Self Help for the Helpless
January 14, 2020 1:35 AM   Subscribe

I'm having a quandary of emotional purging and need a self help method out of my old habits. Let's say you feel a very strong feeling tied to a controversy and in previous years had no problem with openly expressing every raw emotion you felt about

these types of things in an attempt to 1)save yourself from the gnawing anxiety of holding it in 2) come off as unapologetically brutally honest and/or 3)get past the event as soon as possible no matter the outcome HOWEVER you're trying to pick your battles not start them and you havent learned which confrontations are easier left alone. I'm having a tremendous battle of wills with my identical twin and will likely never speak to her again based on her insults and attitude but I dont feel this is the right choice given our family history. I dont want to confront her in my usual way but if i dont say something I'll be at her funeral with all this built up hurt. Or she at mine. I want to know how to distance myself from her or lead the conversation in a productive place.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I dont want to confront her in my usual way but if i dont say something I'll be at her funeral with all this built up hurt.

Those aren't your only options. Another is to work on reminding yourself that you are not her, she is not you, she's perfectly free to be profoundly wrong, and that whenever she's profoundly wrong at you you're allowed to just walk away.

Part of learning to adult effectively is learning to pick your battles. If you've been fighting the same battle over and over with the same person for as long as you can remember interacting with them, it's pretty clear that keeping on doing that is going to keep on having the same result.

The thing about longstanding conflict is that prolonged engagement with it very rarely achieves anything other than prolonged misery. If your sister is determined to act like a horrible person when she's around you, you're under absolutely no obligation to give her the opportunity.

So you might well end up at her funeral carrying a certain amount of regret that you'd never been able to make her actually hear a few home truths you reckon she really should have heard, but at this point it sounds like that's on her; there's no need to let the hurt build up inside you any further than it has. Work on taking it to pieces and letting it go instead.

She's allowed to be wrong. I mean, it sucks for her that she is, but if she wants to spend the rest of her life slapping herself in the face then as an adult she has that right.
posted by flabdablet at 3:46 AM on January 14 [6 favorites]

Expressing what you feel about her to her and holding it in are not your only options either. Vent to somebody else, or go and shout at the ocean. I've done both of these and they both work about equally well.
posted by flabdablet at 3:49 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

You, my friend, want to go read the archives at Captain Awkward, where you will learn everything you need to know about setting boundaries, not emotionally upchucking all over people, and, sometimes, read actual scripts to use with people. If you happen to have ADHD, as I do, or some other atypical type of brain, the idea of emotional regulation may be appealing but hard to imagine achieving. I did not know that emotional regulation was even a thing until I was in my 50s. But I have learned to (mostly) stop emotionally upchucking all over both innocent and guilty bystanders by learning helpful skills. You can too! There are many resources about emotional regulation. Best of luck.
posted by Bella Donna at 4:32 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I write it: therapy?
posted by tmdonahue at 5:57 AM on January 14

You know, this is exactly where a few sessions with a listening-type therapist would be helpful. You need to say something and you need to feel heard, but it's not clear that saying something to your twin is the best step. (Maybe it is! Who knows?) And I have found in the past that I don't always feel "heard" by friends/family, not because they're doing anything wrong but because I want to be Heard In Some Official Way By The World. So for instance, when I went to therapy, there was something about telling it all to the therapist that made it feel like an official recounting and I found that I could let it go a bit.

Anyway. If you have access to therapy, make sure that you say up front that you want to talk through a specific thing and work out how to proceed - you're not really looking for CBT, "hacks", etc, you're looking at a specific life situation.

The therapist can help you work out whether it's worth talking to your twin and, if not, help you come up with strategies for moving past these overwhelming feelings.
posted by Frowner at 6:31 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

Another thing you can do is just take a break from your sister. Estrangement doesn’t have to be forever. And an estrangement doesn’t even have to end with some big apology or cathartic change in your relationship - sometimes just taking a few months or a year off from dealing with someone’s bullshit makes it way easier to deal with that *exact same bullshit*. It also makes it easier when you know that you can take another break in the future if you want.
posted by mskyle at 6:34 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

If you are not sure yet what to do, you can always wait. (And use a therapist as a way to vent.)
posted by sallybrown at 7:22 AM on January 14

In the very short term, until you can secure some kind of therapy and additional reading to help you frame this in a way that is more healthy for YOU (because at the end of the day, you may have to end the relationship temporarily or permanently to save yourself, but that decision should be made after processing, not in haste), get yourself a Word or Google doc or buy yourself a brand new paper journal and get this stuff out. It's like an infection, it'll poison your entire system until you get it out. It's clear you are bursting at the seams with the need to vent, but not to anyone involved in the situation.

Pour it out somewhere private, turn it over and over, let your vitriol loose. And then find an uninvolved friend who's willing to go for a long walk with you while you let it out, or call a helpline, and work on finding a therapist to give you some guidance in processing these big feelings.

And yeah, you may need to damp down all but critical interaction with your twin until you get further along on this.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:13 AM on January 14

Well, just for a point of reference:

1)save yourself from the gnawing anxiety of holding it in

After some therapy and also some work on making sure my needs are met through my every day actions (sleep/food/exercise/friends/partner/work/etc.), I do not have gnawing anxiety at choosing not to argue with family members. Sometimes I choose to, but mostly I don't. They've proven in the past that there's no point, and it does not hurt me to go away from a conversation where they have expressed themselves and I haven't.

In childhood, I needed to be heard by my family, with whom I had to live and who had a lot of control over me. But as an adult, they do not live with me and they do not get this control.

2) come off as unapologetically brutally honest and/or

I save my "brutal" honesty for writing and in person I am either gently and diplomatically honest, or I am just diplomatic. What do you get out of this concept of honesty?

I'll tell you why I changed this...we generally only refer to someone as brutally honest when they are critical. How many friends who compliment us or see our best and finest selves do we call "brutally honest?" "Brutally honest" is really code for, basically, cranky and mean.

3)get past the event as soon as possible no matter the outcome HOWEVER you're trying to pick your battles not start them and you havent learned which confrontations are easier left alone.

Well, while you're learning you can leave confrontations alone and wait a year and see if they're still necessary. That's sort of how you learn what you can get over.
posted by warriorqueen at 8:41 AM on January 14 [4 favorites]

This sounds to me like an issue of boundaries. It sounds like you've had poor boundaries with your twin in the past. Expressing every raw emotion was likely not great for you or your twin. So your reaction here -- that you have had poor boundaries -- is to build a wall. That's the opposite of poor boundaries, but not any healthier. It "protects" you both from poor boundaries but doesn't allow for a healthy relationship. So ending the relationship won't end what you're struggling with (and I think if you struggle to have healthy boundaries, it'll be hard to maintain a wall).

Part of this is accepting that she gets to be different or wrong or terrible or whatever she is. Part of this is accepting you can change and be healthier.

I'd encourage you to get into therapy and work on healthy boundaries.

In the short term: a journal, and write by hand. If we type it out, it's too easy to hit "send."
posted by bluedaisy at 11:14 AM on January 14

I'm amazed so many of you see the struggle in me not to hurt or be hurt by my sister but knowing I've only been down this road forever it's time to cut through the grass. If you have friends who are like me raised by southern women of color and deep religious faith the estrangement of family is not an option. But I dont see any other way for my health. Thanks all.
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 6:46 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

You don't need to estrange, but you do need to change something about the way the two of you interact.

If you make for yourself a completely bright-line internal policy that from this day forward, the consequence of your sister saying something horrible to you will be that you simply and without further comment remove yourself from that conversation - either by just immediately hanging up or blocking her texts for a week if it's on the phone, or physically getting up and walking away if it's face to face. If you commit completely to doing this regardless of any level of anticipated embarrassment or awkwardness, then I think you will find that it goes a long way toward shifting the established dynamic.

This is an internal boundary, and it leaves the two of you completely free to interact like decent human beings for as long as that remains what's actually happening on any given day. There is no reason or need to announce it, either; you can just start implementing it immediately.

Making a hard commitment not to put up with somebody else's bullshit is in no way the same thing as cutting off all contact with that person, though obviously there are situations where the latter is the most appropriate way to fulfil the former. Sounds like you're not yet in one of those situations, not quite, so just get that boundary nailed up inside your mind and see how you go.
posted by flabdablet at 7:16 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

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