too many walls
February 23, 2017 3:00 AM   Subscribe

I think I over-react when I feel that people are trying to get too close to me or need too much from me; I may be overly vigilant about my boundaries. This means I can get panicky or resentful if I feel that people are demanding too much of me emotionally. Any ideas for self-talk I can use to combat this?

I've had bad experiences with overly needy people (haven't we all) which has made me very vigilant about behaviour which might be construed as needy but I think that I now read a lot of regular behaviour as needy.

I have friends who require/prefer a high degree of contact and I myself am a low contact person mostly so this has caused tension between us in the past. I also really, really don't like it when people assume I'm mad or upset with them just because I haven't been communicative. I am mostly social and extroverted, but I need to recharge regularly, and I guess this reads as blowing hot and cold to people, even if they know me well. The thing is, I know that to certain people, high levels of contact are the norm, and so I feel I should try to see it as normal behaviour and not get so annoyed about it, but instead I read it as emotionally vampiric or overly needy.

If I'm having a 'quiet' day or series of days, it again really bothers me when friends or colleagues automatically assume something is wrong and start trying to engage me or cheer me up. Again, I've had some quite serious misunderstandings with people when I just thought I was being quiet and they thought I was passive aggressively showing anger at them by withdrawing.

This doesn't come up with every single person I know, but it's definitely a recurring feature in my relationships with friends and colleagues. To the extent that I now tell new colleagues that I occasionally have quiet days and they shouldn't be surprised by that!

I am very vigilant when it comes to dating and relationships; I'm not seeing anybody at the moment, but whenever it becomes a possibility, I start panicking at the potential loss of independence and put a stop to things. Kind of ridiculous, because I do eventually want to settle down with someone.

I don't think it's bad to have boundaries, I just think I overreact a little when I feel mine are threatened. My question is about how to draw the line and how to talk myself out of anger and resentment if I feel that friends or prospective partners are impinging on my boundaries, when I logically know that they're not behaving abnormally.
posted by Ziggy500 to Human Relations (11 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It sounds like you're maybe not communicating your boundaries as clearly as you think you are, and so you get stuck in a pattern of reacting to other people crossing your boundaries-- instead of setting up those boundaries while you're feeling relaxed and not attacked.

For instance, if you've been in regular contact with someone for a couple of days and you start feeling the need to drop back to introvert-mode, you can send that person a final text that says something like, "Hey, I'm feeling a bit worn out and need a few days to re-charge. If you don't hear from me for a bit, it's because I'm lying on my couch, binging Netflix." That way people know what's going on and know everything is okay.

Or, if you come into work one day and you're feeling quiet, say good morning to your co-workers anyway and make 1 minute of chit-chat with them before getting down to work. Even that one minute of chatting can feel like an effort sometimes, but it helps you set the stage with someone for the day so they know you're not mad, just a bit tired, etc.

Also, if you're a woman, know that some people (mostly men) will hassle you about being quiet no matter what you do, and in that case, you just have to do whatever you feel is best to get them off your back, because they're not particularly interested in respecting any boundaries you set up.

I'm a pretty serious introvert, and this is how I've learned to communicate with people, and it generally works okay.
posted by colfax at 3:50 AM on February 23, 2017 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I'm similar and put a very high value on time I don't have to interact with others. I protect it fiercely. It's finally gotten to the point in the last couple years where I think I've figured out how to keep myself healthy and happy while also managing the expectations other people have of me with a minimum of ruffled feathers.

Here's how:

I tell absolutely everybody how much I enjoy not doing things. Because it's the absolute unvarnished truth.

("Oh but you're not shy at all!" they say. Yeah I know. "And you're so outgoing!" Yup. And the only reason I can be is because I'm careful with my recharging time.)

So the fact that you say it doesn't come up with every person you know--it should! Need for alone time is a perfectly normal presentation along the spectrum of human need, and you are neither wrong for needing it or asking for it. Tell people early and often. If they tell you you're weird or whatever, just shrug and say, "this is just what I like to do. Some people go shopping to relax, some people go out with friends, some people get drunk, some people go to the movies. Unplugging for a while is just my thing."

People who respect you will get it, and people who refuse to get it, or give you tons of crap about it, probably aren't people who care much for you anyway.
posted by phunniemee at 4:50 AM on February 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I too am an introvert. After people know me for a while they understand when I get quiet or need alone time. The trick is I, like most people, want friends. So in the beginning it takes good communication on my part to explain what is going on for me so others won't take it personally.
For me personally having a physically abusive mom lead to a life long pattern of panic attacks whenever I was faced with true intimacy in relationships. It was not just a lead to be alone, it was a need to escape.
I say that because not all behavior can always be explained be extrovert/introvert scale.
posted by jtexman1 at 5:56 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Remember that we need to teach people how to treat us, and we need to be on the lookout for those that ignore our preferences or outright mock them.
Memorize and Repeat As Necessary™ "I just need some Me Time."
There is nothing wrong with this, there's nothing to be ashamed about. Those that get it, and honor those boundaries and respect your wishes, THOSE are the folks you want to keep around, be they friends or be they lovers, because hey - Me Time is freakin' awesome, and everyone needs it, to one degree or another.
Folks like you and me, we need a lot of it.
Everyone else who doesn't get it and is being a jerk about it?
Fuck 'em.
Seriously. Get them out of your life.
It's a self-winnowing process and they are making it easy for you.

When it comes to your self talk, talk to yourself like you would a beloved friend. What would you say to a friend who said they needed some Me Time and felt guilty or threatened by it? Write them down and say those things to yourself.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 5:59 AM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I agree - it sounds like you resent the fact that these people assume you'll always be available, but it doesn't sound like you've let them know you won't always be.

(Also- while I tend to think 'introverts vs extroverts' is a reductive and silly way of thinking about things- needing ample time to recharge after social interactions is the definition of an introvert. 'Introvert' doesn't mean you dislike being social and outgoing, it just means that social activities wear you out more than they charge you up. If you've been describing yourself (explicitly or implicitly) as 'an extrovert' then people might have absolutely no idea that you're the type of person who needs a lot of downtime.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:29 AM on February 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This is a great question. Really good self-reflection.

I concur with the responses about making your boundaries better known... although there will always be situations where someone else just doesn't know what's going on with you and unwittingly bumps up against you.

I kind of get the sense that what's behind your question is how to gain the strength and core confidence to have boundaries in the first place, and to more confidently claim your space when you need to. The part about fearing loss of independence in a relationship is a big clue here. In a relationship, you are explicitly engaging with a person to be more close and intimate than is typical. It is a tricky juxtaposition, isn't it: to want to invite someone in, but to not be confident that you can hold on to yourself when you do. It's wise of you to recognize this dissonance and to take on the work to sort it out.

It's an old standby on AskMe, but really, I think therapy can really help with this. Therapy can help you dig out what's going on with that fear of loss of independence, and how that resonates with the discomfort you have with coworkers and acquaintances when they are a bit too intrusive, and where to go from there.
posted by Sublimity at 9:07 AM on February 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

I understand how you feel.

This happens often when I start dating new people, they ramp up communication (text/calls/invitations), which starts to freak me out and I step back a bit, or try to express that just because I'm not reaching out as much doesn't mean I'm not thinking of them. Which often triggers their insecurities and ends with a deluge of of 'why didn't you answer me, hey are you there, what's up' which makes me run away faster.

Perhaps I should institute a paper mail courtship? The age of communication technologies makes everyone in your contact list... too present sometimes.
posted by dreamling at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have you tried to even out the waves and troughs a bit? Be a bit more attentive to how much energy you're expending and if you feel like you need some downtime. I have friends who run on all cylinders and then crash out for a day or two, and it's annoying to have that unreliability (difficult to schedule things if they disappear randomly, plans falling through). I think most people do this to some extent, including me, but some adjustments to your boundaries during "on" times may help. Can you build scheduled downtime into your life (stay home and do laundry Thursdays, lunch walks) to meet your need?

Also, if you're a low contact person, it's fine to expect others to accommodate that, just as you accommodate high contact folks. You don't have to meet their energy level.
posted by momus_window at 12:52 PM on February 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

It sounds like what is drawing a lot of unwanted attention in your office is the extreme contrast in your behaviors from day to day. For three days, you're perky and chatty, and then, on Thursday, you walk in and don't speak to anyone. People are going to read that change in behavior as reflecting a change in mood--and, honestly, I would be very surprised if, in your life, it never ever signals that, which means that you don't want to deprive yourself of that signal. It would also be weird and awkward for you to have to read a lecture to all your colleagues about your social needs, etc., unless you are in a very small and close-knit group. (And you really can't go around telling your superiors about your emotional management issues...!)

So my recommendation (as an extreme introvert) is to moderate the "down" behavior a bit. Yes, you may be weary of interacting with the world. You still shouldn't walk past people you know at work without saying hello. Just put in a little time so you don't seem to be stone-facing people for no apparent reason. Less of it is required than you may think.
posted by praemunire at 1:38 PM on February 23, 2017

If your demeanor changes dramatically from one day to the next, people will wonder what's going on and may ask you about it. Wouldn't you be at least a little concerned if a coworker was friendly and chatty on Thursday and then seemed to give you the cold shoulder on Friday?

As an introvert who likes her coworkers and enjoys meeting people but sometimes just can't manage one more conversation, I agree with the suggestions that you need to communicate more clearly about needing to disengage. Responding to "good morning, how are you?" with a wan smile and "feeling a bit under the weather, going to keep a low profile today" is often enough that I can get away with not speaking to anybody else all day.
posted by Lexica at 8:56 PM on February 23, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for your insight, all. Best answering a few, but all your posts were helpful.

[I may have given the impression that the kind of behavioural changes I show at work are much more extreme than the reality - I don't walk past people without saying hello or give them the cold shoulder etc. (I wouldn't be surprised if such behaviour got a reaction!) I just say my hello's and polite morning chat and don't get involved in too much water cooler talk over the day. It's a pretty subtle change in behaviour which only a few colleagues display concern about.]
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:37 AM on February 24, 2017

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