I was thoughtless and now I'm ruminating
September 10, 2022 2:08 PM   Subscribe

I made my best friend feel crummy last night with some thoughtless jokes. We've talked it out and are good, but my brain is mean to me and I'm still beating myself up. Can you help me reframe this so I don't fall down a hole of rumination/self-hatred/fear of losing a friend?

My band had a show last night and my best friend, who is like a little brother to me, is in my band. We had a couple of longish tuning breaks when he switched guitars, and we were playing a venue where we are very well-known and loved, knew almost everyone in the audience, and the staff. I feel extremely comfortable in that environment as a result, but I also get anxious when there's dead time because I don't want people to get up and leave, so I usually try to fill space with banter.

However, my banter took the form of teasing my best friend for taking a long time to tune. I didn't insult him, but I did go a bit far with the "come on bro, hurry it up HURF DURF you're keeping folks waiting you dorkasuraus". Everyone there knows us and knows I wasn't being a malicious asshole, and he knew that too. But I'm the front person of the band and I had a mic, and he didn't, so there was a power dynamic in play that I wasn't cognizant of (if he also had a mic he would have teased me back and it would have been a "bit"). Our show went well but he did just call me to say that he thought I took the Big Sister Needling a little too far and it put a bad taste in his mouth.

Some of it is his baggage - it's a pet peeve for him because he's been gigging since he was a teenager and has almost always been the youngest person in the group, so he frequently has dealt with similar teasing. But, he wanted to address it with me because he would prefer I not do that again (or if I do, make sure he has access to a mic to roast me back so he can play along and not feel demeaned).

I understand completely how he feels (for much of my professional life outside music I have been the youngest person in the room and condescended to - it's really only now that I'm in my late 30s that I don't have to put up with that anymore). And I feel bad that I hurt him. He's really important to me, he's a good friend, he's my best friend, and the last thing I'd ever want to do is make him feel bad.

We talked it out, I heard him, I acknowledged his feelings, I sincerely apologized and promised to be more mindful/less thoughtless. He accepted my apology and told me we are all good and to please not worry (he knows I am an anxious ruminator), he just wanted to address it quickly before we play our next show next week.

I feel good that he feels safe enough with me to call me out and set a boundary without worrying that I will overreact - my closest friend from high school recently ghosted me for several months (I've asked a few questions about it here) and when I finally was able to communicate with her about it directly I learned that she had been feeling resentful towards me for nearly ten years (in a 25 year friendship) and was always afraid to address things I did that upset her because she thought I would fly off the handle and get angry. This is absolutely not my MO in life with my friends (and she and I have only fought twice in all those years and I have never gotten angry at her for calling me out so it was very upsetting to hear that she was scared of me as it seems to directly stem from my recent battles with mental illness where I was having problems with rage, but that rage was always self-directed, I never targeted anyone, I don't treat people with spite or vindictiveness, so everything about this made me feel like I was losing my mind and I've been working on this in therapy).

So again, I'm glad my best friend felt safe today enough to bring this to me, and I told him that as well. He said that he knew it was safe to bring it to my attention, he wasn't worried I'd get mad, and he knew that I wasn't being intentionally hurtful. He appreciated me hearing him out and the apology and assured me we are good and to please stop apologizing (which is a thing I do, I over apologize to the point of being annoying - also working on this in therapy!).

After our call, though, I started crying. This is partly because I was out late last night, had some cocktails, crashed on my bass player's sofa and didn't sleep well, and then drove 2.5 hours home; I am exhausted and chemically off and I get emotional when I'm in this headspace. I just feel so horrible that I hurt someone who is very dear to me and I didn't even realize it in the moment. I am scared that he'll be wary around me now even though he told me he wasn't and he knew I'd be reasonable about it when he talked to me. My abandonment issues are in full swing and I just feel like the world's worst asshole right now.

My SO was at the show last night and he is also friends with my BFF. He says that from his perspective in the audience, my teasing did not come off as cruel - people were laughing, with us (again, we are well known in that venue and in that town) - and it all seemed to be in good fun. No one thinks I was an asshole, I just ended up hitting my best friend in an area in which he is particularly sensitive (and knows he is sensitive about it). We have talked it out and we are fine.

But I still feel like crap. I'm weepy and ruminating and thinking about the dumb shit I said on stage last night and kicking myself for being so thoughtless. I know he said we're ok and he's not mad at me. I know we handled the communication around this like two mature adults, we understand each other, and will move forward accordingly. I know all of this intellectually.

But emotionally I feel like the biggest jerk who ever jerked. I feel like I punched down. I feel like I ruined his night (he says that's not the case, we had a great show, it was just this one thing that bugged him). I feel like I am working so hard to be a good person after being in a bad way mentally and emotionally for so long and I failed profoundly here with the most important person in my life aside from my SO.

I also know this is a massive overreaction on my part at this point.

Can any of you help me reframe how I'm thinking about it his so as to focus on the facts and not the feelings, so as not to ruminate and self-flaggelate, so as to move forward like a mature adult and not a weepy teenager? If you have been in my BFF's position, how would you feel after hearing a sincere apology - would you still be a little upset or mad? What would you need to hear from me in order to not worry about a repeat performance of unintentional meanness?

Thank you in advance. I wish I could stop crying.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (19 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: posters request -- frimble

Best answer: Imagine the positions reversed - if your friend had done something similar. Would you want them to feel the way you feel now? Or would you want them to move on and not worry about it?
posted by lookoutbelow at 2:16 PM on September 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I know you're tired, but can you go out and do a short sharp burst of intense exercise in the fresh air? Always good for helping shift the script in these moments (and will help you get a really good sleep tonight, which will make you feel better tomorrow). Sometimes you can't think your way out of these things, and need to do something other than thinking.
posted by penguin pie at 2:26 PM on September 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pour these feelings into a plan to get your friend a small but special present as a token of your esteem for him.
posted by heatherlogan at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: The fact that he felt comfortable enough to say this to you is a HUGE win. Huge. Let’s not overlook that part. I have great friends but only a couple people I would feel comfortable having this conversation with. Everything about this is honestly goals for mature adult communication. Remind yourself of this. Celebrate it. It’s anxiety making you feel so awful and that anxious voice is lying. You have cultivated a mature relationship where communication and ownership are prioritized.

I also wonder if there’s a way to incorporate some humor here. Humor is so healing. Maybe lightly present an opportunity for him to roast you back on stage. Are you able to laugh about it somehow with him? Maybe make fun of yourself a bit, as long as that won’t come across as guilt tripping? I wonder if evening the playing field a bit will help assuage some of your guilt. Good luck!
posted by Amy93 at 2:29 PM on September 10, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: It's okay to ruminate on things a bit. You're not a weepy teenager. Your crappy feeling will eventually pass, even if it takes longer than you feel like it should. Everyone makes mistakes; the important part is being able to change so you won't make the mistake again. And spending some time with your feelings is part of that process.
posted by panic at 2:30 PM on September 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think it's rather unprofessional of him to bring this up as a grievance at all. As the front person it was on you to keep the show moving, and that's what you did, in order to cover for HIS screw up. And now he's giving you a hard time? Ridiculous. What happens on stage stays on stage. Go get yourself a pedicure today and relax, you need it!
posted by bleep at 2:30 PM on September 10, 2022

Gently meant, but I have to wonder whether writing 400-word question about the incident, where you describe it in detail, turn it over and examine what worries you and bothers you about it, etc ... is not a form of rumination?

When my mother was having anxiety spirals, one of the things she would do was constantly seek assurance; she could not let it go. She wanted to ruminate not just on the thing that caused her the initial anxiety, but on the anxiety itself, and she would try to recruit me into that. Eventually, she found a therapist that worked for her, and one of the things that the therapists suggested was not to do that because it was actually only reinforcing the anxiety. She had other strategies to suggest.

This is an extreme reaction to a bit of mild interpersonal friction, which you know, because you say so and because you're asking for help. Do you have a therapist who can help you develop strategies for dealing with these kinds of thoughts/emotions?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:31 PM on September 10, 2022 [23 favorites]

Response by poster: I would like to clarify that the tuning breaks took longer than usual because the venue surprisingly installed an A/C unit right on top of the stage since the last time we were there, and blasting cold air on guitars throws them out of tune almost immediately and takes a while to rectify. So he didn't make a mistake, he was working around an unanticipated problem at the venue. Bass guitars are a bit more hearty so the bassist wasn't having a problem, and the A/C was a welcome thing for our drummer (who has quite the workout during our shows) and honestly me too (same reason). So there's really no fault here on his part, only my desire to cover for dead time with chitty chat that felt a bit mean to him and a random massive fucking A/C unit that caused problems that we were not expecting.

Kutsuwamushi, point very well taken, and yes, I do have a therapist I am working with on all of this. I don't see her till Thursday though, and this happened just now, so I am looking for ways to distract myself from further rumination until I can discuss this with her.
posted by nayantara at 2:43 PM on September 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Sometimes with anxious ruminating I'm making it all about me, so I say to myself "freethefeet, it's not all about you" as a way to shut it down. That can be a bit self flagelating though.

Another technique is to personify the anxiety (I call mine Moira)- anxious me just wants to look after me but WAY over reacts, and the more I try and ignore and deflect she amps it up to get my attention. So acknowledging the fear and addressing how I'll manage the risk: "thanks Moira, I really want to stay friends with Steve too, so next time we're going to get him a microphone." Or whatever.
posted by freethefeet at 3:09 PM on September 10, 2022 [9 favorites]

Best answer: You could interrupt your rumination by giving yourself a talk repeating the things you did right: you listened to your friend, took him seriously, are clear that you don't want to make him feel uncomfortable in this way again, sincerely apologized. As people said up-thread, your friend felt he could speak to you about this.

All relationships experience ruptures large and small. What happens after them—-the repair—-is often what makes the difference.

Sometimes it helps me to say, "I have done everything I can for now. I don't have to worry about this anymore right now. I will think of it again [on future date]." You might remind yourself that this is not something you can do anything about now; that the next time you might find talking about it helpful would be in therapy later this week.

You know that you're more emotional because of the cocktails, sleeping on a couch, the drive home. I sometimes get more emotional and negative when my chronic headache flares up. I can't usually make myself feel better by reminding myself that's what's going on, but it can help to remind myself that it is going on and that I'll probably see things differently after a good night's sleep. If I feel like this is what's going on, that I'm being more emotional than I "need" to be because of my headache or lack of sleep, I'm pretty comfortable using emotion-numbing techniques I wouldn't resort to if I thought I was having feelings that were more proportional or appropriate, and that I needed to feel. Whether that's a weed gummy, one drink (I'm a lightweight), a prescription anti-anxiety med, or letting myself get immersed in something non-productive like an audio book or a familiar movie or a bunch of episodes of some TV show, I tell myself that it's OK to make myself as comfortable as possible until I have some equilibrium back.

I used to be a person who interrupted people a lot, and also a person who over-shared in ways that made me uncomfortable, and I used to get really distressed if I was misunderstood or said something that wasn't quite what I really meant. But it helped me to start conceptualizing conversations in real-time as perpetual rough drafts, during which mistakes and misunderstandings will inevitably occur. Giving myself that breathing room helped me develop skills so that I could bite my tongue and not interrupt, not make myself overly vulnerable, and let it go if there was a misunderstanding ("No, I didn't have a caesar salad at lunch on Tuesday! I had a cobb salad!") that didn't really carry any weight or cause any problems.

You were working on a rough draft last night with a longer-than-usual delay in the band being able to play. You appropriately used some joking banter to keep the audience engaged and help pass the time. In your rough draft, you focused the jokes on your friend, who didn't have the means to banter back with you at that moment.

The next time something like this happens on stage, you have several ways to handle it better: making sure your bandmates have a chance to join in on the joking, if that's something they'd like, even if it means walking your microphone over. Finding a topic to chatter about that isn't a person actually in the room—maybe a story about some concert you attended where somebody tuned for way too long, and when they finally started playing, they weren't actually in tune even after all that, or some other reminiscences about annoying/boring/frustrating things that have happened. Or a story about one of the songs your band is going to play, like, "Oh, hey, I never have time to tell this story, but since we're delayed a bit anyway..." Whatever fits you.

The point is, the next draft will be better.

Very few of us handle it perfectly when we find ourselves in an unexpected situation. What you did is well within the realm of what almost anyone might do. It might help to tell yourself you are a human being who acted like a human being.
posted by Well I never at 3:15 PM on September 10, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: When I am in this space myself, I like to sit down with some tea and talk to myself. In a journal, or literally out loud, but using words in real time rather than just thinking. For me, I might start by giving in to the most catastrophizing, black-and-white expression of how bad I feel. Then I’d take some breaths and respond like a loving friend. I might say something like, “rrrrrrrrrt, you were nervous and wanted things to go well, and grasping for a solution you decided to do something that wasn’t kind. You didn’t intend to hurt your friend, but you did, and that sucks. For everybody! But our friend loves us so much that they told us they felt hurt, and they accepted our apology and attempt to repair. Instead of questioning that, we could take them at their word. If we keep beating ourselves up about it, we’re functionally saying that we know better than they do, and that’s not our values. Everybody does jerk behavior sometimes, and getting bogged down in guilt is just as fruitless as indignantly refusing to believe that we’re capable of doing jerk behavior. Let’s send them a silly, loving card in the mail and brainstorm some patter for moments in the future when there’s a technical glitch like this.”
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: In your shoes I'd be feeling terrible, too, and I'm generally not into anxiety spirals. I think it's because you, like me, are so careful with the feelings of those we care about. We value them so much and we would do anything (and sometimes go to unusual lengths) not to hurt them and endanger the friendship. So when something dumb like this happens, it hits extra hard.

And the second thing is that you were feeling safe to be yourself (safe-ish - you got anxious because of keeping people waiting and the anxiety manifested in a bit of benign chivving). I mean safe to be you infront of your friends. And then you being you meant that something unintentionally hurtful came out of your mouth. So somewhere I bet you're feeling like "See? Proof that my true self is actually horrible, as soon as I put down my guard, something bad comes out! Must never let my guard down again, and or I will lose all my friends!"

So no wonder this is throwing you for a loop.

It's just that...hurting someone by hitting their sensitive spot happens to everyone. It will happen to you again. More than once! And it's okay that it's going to happen again. It's human.

If you would manage to be so guarded that you would never be in danger of using thoughtless words...you would be a polite, well-liked stranger to everyone. You could never be close to anyone, and that would be a loss to you and the people who love you. Who love you and want the whole you, warts and all.

So what can you do, going forwards: recognise that it will happen again, as it happens to everyone, and work on building friendships so strong they can take it. Show people by your actions that they can tell you if you hurt their feelings. That if they tell you, you will listen to them and take them seriously. And that you will neither lash out at them, nor do they have to be scared of destroying your mental health if they speak up.

Which is how you are handling it right now! Your friendship is stronger than before. Your friend trusted you with his hurt feelings and you showed him he was right to trust you.

And further: Your band mates are watching and they can see how you two hashed it out. They can see how in a time of stress you stepped up to the plate, apologised for your thoughtless words and moved on together.

You both did everything right and you two are friendship goals!
posted by Omnomnom at 3:26 PM on September 10, 2022 [9 favorites]

Honestly, some people are more sensitive to this kind of thing than others. That doesn’t mean your friend is wrong, he’s totally right to address it if it bothered him, but this kind of teasing happens at shows all the time. It’s a coin toss, you didn’t mean to be a dick, you were nervous, he was comfortable enough to bring it up and y’all are good.

On the other hand, maybe you’re not letting yourself feel your own feelings here. How do you feel about his reaction, in your heart of hearts? A little miffed? Confused? Resentful, because he’s roasted you before? Etc. It’s possible that while you like this guy, he’s gotten on your nerves before and you’ve detached from it, and getting this feedback is making you sore. That’s totally fine, and owning the dark feelings is part of strength. Repressing them makes you weaker and more unsure of yourself. If you lean into them, feel them, they will pass and you’ll know yourself and your own boundaries better for next time.

Maybe I’m totally off, and you are just ashamed, but usually I find when I can’t let go it’s because at root I feel there is some kind of unfairness I’ve failed to let myself acknowledge, address and move on from. That doesn’t mean “you need to confront your friend!!” or anything, but it’s highly unlikely that you’re 100% bad guy and he’s 100% good guy, and looking at your feelings can help you have a more realistic picture of what’s going on in your dynamic. And thus stop the cycles of self-hate and self-blame.
posted by stoneandstar at 5:10 PM on September 10, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Another way you can make up for this is to do the opposite the next time you have a gig - to fill up time in between songs you can say some good things about your bandmate. Tell the audience how much you appreciate him and why, and how far back you both go as friends, and any other anecdotes that speak to his great character and talent.

I think sometimes the audience also appreciates stories that speak to how closely-knit the band is, the band’s history, etc. Praise and appreciation doesn’t need to be boring when delivered sincerely and/or within a narrative that captures interest.

It gives credit to your bandmates (often non-vocalists get less attention than the frontperson), it gives the audience a more nuanced appreciation of the people in your band, and it also speaks well of you as a frontperson that knows how to distribute some of the spotlight and acknowledge their bandmates.
posted by aielen at 5:32 PM on September 10, 2022 [6 favorites]

I think a lot of Western culture is really averse to the idea of "guilt" or "shame" and acts like it's everyone's birthright to never feel uncomfortable for one single second. I think that's an incredibly toxic way of being in the world, and what it really stems from is a refusal to be accountable. (I'm also not a full product of Western culture myself, so guilt and shame basically feel like home to me lol)

My feeling is that if we do something shitty, it's GREAT to feel shitty about it after. That's one part of accountability. I see the feeling is a way to cement to yourself that you don't want to be like that. Maybe a way to think of it is, "I did something that was not good, so I feel not-good. That's fair. Now I will focus on doing things that are good."

Also, maybe consider getting your bandmate a small thoughtful gift. My emotional calculus is this: When you do something that harms someone, it's like taking something away from them - their happiness for a minute, their piece of mind for a day, control of their time, etc., so they kind of "go below zero" because something was taken from them. In this case you might consider if your joke "took" a little bit of your bandmate's confidence (probably temporarily since he knows you're a good friend and he's resilent). I see an apology as a way of getting back to "zero". But since something was "taken", it's nice for something to also be "given", so after I harm someone, in addition to my apology, I try to "give" them a little something - do them a favour, a small gift, flowers, a snack, a thoughtful note, etc. A little extra effort on my part to show them I care and mean to do better going forward. (And not something lavish, because that feels love-bomby. Something simple and heartfelt.)

But, all that said, it sounds like you're going WAY overboard in terms of taking it all the way to self-hate. That's not really reasonable based on what you've typed here or what I remember from your question history. It sounds like you'd be justified in feeling a bit shitty for a couple hours and making a plan to make it up to him and do better next time. I love aelien's advice above to make a habit of telling nice stories about your bandmates during shows!

Overall it might help you to tell yourself that there's no such thing as a good person or a bad person, there's just a person who either consistently does good things or bad things. You did a bad thing. We all do sometimes. If you want to continue to mainly be A Person Who Does Good Things, why, just do more good things. It will balance however you make it balance.

Maybe tomorrow would be a great day to do something nice for 3 people? That usually helps me feel better when I make a gaffe. Good luck! You don't sound like an asshole at all.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 5:54 PM on September 10, 2022 [4 favorites]

Do something to distract yourself and then go to sleep and don't set an early alarm. Get a full night's sleep. You'll probably feel a lot better about the whole thing in the morning.

I'm often very reactive when I get tired or don't get enough sleep. A nap helps, but a good long sleep helps more. None of this 4-6 hours a night and call it good BS so many people feel like they have to do.
posted by wierdo at 9:20 PM on September 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Can any of you help me reframe how I'm thinking about it his so as to focus on the facts and not the feelings

You need to shift your focus off the feelings and the facts. What you're doing is ruminating, and ruminating is useless, and that - not the particular event that's triggered the rumination this time, which you've already been told by the other person involved is done and dusted - is the issue you need to be thinking about.

In other words, what you need to be thinking about is the fact of rumination, not the content of the rumination.

Just recognizing when you're doing it and naming it explicitly is the first step. When you notice that you're ruminating, the first thing you need to do is say to yourself "this is rumination". At which point, since you're apparently in a mood that requires you to beat yourself up, you'll most likely start beating yourself up for being some kind of loser who can't stop ruminating.

But beating yourself up for that completely spurious reason is better than beating yourself up for completely spurious reasons relating to your bandmate or workplace or whatever, because it stops all those other things from distracting you from the actual issue at hand. And once the internal beatings have gone round and round a few times you'll notice that this is also rumination, at which point you say to yourself "this is rumination" again. Just keep on naming it every time you notice it, as soon as you notice it.

With practice you'll eventually get to the point where you notice it so fast that the only ruminative content that can survive inside your head is the pure thought "this is rumination", and that will crowd out everything else that you've been ruminating about including feeling terrible about your apparent inability to stop ruminating. And then your brain will either get bored with it and drop it, or you'll start being able to play with it in ways that soon make it seem hilarious to you.
posted by flabdablet at 3:31 AM on September 11, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: So somewhere I bet you're feeling like "See? Proof that my true self is actually horrible, as soon as I put down my guard, something bad comes out! Must never let my guard down again, and or I will lose all my friends!"

Omnomnom this is EXACTLY it. You've nailed it. This is what my mean anxious depressed brain is telling me.

But my brain is mean and wrong.

Thank you all for your kind words and advice as usual. BFF and I were texting all yesterday evening getting super excited about the next show and I didn't feel any wariness or hesitancy on his part, it felt like it normally does between us. So I'm going to remember to give him the gift of trusting that he meant what he said when he accepted my apology and that we're all good, and I'm going to be grateful for the gift he gave me by trusting that I am a safe person to speak to about his hurt feelings and that I wouldn't fly off the handle. Healthy adult communication for the win!

It's nice to hear from you folks that this is #friendshipgoals. I feel a lot better. Will still discuss in therapy, but I'm not feeling like I need to sob anymore. (I also slept well last night and am taking it easy today bc I blew my voice out at the show and that's also helping.)
posted by nayantara at 10:40 AM on September 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

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