To disagree, one doesn't have to be disagreeable. -Goldwater
February 21, 2008 8:35 AM   Subscribe

Help me stop hurting someone close to me...

I looked through the other AskMes, and got some good suggestions on dealing with depression etc..., which I think may be part of my problem. However, I'm hoping that I can get some specific suggestions on curbing a destructive impulse.

In a nutshell (I hope) - I say mean/spiteful things to those close to me, particularly to my boyfriend. I apologize later, but the damage has already been done. A brief example : we were having a discussion about an art project I wanted to do. He tried to offer some constructive criticism, namely, that my efforts could be better used elsewhere, but I should do it if it was something I really believed in. He said it just wasn't the type of art he was interested in, so he couldn't give an opinion. I felt like he wasn't being supportive, and ended up telling him that even though I "hated" Gary Baseman (one of his favorite artists), I still made an effort to look at his work with him and talk about it. I also said that I looked at his "dumb Dada" stuff even though I really didn't like it.

As I'm writing this out, I'm actually wincing a little bit, because I sound like a royal bitch. Logically, I can think all this out and KNOW that the people closest to me are the last people who should bear the brunt of my irrational behavior. When I get defensive/angry, though, it just comes out.

A few notes about my situation - my husband and I separated last October, and I filed divorce papers Tuesday. I have also gone back to school to get a 2nd bachelor's, so that and work keep me occupied. My health is good, and I have a couple of friends I can talk to. I'm seeing a counselor on an occasional basis, and feel like I'm making progress in a lot of areas - but if I can't nip this in the bud, I'm going to lose someone who's very important to me, and jeopardize future relationships. My boyfriend is at the end of his rope, and I can't blame him.
posted by Liosliath to Human Relations (25 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Kudos to you for acknowledging the issue.

I don't know what the frequency of "occasional" is with regard to how often you see your counselor. If you haven't done so already, you may want to make this issue more of a focus point during your time with him or her.

It's a common source of frustration in relationships: Person A is looking for support but Person B is offering solutions (or doesn't know that A wants support). I don't think there's anything wrong with talking about this disconnect with your partner. If he's a decent sort, he'll appreciate knowing how better to tell when you really want input and when you're just looking for support.

Good luck!
posted by DWRoelands at 8:47 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think the support/fixing issue is secondary to the "saying mean things" issue. I suggest weekly visits to a psychologist focusing on relationship issues and using cognitive-behavioral therapy.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:53 AM on February 21, 2008

the other thing is that the minute you catch yourself doing something like that, write down what you were doing immediately before that.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I used to do this. And I would always know I was doing it in the moment, it just felt so satisfying to be mean that I let myself do it anyway (wow, that sounds really awful...). For me, they key to stopping was to stop talking until I could collect myself. Sometimes it's as easy as a couple of deep breaths before I respond, sometimes I need to say "you know, I'm not in a very good mood right now, let's talk about this later." And if something mean-ish needs saying, I can think about what exactly got me so worked up so I can come back and have a constructive conversation instead of lashing out to hurt someone on purpose becuase they (usually unknowingly) hurt or irritated me.
posted by robinpME at 9:02 AM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

If you can recognize the "tinge" that comes when you know you're going down that road you can diffuse the situation by generally walking away -- change the subject, tell him you just want to take a walk, etc. -- key is to catch and divert (in time).
posted by gadha at 9:03 AM on February 21, 2008

you should apprise your counselor of this (if you haven't already) and have him/her work with you on how to deal with this as well as how to communicate your needs in a more effective and less destructive manner.
posted by violetk at 9:04 AM on February 21, 2008

Hello there. It's a state of being where you are doing what was once done to you and this is your coping mechanism - pattern -conditioning. I.e. your brain is wired for antagonism because of the *reward* of influx of adrenaline and cortisole which produce a rush, fast heartbeat - a feeling of being in control and power. The remorse is also *reward* you give to yourself by beating yourself up and creating *depression* and *guilt* among others all which have their own particular pattern of hormonal structure and influx - which you have been handed down by your own parents and grandparents. Patterns don't just pop up out of the blue - but are part and parcel of your genetic programming, physiology, psyche and personality. What to do? You break the cycle with a clean sweep of getting deep into where you're coming from - where you came from and where ultimately you're heading. There are tricks along the way you can learn to reign your negative behavior - like using the *cancel* theme with a rubber band every time you catch yourself saying, thinking or doing something hurtful to self or another - you snap the band and say cancel this. It takes 28 days to create new patterns in the mind btw. You can change - with support groups where you can *practice* and reading everything you can on codependency, being a child of a dysfunctional family and anything by Byron Katie. Good luck and all the best of re-learning.
posted by watercarrier at 9:06 AM on February 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

This might sound obvious, but don't say everything you think. It's easy to tell people you are close to exactly how you feel, but sometimes it's in everyone's best interest if you censor yourself a little.

Try to remain calm during arguments, and try to think about things logically rather than emotionally. Remember, you can be angry without actually yelling or insulting people. If he says that he doesn't like your art, don't automatically bring up that you don't like his to get back at him. Instead, say things that could actually bring about positive results, such as "I know you may not be into this kind of art, but I could still use your help."

The way that I handle all of my conversations, even with people I don't like, is to be diplomatic. In all cases I try to think of the best way to get my point across or come to an agreement, and try to convey that without hurting the other person's feelings. If the other person is angry, I try to purposely say things that I think will calm them down, rather than escalating the situation by making them more angry. Doing these things is not always easy, and a lot of times it feels completely unnatural, but in my opinion it almost always produces the best results.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:22 AM on February 21, 2008

This is a very difficult problem to fix, and I say that from experience. However, while you're working on it with your therapist -- with whom you might want to meet more frequently -- you should let your boyfriend know what's going on. Find a time when you don't feel vulnerable to flying off the handle, sit down and tell him frankly that you know you've said hurtful things that you shouldn't have said, that you think this is a manifestation of your depression, and that you are working on it.

It might not hurt to bring him in to a counseling session with you, if he's willing. He can give your therapist examples of your behavior that you might be unable to either recall or discuss easily. And your therapist may be able to give him a professional explanation of this kind of behavior, and to suggest some short-term coping mechanisms for the two of you.

Best of luck.
posted by brina at 9:24 AM on February 21, 2008

for the most part, I believe thoughts precede actions. In every moment, choose to contribute love. Cultivate thoughts of support and love, and focus on that. Let go of your ego. Apologize to your friend. You've been through a lot lately and I'm sure he'll cut you some slack...
posted by mrmarley at 9:39 AM on February 21, 2008

FYI - I actually get this as a side effect of Ambien... even 2.5mg. I don't touch the stuff anymore.
posted by jwells at 10:05 AM on February 21, 2008

I just want to thank everyone for the answers so far...they've given me a lot to think about. It's so great to be able to get feedback like this, I feel a bit more positive now that I have some potential steps to take towards resolving (or at least mitigating!) the problem.
posted by Liosliath at 10:06 AM on February 21, 2008

I have had very limited success dealing with this problem over many years. I believe it has made all of my intimate relationships less than they could have been.

My most effective strategy to date has been to stretch out the timeline of my emotional response. If you are anything like me, you feel a sharp, brief, and very painful flash of deeply hurt feelings and a sense of betrayal just before the thunderclap of your counterattack. If I can dwell in that instant of hurt and let my partner see it, I am often able to delay and ameliorate, if not eliminate, the return blow. It really does make it more painful, though, and I have often been unable to do it.

Right after filing for divorce is not a time you are likely to be able to make major improvements in your mode of relating to your partner, however. I think you should sit down with him and let him know he may need to learn to live with the discomfort of a suit of armor whenever you are around for a bit for the sake of your sanity and the greatest possibility of future happiness together.
posted by jamjam at 10:09 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yes, jamjam, that's pretty much exactly what I feel. Also the satisfying feeling that robinpME brought up.
posted by Liosliath at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2008

It might also help you to know that your FEELINGS aren't inappropriate. You were looking for a certain kind of supportive response and he responded differently. The only thing that was off-kilter was your interaction with him when he didn't respond in the way you hoped.

Definitely something that you can talk about with your therapist as well as work on with your boyfriend. Your frustration and anger is helpful, it is a cue or signal that something isn't matching up for you. Instead of venting right then, you can say "Hmm. I feeling frustrated right now and I'm not sure why. Let me think about it." This might feel strange at first because venting does provide that instant reward/rush of adrenaline and your going to have to wean yourself off of that.

Get some space and some distance and think it over. Why were you frustrated? What did you hope that he would say instead? Because if you were expecting something within a range of responses (no solutions, just support) you have to ask for that specifically. You could go back with something like the following:

"When you said that my efforts would better be used elsewhere, I felt defensive because this is something I feel really passionate about. I guess I was really looking for some enthusiasm or encouragement for you that I should pursue it because I haven't felt emotionally passionate about something for so long. Maybe what I should have asked instead was something like 'Could you give me some guidance that makes me feel more confident about trying this?' That would have probably been more fair to you as well, since it made what I was looking for more clear."

I know all that sounds scripted and even stilted to you now. But it takes practice to begin communicating differently and creating new patterns of communication. I went through something similar--and still do--with my husband because I had all sorts of bad communication habits left over from previous relationships.

Best of luck.
posted by jeanmari at 10:33 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

That should be "encouragement FROM you". Sorry.
posted by jeanmari at 10:35 AM on February 21, 2008

I have the same problem. I used to say my greatest talent was "being able to say the most hurtful thing to someone who made me upset." But after actually putting it that way, I realized that wasn't the person I wanted to be. Also, the last time I did this, my boyfriend and I landed in a screaming match that nearly ended in a breakup. That convinced me to be more mindful of my temper. I sort of just let it bleed all over my brain, and then try to suppress it. Thing is, focusing on why someone makes you mad will just make you madder. Writing down stuff helps you to see if your anger is justified or not, and then when calmer you can approach the person.
posted by herbaliser at 10:41 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's a self-esteem thing. You're probably in a pretty low place, going through the divorce and all -- been there, done that (and did way shittier things than you're describing, I'm embarrassed to say). When you have low self-esteem, it's tempting and satisfying to boost your own ego by tearing away at another's. I actually feel sorry, in a way, for people that are openly mean to other people, because it generally means that they don't feel good about themselves -- and I find that very sad.

FWIW, I don't think your example was all that horrible, but good on you for recognizing it early. Just don't be too hard on yourself -- if this is the worst you do, you're cooler than 99% of people out there. You might consider apologizing to your guy, explaining that you're feeling kinda low with the whole divorce thing and just took a cheap shot at him to feel better about yourself. Or just forgive yourself and try to be kinder in the future.

I'm currently (finally!) reading Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" and I highly recommend it, especially in response to your concern about your future behavior. When I was younger (and hadn't read it yet), I used to dismiss the title as "How to Manipulate People into Being Your Friends" -- essentially, I thought it was a bible for manipulative assholes. But now that I'm older, and am actually *reading* it, I find it's just the opposite: the title might be more clearly stated as "How to Not Be an Asshole -- Oh, And By the Way, Folks Tend to Like And Listen To People Who Aren't Assholes (So There's Something In It for You, Too)". But that's a wee bit too long, so the original title is probably okay.
posted by LordSludge at 10:44 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks, LordSludge - I've read that book before, and still have it...but it seems none of it stuck! I'll read it again. I think your 1st paragraph is exactly it...I was feeling vulnerable, because I have an idea in my mind (which he's tried to convince me is not true) that he's established artist and I'm not.

That example, BTW, is probably not the worst, just the most recent. I've apologized to him already, but this has been a pattern in the 3+ months we've been going out, and I think he's about to the end of his reserves.
posted by Liosliath at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2008

I was going to suggest that maybe some cognitive behavioral therapy could work for you. Basically, this would be something along the lines of all the answers you've chosen as best answer, just with the structure of going to a therapist to help guide you through it, and maybe for some added accountability. Of course, you don't need to see a therapist to work on these things. Just hold yourself accountable. Stop yourself in the moment. Think. Talk back to any thoughts you know are irrational. I would highly recommend journaling too. Just set aside some time on a regular basis to set goals for yourself as to how to deal with instances like you describe. Think about what causes them. What are potential obstacles. How will you deal with those? And any time you find yourself in a situation testing your goals and observations, go back and review. How did you do compared to your goals? Did you notice anything new about your behavior that you hadn't before? Things like that. And it probably would be helpful to let your boyfriend know you're working on this. How involved he should be in the process should be up to you. It might be helpful to you simply if he knows you're working on this, or it might be more helpful if after you get angry with him, and have some time to cool down, if you go back and talk to him about it, how you felt, how he felt, etc. You'll have to decide how he should be involved.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:22 PM on February 21, 2008

MeFites can't tell what the whole story is. You are apologising all over the place. You are receiving advice to blend yourself into the wallpaper. I have a real concern that we may be misreading the situation and encouraging you in continuing (possibly repeating?) an unfortunate type of relationship.

You don't have to apologise for every sharp word, and you are entitled to be be pretty cross with an answer that your "efforts could be better used elsewhere". What makes you think that if you hold the door open for him to leave you will never have a happy relationship again?

"...ended up telling him that even though I "hated" Gary Baseman (one of his favorite artists), I still made an effort to look at his work with him and talk about it. I also said that I looked at his "dumb Dada" stuff even though I really didn't like it." What is there to regret in saying that? If he thinks telling this sort of truth is unforgivable, it is his problem, not yours.

I may be totally wrong, but this does fit with the pattern of women who suffer for years under abusive control of their actions and their thoughts. Being male does not make him right, and being female does not mean you have to crawl round fearing your natural reactions and appeasing him by apologising for anything that "offends" him.

Things may not be as bad as all that, but I second the idea of pausing before you reply when hurt. Repeat twice under your breath "I am not a doormat". Also, speaking out more often about what _you_ want may reduce the need to lash out with spontaneous complaints.

One of my big criticisms of MeFi is how often people are advised to get (expensive) professional help. But if you think depression is adding to your problems, do something active about it.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:49 PM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I understand your point, Idcoytco - actually, a certain percentage of my friends have expressed a very similar concern. There have been many times where he became extremely upset over a comment or action that I considered minor - something worth irritation and a brief spat, but not an all out "we can't go on this way" talk. I just assumed that I was being insensitive, and tried harder to understand his point of view.
As for the Dada/Baseman comments - yes, it's the truth, but I suppose I was saying it more as a "zinger" and less as something constructive. That's the kind of thing I want to avoid.
posted by Liosliath at 1:27 PM on February 21, 2008

A brief example : we were having a discussion about an art project I wanted to do. He tried to offer some constructive criticism, namely, that my efforts could be better used elsewhere, but I should do it if it was something I really believed in. He said it just wasn't the type of art he was interested in, so he couldn't give an opinion. I felt like he wasn't being supportive, and ended up telling him that even though I "hated" Gary Baseman (one of his favorite artists), I still made an effort to look at his work with him and talk about it. I also said that I looked at his "dumb Dada" stuff even though I really didn't like it.

Some thoughts:

1) I know this is just one example picked at random, but it sounds like you two are very very very different people. In this example, it seems you want him to support him by being a cheerleader, and point to times when you have done the same for him. He wants to support you by offering up no-nonsense bullshit, which is a resource that most people are never going to give you. Your attitudes about relationships seem to be at odds. Think about that.

2) If you want say less bitchy things, then reduce the amount of bitch fuel that you feed your mouth. For example, if you know that you are going to end up throwing something in your boyfriend's face, just don't do that thing. Like don't try and understand art that he loves but you think is stupid.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:24 PM on February 21, 2008

23skidoo -

1. Yes, we talked about this last night, and that's almost exactly what he said he was trying to do.

2. I've never heard it put that way, but "bitch fuel" is pretty apt. I think I need to be a little bit more like what idcoytco said, and speak up more often about what my opinions are, or at least not pretend to be interested in things I'm not.
posted by Liosliath at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2008

I hope your efforts have improved things.
posted by Idcoytco at 3:28 PM on March 8, 2008

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