i love you, but not like this
December 18, 2007 5:02 PM   Subscribe

how to keep from shutting people out?

After an argument today, in which i highly overreacted, accusing my girlfriend of making personal attacks where she wasn't, she came to say that I have the very bad habit of shutting people out and shutting down when I have a problem:

-the thing that bothers me most is that you completely
disregard us as people, everything we do for and with you, and who we are, and how we feel, everything, it all goes out the door. you're just scared, so you blow everyone you love off and run away. and we didnt even do anything. it just comes up in conversation and you run away or threasten us with the police
- i don't mean to. i just shut down.
-i know. and none of us deserve that

Which, I have to say, is absolutely right. Barring the usual "talk and take time" techniches, what are some ways that I can keep from shutting down and shutting people out?
Note- I do have Aspberger's, and am in therapy for that. But any suggestions like "ask your therapist" won't be helpful, since she has little experience with the disorder. And besides, I'm just asking for things that I can do without involving other people- Just me, working on my own issues.
posted by shesaysgo to Human Relations (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Well, first off, if your therapist is not experienced in your condition, you probably need a new therapist.

IANAP, nor an Aspbergerian, but sometimes in heated or complex situations I find it's helpful to throttle my own overreactions by asking myself "What is the real topic here?" a few times. Sometimes, during an argument, I think this over and over again to keep myself on track.

Like, keep it narrow and focused on the one actual problem, and keep your ears open for those inflated generalizations that come from arguments: words like "always", "everything" and "never" which are probably not very accurate if you're talking about the one topic under dispute.

I have found that an argument can spiral out of control or snowball whenever I let six other things creep in that are unrelated, or only tenuously related. Take a deep breath and try to take it one at a time. It helps.
posted by rokusan at 5:21 PM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

and you run away or threasten us with the police

shesaysgo, do you literally do this? If this is meant literally and not figuratively, this is more than just "shutting down". These are behaviors that elicit specific, and unpleasant, responses from the people you do this to. These are actually examples of controlling behaviors, because all discourse stops while people are either looking for you to make sure you haven't done yourself harm, or defending themselves from a visit from the cops. And she (and you) are right -- nobody deserves this. Everyone in a relationship deserves to be heard. As a therapist once told me, "a healthy relationship is one where there's enough room for your feelings and the other person's feelings."

Regardless of whether the above is meant literally or figuratively, you may be doing this because you feel overwhelmed and/or panicky by either the intensity of your emotions, or feel threatened by what you imagine your girlfriend is thinking. Either way, I suggest this:

1) When you feel attacked, first take a deep breath.
2) Express your feelings or needs with "I statements". "I feel like you're attacking me when you say x".
3) Listen for her response.
4) Repeat.

If you feel like you need to get away to process, tell her this. Don't just run out the door with no explanation.
posted by lleachie at 5:22 PM on December 18, 2007

I have recommended this book before: "How to be an Adult in Relationships" by David Richo. It's a good book, he is sort of a Buddist so his insights and his advice for you to figure yourself out isn't harsh or pop-feel-goody, it is an invitation to ask yourself some really difficult questions and determine your own readiness for a relationship.

Having said that, Aspberger's probably throws something else entirely in to the mix, which a book may or may not be able to help you with. My guess is "not"; that a live therapist familiar with the manifestations of the condition would be of much greater assistance.
posted by 45moore45 at 5:29 PM on December 18, 2007 [2 favorites]

Mm, you probably should get your girlfriend educated on Asperger's, actually. It sounds like she doesn't really understand why you do what you do and you've been neglecting your responsibility to explain it to her.

But, I've always found that the easiest way to lighten up an argument is to

- Apologize first. Doesn't matter if you're wrong or right. Do it! Are you going to let your pride stand in the way of resolving conflict? Besides, you're not apologizing for being wrong. You're apologizing for hurting her feelings.
- Don't get defensive
- Keep your explanations short and relevant
- Above all, listen to what the other person is saying, and respond to what she's saying, and not some conversation you're having with yourself in your head. (You'd be surprised at many people fail to do this.)

I'd suggest, since I've read that people with Aspberger's have difficulty picking up nonverbal communication, that in a time when you're both pretty happy and having a good relationship moment that you ask her to more fully vocalize her feelings to help you out. In other words, tell her, "Yes, honey, you do have to spell it out for me."
posted by reebear at 5:51 PM on December 18, 2007

it's not something you can work on by yourself...it is, inherently, a problem you have with other people. so enlist your girlfriend. if you do it again, have her call you on it. come up with a code word she can say so you know to stop. then, when you cool down, discuss it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:53 PM on December 18, 2007

For me, it helps to slow down, take a breath and think about what I want out of the argument/whatever, and evaluate if my actions are helping my goal. For example, threatening to call the police won't help your goal, unless your goal is to lock up your girlfriend. Think about the goal as a long term thing, not "I want her to feel bad now". Once you have an idea of what you're really after, then you have a vantage point from which you can compromise, and end amicably.
posted by fermezporte at 6:04 PM on December 18, 2007

I'd get your girlfriend a gift of this book Loving Mr Spock.

The problem with Asperger's is that bad communication patterns laid down in childhood are far, far harder to rewire than for the neurologically typical. This is why you must find a therapist with experience of this picture. You can learn some scripts, as some of the posters say above, put together your own script, e.g. once X happens I must take 10 deep breaths, clench and unclench my fists and ask myself, "what is the real problem here?"

Ask your loved ones to help you come up with the script that most suits your particular skill set. Every Aspie is different, Tapestry Children Lisa Blakemore-Brown calls them ( I also highly recommend her book). Your particular tapestry is unique. Only by combining the knowledge of your loved ones with some professional help can you begin to deal with this. You know how easy it is for you to have an "insight bypass" or to believe arrogantly that this couldn't possibly be as bad as they are saying. Try to avoid this through the script. Otherwise you will eventually push them away. You sound like you have enough insight to understand that this would not be healthy for you.

Sorry I can't write more but work beckons. I've lived with my Aspie partner for 20 years. Feel free to Mefimail me. Good luck poster.
posted by Wilder at 10:54 PM on December 18, 2007

I certainly empathize with you and have frequently done the same thing. Basically, my "shutting down" was a defense mechanism rooted in fear. I was afraid that if I said what I really wanted to say that whomever I was talking to wouldn't like/love/care for me anymore. I was also afraid that I wouldn't be able to express myself clearly in the moment and so would be misunderstood, therefore why bother? I found myself in situations where even if I wanted to respond or interact appropriately, I'd end up just walking away or hanging up the phone or just plain ignoring the person, etc.

What I started to do was to allow myself to "shut down" but then force myself to later express myself in writing to that person. Being able to step out of the immediate situation, calm down a little bit, gather my thoughts together in writing helped me to process the thoughts that I couldn't express verbally. Later when I realized that the world didn't end after doing so, it gave me the confidence to be able to work on doing it in person.

Maybe what you could is come up with a phrase that you can employ when you find yourself shutting down, something like "I can't talk about this right now, I will have to get back to you" so that you can "train" the people who care about you to realize that you just need some space to breathe and regroup. At least that way they now that you're struggling with the issue and it's not just being mean or hurtful.
posted by SoulOnIce at 11:29 AM on December 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

It would probably be good if you could develop a system where you could walk away from a conversation and come back to it later, and your girlfriend would know to give you time to process your thoughts without pressure. My dad is like this (I suspect Aspberger, though he hasn't been diagnosed) and this really helps us communicate. I used to call him at work to pose a question, then hang up real quick and let him give me his answer when he got home. His usual signal that he needs more time is to just walk away from the conversation. Most of the world sees that as shutting down, but I realize it just means "I'll get back to you."
posted by lisaici at 7:51 PM on December 19, 2007

Note- I do have Aspberger's, and am in therapy for that. But any suggestions like "ask your therapist" won't be helpful, since she has little experience with the disorder.

I hope that it wasn't your therapist that diagnosed you. I suggest you find someone else who is skilled and empathetic with your situation.

I don't suffer from Aspbergers as far as I know (even if that's the case I'm not sure if I want to be labelled as such), but I do suffer, on occasion, from social anxiety sometimes to the point of paralysis. (Particularly in loud and crowded places) I lack the skills to be able pick up on some social cues and that leads to a lot of frustration on my part and for those with whom I'm trying to communicate. Not being frustrated takes a lot of work. To recognise that those around you have developed these skills that you haven't leads to more frustration. Resisting the urge to temper that frustration with booze or drugs will, in my experience, leads to further frustration in the end (you don't mention that in your post, but I thought I'd drop it in).

There is a lot of excellent advice in this thread. Here's mine.

Contrary to your post, I don't think you'll be able to do this on your own.

Explain to your gf what your tipping points are (you need first to acknowledge what they are). Don't drink or take drugs in situations where you think that they're going to inhibit the way you want to interact with other people. If you reach your tipping point where you're about to get yourself in a fix, leave for five or ten minutes and gather your thoughts; just say "excuse me" and leave. Don't apologise, just go, perhaps a nod your gf who now understands. No-one will think any the worse of you, and if they do, frankly, they're not worth your time. If you're like me you'll bump into someone else and start a conversation with them, away from the original hassle.

I've written the letters that SoulonIce mentions, as explanations for odd behaviour. Trust me when I say that I wish that I never had to write those letters. Being able to serve yourself in the situation rather than deal with the aftermath of a situation is much more preferable.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 2:22 PM on December 20, 2007

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