as a possibility. I figure the sort of thing I'm doing is CBT-ish in nature so I'm using it as a stopgap. I just wish I knew what this stemmed from...
posted by marsbar77 at 9:13 PM on August 27, 2016

Best answer: Habit! It's habit. You've fallen into a behavioral habit over what sounds like many years. It takes time to relearn how to live a life! Don't beat yourself up. It sounds like you're doing a great job of trying to change some pretty ingrained behavior. Keep doing what you have been doing, but throw some other things into the mix. Therapy might be good. If you do try it, find a proactive therapist who will assess where you are now and offer exercises in how to change, or even just insight into how to change your perspective.Try other things as well. Look for books that might help. "Socializing For Dummies" "Applied Empathy For The Disengaged." Also, exercise. It's surprisingly good for a lot of mental/emotional states even where it seems least likely to help. Just Don't Stop. If you want to change the only way you can ever do so is by not falling back on past patterns. It sounds like you've made progress and it would be a shame to let what sounds like hard work fall by the wayside.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 10:11 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm guessing the problem is that your brain is no longer getting the emotional "reward" it used to get from venting problems (people expressing sympathy, hyper-focussing on your real feelings, the real you).
At the same time the rewards of slowly growing a friendship are slow in coming. (Casual intimacy, trust that the other person will hang around, carefree fun.) That's the nature of the beast. Strong friemdships take time.
And your brain does not yet recognize the stuff you do get as rewarding - it is used to different forms of recognition.
So you feel like you're starving even while you're paying into the relationship bank!
So yeah, get therapy for your valid venting needs! And keep up the good work, go you!
posted by Omnomnom at 11:51 PM on August 27, 2016 [6 favorites]

I just wish I knew what this stemmed from...

Overwhelming angst, isolation and desperation for human connection? I'm not being glib; the desire to be recognised, have our pain acknowledge and seek empathy is a fundamental human drive.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:21 AM on August 28, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Making conversation with other people is a skill that you have to practice. If you're out of practice, it's going to be hard at first. Just like any other skill, you'll have to do it consciously for a while, thinking about each piece, each movement. It can feel horribly awkward and mechanical, like you've got a spotlight on you every time you try it, and it can feel like you're not making any progress at all, that you're just stuck there in the swamp making a fool of yourself.

But one of the strangest things about learning a new skill is that it often goes from feeling hard to feeling easy without any feeling in the middle of making progress. So you've just got to keep practicing!
posted by colfax at 2:18 AM on August 28, 2016

Best answer: I think your interest and attention will shift more or less naturally to things beyond you once you are able to come to grips with some of the core issues, to some level of satisfaction/relief. It's possible to "fake it" , but not for long, and it's stressful (unless you're a good enough actor that you can convince yourself for long enough to lead you towards distraction from your internal self talk).

(It sounds like you've tried so many things when it comes to communication. If you've absolutely reached the limit of available help for the stuttering, I wonder if it might help to talk to people who've found their ways to work around it, or live with it, in a satisfactory way.)

I think you have to settle a lot of these things for yourself before it will be easy or feel good to talk to most people about other things. In the meantime, I think it'd be good to be selective about the people you spend time with (ie talk to people who get you because they've been there or are there, with whom it's safe to "dump").
posted by cotton dress sock at 5:34 AM on August 28, 2016

I think that seeking an evaluation and treatment (if appropriate) for depression would be a good idea.
posted by lazuli at 2:53 PM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

To follow up on my earlier post - here is one virtual communities where you might find a welcoming place to talk (or vent) about your struggles:
posted by metahawk at 1:08 PM on August 29, 2016

Just chiming in to cheer you on! It sounds like you are making headway even when it still is the hardest part (the thing about it not being natural yet, no new rewards yet, etc). Even just the fact that you want things to be different will probably bring you from the one thing to the other. And it's lovely that you want to make space for the other person, for that part of you that likes to be much more engaged with people! Even if you'd made no progress at all that would make you different in some way already.
It's like when you finally start cleaning up, you get up close to the dirt and that's when you notice how much there is of that dirt (nog very eloquent this, sorry!): not the easiest part. But keep on, turn the music up (like with doing a lot of cleaning that just has to be done), maybe give yourself some rewards while you are toiling, though. Like this ask, you're on your way!
posted by Litehouse at 1:36 PM on August 29, 2016

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