How can I shut the hell up?
July 30, 2018 4:40 AM   Subscribe

I talk too much and too loud. People throughout my life agree about this and have told me they don't want me somewhere because I am too loud. In some situations, though, I'm inhibited and quiet and this is much better. I want to be that way more of the time.

My entire life, when people find out I'm going to be somewhere, they go "not her, she's so loud". Around people I like/feel comfortable with, I can't shut up. I say too much and dominate the conversation and I only realize this after the fact. I hate it. When I meet new people, or I'm talking to a superior at work, I am much quieter and don't talk much at all. I like that.

A decade ago I got a "social anxiety" diagnosis. I don't really agree with it because a) there are lots of situations where I can't stop talking and b) it's not really a "problem" for me. I wish I were my socially anxious self more, not less. It's not that I'm saying racist things or being mean. It's more that I go on and on and no one cares or wants to hear it. No one on God's green earth wants to hear crab fact #124325 but I just get wrapped up in my own bullshit in the moment and it's terrible.

I think if it were possible for psychological methods to work to fix this they would've already because I really can't overstate how much I hate the person I am when I'm speaking spontaneously/when the brake of my brain comes off my mouth. If I could find a doctor who would disable me so that my voicebox wouldn't work anymore and I could only communicate with people by writing/typing I would do that. I like to talk to people through text much more because it's more difficult for me to "say" the extremely irritating things I do normally.

Sometimes I can't talk at all, which is ideal to me. When that happens I know what I would say I just can't make my mouth move. I don't feel particularly afraid (psychologically and I also don't get sweaty/shaky/other physical anxiety symptoms) so maybe I'm wrong about it being selective mutism. Something about situations with authority figures just convinces my subconscious and body that the best thing to do is say nothing at all. I want to generalize that reaction more broadly.

I'm pretty sure I couldn't find a therapist who would help me be more socially anxious/selectively mute. I guess to them, it would seem as if I wanted help self harming more or something. I've tried therapy a few times and not been able to talk (this is one of my selective mutism situations) and I don't think I could be honest if I went. I don't want the kind of "help" you get in a therapist's office. In general I don't have a lot of time for people telling me I'm wrong to want this and actually if I were honest I would want XYZ.

What can I do? Is there some way I could get a Pavlok and hook it up with a speaker to shock me whenever it detects my voice? I'm willing to try a lot of things at this point.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
This can be a sign of ADD or ADHD and improved a bit with meds.
posted by aetg at 4:59 AM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

It's definitely part of my ADD diagnosis, but:

I don't really agree with it because a) there are lots of situations where I can't stop talking

Do you find that when you're relaxed and hanging out with a single friend that you have this same problem? I'm very talky with friends, I'm very talky all the time, I can words better than anybody, but I am much more likely to get chattery and stupid when I'm in situations where I'm stressed than where I'm relaxed. In some situations it does shut down completely, but that doesn't stop me from turning into an idiot at social gatherings, or in general in situations where I'm inclined to feel pressured to participate in conversation even if I don't want to.

I will say that while meds help me in general, ADD meds if anything can contribute to this problem for me when I'm in a stressful situation, because they make the anxiety part worse even if they'd ordinarily make the self-control bit better.
posted by Sequence at 5:23 AM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

My voice is very loud. So, at 40, at a physical, I asked my doc to test my hearing. Significant range of hearing loss, almost certainly congenital. I literally don't hear my own voice completely. Worth getting checked.

Talking too much is a habit. Habits can be changed; there are lots of books about is. Reward systems work well. Develop a new habit of asking people about themselves. This is a big task - books, qualified therapist, possibly hypnotist (they can help a lot with eliminating and acquiring habits).

ADHD meds make me way more talkative.
posted by theora55 at 5:31 AM on July 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

I don't really agree with it because a) there are lots of situations where I can't stop talking and b) it's not really a "problem" for me.

Why do you think social anxiety makes people quiet? It just means you're anxious about social stuff, and that the anxiety is severe. The diagnosis requires "A persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others. The individual fears that he or she will act in a way (or show anxiety symptoms) that will be embarrassing and humiliating." It says nothing about how much you talk or how loud, just about whether you are anxious about your performance / social situations and how severe that anxiety is -- which I would say, given this question, that you very much seem to be, since it bothers you enough to write up this whole post AND post it anonymously.

I have severe social anxiety and it totally manifests as too much talking because I get so anxious about whether I am going to talk properly that I overdo it and talk too much. I am anxious about whether people will like me, whether my obscure crab facts are interesting to other people -- I find them so interesting, why don't others? oh gosh they don't find it interesting, maybe they hate me for it, maybe they'll be talking about me afterwards, maybe they never invite me to things because I talk so much, maybe maybe maybe ---- and the whole time I am babbling without actually attending to those around me because I am so caught up in my own anxiety.

Sound familiar? Yeah, that's social anxiety.

So my advice is:

1) find a therapist that will work with you on social anxiety.

2) try to very intentionally, very mindfully, watch the behaviors of those around you. Without judgment. What is their body language saying? What do their faces say? Can you learn to read those signals without triggering more anxiety?

3) then apply those skills, carefully and incrementally, to your behavior.
posted by epanalepsis at 5:42 AM on July 30, 2018 [17 favorites]

I think if you’re enthusiastic about crab facts, you’re going to be pretty sad unless you find an outlet for that. So find some people who share your love of crab facts, can’t get enough of them.

For everyone else - think about the person you’re with and what they might want to hear about, and how much. Take a minute to really think about who they are and try to put yourself in their shoes. (Like, “This is Amanda here, she’s into disco and loves Lebanese food, doesn’t often get personal but drops funny one-liners” - so you show appreciation for her one-liners, ask her about disco, avoid super personal questions, etc.) Try to put the focus on others and what you think makes them feel comfortable, validated, and happy.

Even if you don’t have ADHD, though that’s a possibility, advice on interrupting will probably be helpful.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:14 AM on July 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

I'm a bit of a babbler. I don't have a volume problem but I do have a tendency to talk a lot and I feel you about the Crab Facts. One thing that helped was a meditation practice, more specifically one that I did in-person at a local religious community. It wasn't only the practice of sitting silently that helped, but the social expectation in that setting that one only speaks when necessary. It's not a "vow of silence" sort of thing where we're writing notes and using sign language--you can't generalize that to the rest of your life because it's clearly an abnormal situation. Instead, it was the expectation that you talk when you have to in order to get a job done (please go to the pantry and get me that thing, could you clear this area so I can vacuum, hey everyone it's time to proceed to the Buddha Hall now) but you don't just chit-chat and fill silence with whatever is on your mind. It got me very comfortable with silences in social settings. (It didn't hurt that the head priest of the temple had this way of speaking where she'd take loooong pauses between thoughts, so you had to learn to let an "awkward silence" just not be awkward and just calmly wait for her to finish her thought.)

It's been many years since I practiced regularly but a serious community-based mindfulness practice did amazing things for my ability to shut the hell up and listen to others.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:46 AM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

You need to not be comfortable. If you only talk while comfortable, you need to remind yourself that it's NOT safe to be yourself and talk talk talk talk about the crab facts or whatever even if the person you're talking to is your friend. It's never safe to be yourself and be comfortable or else everyone gets mad at you for talking. If you are with your best friend, be thinking of how you are trying not to make her mad and keep to yourself. Act like everyone around you is a superior to be afraid of.

I'm not saying this is a happy healthy way to live that makes you feel good whatsoever, but I have a similar situation going on in my life and that is what works to keep me shutting up all day every day.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:18 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Maybe you need to hang out with different people! Like you I shut down in front of new people and authority figures; this is mostly fine, but I think I’d be really sad if I never got to be any other way.

I have several pals who, given another group of friends, might describe themselves the way you do (to some extent I would, too; my voice isn’t loud but boy am I happy to tell you so much more information about Beowulf than any person has ever wanted). But because we’re a whole group of people who like to yell about random things and also engage with other people’s yelling, No one can dominate the conversation because everybody is on the same page. I mean you say that no one wants to hear crab fact #n, but hell I probably do, because then I would know more about crabs and I don’t know very much about them.

Finding your people isn’t necessarily an easier task than changing the way you interact with folks, but it might be more rewarding in the long term.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm pretty sure I couldn't find a therapist who would help me be more socially anxious/selectively mute. I guess to them, it would seem as if I wanted help self harming more or something. I've tried therapy a few times and not been able to talk (this is one of my selective mutism situations) and I don't think I could be honest if I went. I don't want the kind of "help" you get in a therapist's office. In general I don't have a lot of time for people telling me I'm wrong to want this and actually if I were honest I would want XYZ.

What can I do? Is there some way I could get a Pavlok and hook it up with a speaker to shock me whenever it detects my voice? I'm willing to try a lot of things at this point.

Whoaaaaaaaaah, there. Take a big step back. First of all, you sound anxious af. I say this affectionately as a person who can be somewhat of a babbler who is also sometimes a choked-up mouse.

Secondly, if your therapist was insisting on telling you what you really want (or really, doing a lot of telling you about anything), they aren't therapist-ing you very well. Or, to be more objective, the relationship wasn't a good fit.

Thirdly, I completely understand the impulse to want to just make yourself smaller and smaller with a metaphorical gag across your mouth, but it's not necessary and yeah, it sounds like a lot of self-hatred. You keep referring to this as proof that you're fundamentally an annoying person. But the fact that you have correctly identified that you can manage a conversation better via text means that you are not broken. Changing verbal habits can be hard, but it's also something that we do over our whole lives without even thinking about it -- you can aim for a middle path and just one things down.

FYI, group therapy might be a better fit for you. It removes the authority situation that clams you up, and can gives you both practice and support toward being more comfortable with how you want to talk. Also, helping other people is some pretty amazing mojo for getting insight into your own stuff.
posted by desuetude at 7:52 AM on July 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

I haven't been diagnosed with social anxiety, but I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I also have a hard time shutting up, and it's totally related. I hate awkward silence, and will sometimes keep talking if I think that there is a chance that there might even be fraction of a second of it. My brain keeps zooming along trying to think of ways to fill the potential silence, and then I keep talking to make sure it doesn't happen. Which results in the other person not getting to talk!

I got feedback in a review from my boss along the lines of needing to be more thoughtful about what I say in meetings (basically that I need to shut up more), and that was a bit of a wakeup call. She also gave an example of me cutting off our coworker who has a speech delay. That really made me feel *awful* because that coworker is really one of my favorite people and I would never want to make him feel bad!

So I basically just started practicing shutting up. If I'm talking to said coworker, I take a beat to respond to make sure he is done talking. In other conversations (personal and at work), I just practice letting other people answer questions or make their point. If someone else and I start saying something at the same time, I just let them go. I basically have an internal "star rewards chart" and I give myself a gold star when I do it. It makes me a *better* conversationalist because I'm actually listening to what the other person is saying instead of waiting my turn to talk.

The other thing that's happened for me is an internal viewpoint shift. I realized that what I have to say is not always that fucking important. I will make a point if I need to, and I'm not going to let myself get walked over, but the reality is that I do not always have to contribute to every bit of a conversation. I don't have to make a funny quip. I don't need to give another example. I can just smile and nod and wait until I actually have something meaningful to say.
posted by radioamy at 8:12 AM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oh also, agree that you should get your hearing checked. My husband has a really loud voice, and he does legitimately have damaged hearing.
posted by radioamy at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think the fact that you're aware that you have a tendency to dominate the conversation and are starting to pay attention to it and put in the work to try to balance this tendency out is half the battle right there. Well done, you! From here, it's just a matter of practice.

I have been known to get a little babbly, and it's usually because I feel compelled to fill the void. When I start to notice that my mouth is getting away with me, I'll usually go ahead and finish my thought, and then make it a point to ask the person I'm talking to a question, either something tangentially related to what I was babbling about or a total subject change, depending on how deep down the esoterica hole I've ventured.

Me: "Blah blah crabs are so interesting blah blah."
Other person: "Mmm-hmm."
Me: "...ANYWAY, when's the last time you went to the beach/a seafood restaurant/on vacation?"

That's one option, but honestly, I think radical honesty could also serve you well here, especially if you're among folks who already know you for a talker. Cutting yourself off mid-babble with an "oh jeez, there I go again! I've been trying to reign in my mouth more lately and it's been a process—thank you for humoring me!" shows a level of self-awareness and commitment to personal growth that I think most people would be hard pressed to fault you for, especially if you're thanking them for bearing with you rather than apologizing for yourself. People like to be appreciated!
posted by helloimjennsco at 9:41 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is also a sign of being on the Autism Spectrum. Source: hi it me. I actually don’t talk as much as I used to and am much less anxious after therapy and some medication for my anxiety. You need to find a better therapist- one that specializes in ADD or Spectrum disorders (really could be either) and you’ll be fine. The crab facts sounds like info-dumping one of the hallmarks of autism spectrum disorders. Also the cycle of saying everything and saying nothing is very me too. I now tend towards the nothing side, and that has its downsides too, but I’m bullied much less. Therapy is the solution!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:52 AM on July 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

A pal of mine made an acronym for respectful conversation. The first two points seem especially relevant. Here it is: "STFU!"

Share time with everybody
Divide the number of people in the room by the length of the discussion. This is how much time each person has to speak, if everyone is to get an equal opportunity. Try to keep a rough tally of your own speaking time, and gently inform others when they are taking more than their share.

Take three seconds to think
Pause after someone else finishes a thought, or between your own thoughts. Remind others to do the same. It takes at least three seconds to internalize what you hear and frame a response based on the actual words someone else says. A pause also allows others to enter the discussion.

Find empathy for others
Picture the emotional state of those you are speaking with, both while they’re speaking and at the times in their lives that they describe to you. Frame questions to confirm that your picture is an accurate reflection of another’s state of mind, and that you recognize their emotional reactions.

Understanding isn’t necessary
Realize that someone else’s experience may be so different from yours as to not be understandable, and that one life can only contain a small fraction of the range of human experience. Nobody owes you an explanation for their life, especially not within one conversation.
posted by fritillary at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2018 [26 favorites]

Be sure to talk to people and not at them. Some people love crab facts. Some don't. Is the best they are adding to the conversation single lines like 'cool. and who knew? and man you know a lot of crab facts.'? If so, you are talking at someone. If they are following up and asking other questions 'why are crabs red? Can a crab crush a can with it's claws? Are all crabs interested in money money money?', then they are interested and you are talking to them.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:17 AM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also anecdotally my in-laws are all crazy loud talkers - all have hearing problems.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I think if it were possible for psychological methods to work to fix this they would've already
What's happening here is that your providers are treating this as an anxiety symptom and have done everything they can do to help with that. But it's not just an anxiety symptom! Others have suggested autism and/or ADHD, and the toolbox for dealing with this as an autism or ADHD symptom contains a totally different set of tools.

(Though, that said, I do also think some DBT/ACT techniques could help, because you are attacking yourself a lot over this and it could turn your "I need to stop being the kind of person who talks a lot" into a "so, I talk a lot, and here's what I am going to do next".)

Anyway this is also me; high five of empathy. For a data point, I do see myself gradually getting better about this because I am a researcher and I do research through interviews. I have honed my "ask questions and learn what's interesting about things other people say" skills in a work setting, where the environment is more structured than in social settings. If there's some way to emulate that in your life, it may help.
posted by capricorn at 1:12 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

There are some helpful points above for self-monitoring, but I just want to agree that you sound really really down about yourself and I hope you feel better soon. Please remember that even IF you have a slightly annoying habit that doesn't mean you are an annoying person! In fact, you sound like a delightful person with a lot to share with the world. I would enjoy hearing your crab facts. Crabs are neat.
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 8:30 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

My sister in law talks too much, but we love her anyway. Especially if everybody's feeling a little under the weather, she's great at getting conversation flowing. Sometimes it may be that we join in just to change the subject. God forbid she say "Long story short" because she literally doesnt know how to tell an anecdote. It's the full novel, every time.
But hey, we all have our quirks and she puts up with all the shouting when the party gets going. We'd rather have her there than miss out on her company.
Give yourself a break, and memorize a few (short) anecdotes, so you know when you've reached a stopping point. Then stop.
posted by Enid Lareg at 1:01 PM on July 31, 2018

Hey, late to the show but...i do this. I have high functioning autism which was only recognised after 2 of my kids were diagnosed because the female profile is so different and we are so much better at imitation and masking.

Anyway I'm 37 and 30 years of self hatred and internal cruelty (plus all the bullying and horrible comments from others) didn't cure me so my advice is to focus on your positive traits and exercise them regularly, and possibly find better friends who love you for who you are instead of despite it and spend time with them. Seriously. Life is too short for this. I also have prosopagnosia (difficulty recognising faces) and i tell people i won't know them when i see them which saves them getting my life story bawled at them with my failed volume control. They just laugh. I mean it's true but it's not news to them and I guess my other qualities must outweigh how irritating I am.

I am compassionate and kind and loyal. I will listen and not judge. I am a good friend. (and also can be loud and bang on about stuff) I bet there's tons positive about you. Don't waste time on this any more. You've tried to change it. It's not happening. Nobody's perfect. Celebrate the best bits and move forward with forgiveness and tolerance for your imperfections.
posted by intergalacticvelvet at 1:55 PM on August 4, 2018

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