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March 2, 2008 8:05 AM   Subscribe

How to learn to suppress my wildly emotional side. Or, how to be more like Veronica Mars?

As cool as it would be to be the kickass teenage sleuth cracking down on all the evil baddies that the local sheriff is too arrogant to take care of, I'm talking more about her emotional constitution.

Essentially, whenever things go wrong in Veronica's life (and things go wrong a fair bit), her response is either to remain calm and assess the situation logically, or to channel her anger/sadness/whatever into productivity. I realize that she is a fictional character, but I do admire the ability to focus on an end goal no matter what.

As for myself, I used to be fairly unemotional and I was generally the go-to person as far as advice went, but the stress of moving out, the stress of hating my University for most of first year, and a rather unstable social life have combined forces to make me into someone I really don't like.

While I've always been pessimistic and cynical, now it's escalated to full on typical teenager angst/anger-at-the-world with a healthy dose of self-loathing. I overreact really badly to the smallest things that go wrong to the point of crying regularly (where before I pretty much cried every year or two :P). When I'm angry at something, I lash out at everything around me and find it hard to hide my emotions. When I'm depressed I essentially cease to function, regardless of what other obligations I have, and spend my time lounging around on MeFi until I calm down.

This needs to stop. I know I'm stronger than this and I would like to find that side again. Is it just a matter of suppressing the reactions as much as I can - fake it till I make it? Or are there other ways to be more at peace with myself and the world? Or at the very least, how can I make myself productive despite the anger/whatever?
posted by Phire to Human Relations (11 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know what your regime is, but regular exercise can change the emotional balance in a good way.
posted by londongeezer at 8:15 AM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: i don't think suppressing emotions (at least for very long) is reallly all that great an idea. regular exercise and sleep help a lot.

it sounds like you have developed some mild depression and/or anxiety. it wouldn't be surprising after a run of extended bad luck and stress. have you considered seeing a therapist?
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:56 AM on March 2, 2008

Probably not what you're interested in, but FWIW taking a year off from school and doing something low-key that leaves you free time to figure things out can be good.

Anyway, never stress out about not being sufficiently unstressed!
posted by trig at 9:10 AM on March 2, 2008

ut the stress of moving out, the stress of hating my University for most of first year, and a rather unstable social life have combined forces to make me into someone I really don't like.

It's sounds like you need to fix your social life, find some joy in going to University and deal with the stress of moving out.

All you're doing is freaking out, 'cause you're under a lot stress. Get rid of some of that stress and you'll calm down.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:15 AM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: Here's the thing... if you become a woman who suppresses emotions you will be doing yourself a disservice on various levels. One is that supressed emotions eat at you in other ways... you can make yourself sick for example. With me, my stress ended up settling on a back injury and making me bedridden. Funny thing, when I got rid of my stress my injury healed. The mind/body connection is a REALLY powerful thing.

But the other thing is, by becoming this solid woman of steel you will find your relationships with people and their image of you will change and sometimes not in ways that meet your needs either. Over the last ten years I went through some massive life changes that blindsided me too. And I know that for me, I used to hold a lot of my feelings and stress in and try to be tough for everyone... which led to people not knowing how to deal with me being vulnerable, including myself. But frankly, when I finally decided to embrace my own vulnerability and emotions I kind of became similar to the way you're describing yourself. I got completely overwhelmed and fell apart a bit, because my behavior was unfamiliar to me so I completely freaked myself out. I didn't even recognize myself anymore, I lost confidence... I kind of lost my entire identity and didn't know who I was anymore. Which in turn didn't help my life much either. Neither extreme is so great.

Maybe what is best for everyone is balance and not focusing on being perfectly this way or that way, but accepting that in life we make transitions and are many different people over time. We are not just one person from the day we are born and we stay that way until the day we die. (There's a book I've been reading that has actually helped me understand this whole thing so much better.) As the saying goes, we all do the best we can with what we have to work with and when we know better we do better. So be patient with yourself as you go through the transitions you're facing (seriously, read that book). And in the meantime, exercise, do volunteer work... find time to do things that make you feel happy and good about yourself. If you don't know what makes you happy, get out there and FIND IT. If you try to focus some energy on positive things that feed your heart, in time the negative stuff won't be your main focus anymore. When you're enjoying yourself you won't have to worry about being so angry at the world.
posted by miss lynnster at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2008

I'm a very emotional person and when I find myself getting overly-cranky or reacting emotionally, I try and find a safe place to vent. A private email list where I trust people to let me vent, the bathroom, with friends I trust, journaling, etc.

Then I do something to take care of myself: a hot bath with an aromatherapy candle burning nearby, a pedicure (cheap at a beauty school), a new book or magazine, an afternoon out browsing at whatever store I feel like, buying some nice tea, or taking a nap.

After all this, I look at what I can and what I can't control, because there are always going to be events beyond my control. Then I bite the bullet and do what I can within a given situation and ignore the rest. I ignore people who are ticking me off, shut off the phone if I need time to myself, and get a good night's rest.

I also agree that exercise is great, whether it's walking or yoga or just putting on some headphones and dancing around for a few minutes. A fun mind exercise is to make up stories about your situation and change the outcome to what you want. Save it to your computer and go back and look at it later. You might have some great material or you might not but it could help you pinpoint what you need to change in your life to become calm again.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:59 AM on March 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would agree that suppressing emotions never works.
But, what has worked for me is simply being able to recognize when I'm having an emotional reaction. If I can catch it, in the moment... "Oh. I'm really sad right now. What is it that's making me sad?" ... that can lead me towards handling the emotion in a productive, reasonable fashion, rather than reacting in an unpredictable, and sometimes counter-productive fashion.

If you're interested in exploring that, I might suggest some introductory meditation classes/practice.
posted by browse at 11:17 AM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: Don't suppress your emotions. Redirect them. Suppressing them will cause you to be a robot, which is no better than your current state. Trust me - I speak from experience.

To redirect them, learn what they are. Say someone flips you off in traffic - how do you feel about that? What emotions are you feeling? Anger? Irritation? Criticism? Impatience? State the emotions you're feeling.

Then, ask yourself what it is about the person flipping you off that makes you feel this way? Perhaps the last time someone flipped you off, they were much more aggressive, which made you feel scared. This time, instead of feeling the fear, you decide to be angry (which generally tends to prevent fear), so you feel angry.

Try writing down exactly what it is about each situation that makes you feel the way you do, and logically analyse it. Look for the triggers in each situation. Write as much as you possibly can about each situation, until you run out of steam.

Then, ask yourself what you can learn from this? What use can you put the emotional energy to? For example, if you're angry, you could use it to help you exercise, to burn it off. If you're sad, use it to do some creative writing. Etc.

While I've always been pessimistic and cynical, now it's escalated to full on typical teenager angst/anger-at-the-world with a healthy dose of self-loathing.

So you're angry at the world, and also at yourself. In this instance, write why you feel angry at the world in *minute* detail. Then stop and ask yourself if it's all worth the anger?

It sounds like you hit a rough patch a while ago, and developed some new emotional habits. Don't try to break those habits - just develop new ones. "Instead of breaking the habit of smoking, develop the habit of not smoking." It's a subtle difference, but an important one. With the former, you're still focused on cigarettes. With the latter, you've removed cigarettes from the equation entirely.

Mefimail me if you want to chat. :)
posted by Solomon at 12:32 PM on March 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, on top of all that other good advice, it has always seemed to me that your overall morale in life is based not on the *size* of your wins and losses, but on their *number*.

If you haven't already, and you can, you might want to find a way to arrange your life so that you can win, not lose, at lots of little things: even things as small as "cuphook by the door for my carkeys, so looking for them never makes me late" type stuff.

If that category of crap isn't wicking off your good mood, you'll have it to spend on big important stuff.

Works for me...
posted by baylink at 2:31 PM on March 2, 2008

Not to backtrack, but VM has been shown crying and getting plenty emotional. What she does do well, however (or, what she is written to do well) is to keep things IN CONTEXT and not react to everything as if its the end of the world.

I would not think she (the character, not Kristin, who's all kinds of awesome) would be a very good girlfriend.
posted by softlord at 2:43 PM on March 2, 2008

Best answer: I kind of am Veronica Mars. You'll notice that as softlord says, she actually does break down occasionally -- the difference that you might be noticing is that those breakdowns are brief, generally private, and she recovers by taking action. Being Veronica can have its advantages -- I can power through a crisis like no one's business. And no one is there to witness your "embarrassing" tear-ups.

However, as Solomon points out, you can become somewhat robotic. I have unpleasant emotions -- lots! -- but not many people see them. In the midst of tears and horrors, I am renowned for being sort of ruthlessly efficient. If you put me in a bad spot I react by instantly attempting to gain control of myself and of the situation -- in the worst moments I will be notably more calm and less reactive than I ordinarily am. Because of this need to manage the situation, and my default of shutting down the gate to my emotional response, if you are struggling, I can be very full of advice rather than sympathy for this reason.

As miss lynnster points out, suppressing your emotions can cause a lot of damage to you. Here's what I've given myself by slamming down my emotional response to severe stress: nerve pinches, chest pains, week-long headaches, backaches, rashes, severe insomnia, teeth-grinding, and frequent colds/flus. I make a not-particularly-funny joke that my immune system's default response to stress/pressure is to cave spectacularly, so that I'll be forced to just lie the fuck down and feel sorry for myself. This sucks, yes, but what sucks worse is that by being the in-control one, you create the expectation that that's who you are -- and no one will ever think to worry about you, or take care of you, or know how to deal when you do actually break down. Given your past role among your friends, I'm sure you've run into this already. It reminds me of Miko's comment in an earlier thread about screaming (which I don't do either) -- she was amazed and frustrated by how none of her friends seemed to react when she badly burnt herself, simply because she stated what had happened calmly, rather than shrieking. Because you're not visibly upset, everyone will assume you are fine. And because you tend to remain chill when the world around you devolves into hysteria, or when people might otherwise reasonably expect a person to be weeping etc., you will always be expected to be The Strong One -- and that can be really exhausting. No one can hack being everyone's post-apocalyptic Will Smith every day of the year.

The thing to remember is that it's kind of like conservation of energy -- the emotions don't just disappear. They always go somewhere. Whether it's into your physical body, into your nightmares, or into a crazy blow-up months down the line about something entirely unrelated. As Mr. Tigerbelly has joked about a particularly upsetting episode, "You seem pretty together. So I should be expecting the hysterical weeping about 6 months from now?" And like you, I also have a bad habit of transforming anxiety/unhappiness into anger -- which is a lot of fun for the people on the receiving end.

So. Now that I've delivered the lecture on why suppressing your natural emotional response is bad and wrong and you should not do it -- you can learn from my mistakes and take some good out of it without embracing the bad. The absolute most important thing I learned was to embrace the philosophy that it is what it is. None of my crying or screaming or flipping out is going to change one damn thing about this situation or make it any better. What will make it better is taking concrete actions to deal with what is in front of me, rather than sobbing in my Cheerios about how I wanted things to be. This, I think, is at the core of what you are looking for in the Veronica Mars personality model. It is what it is is. Now, what's your next step?

Also, some well-timed therapy, can actually be helpful. I resisted for a long time, but for me it served as a pressure valve for all of the accumulated stress -- so that I didn't unload on the people around me when it came time to get rid of the build-up, and so I didn't have to keep everything to myself until it reached a boiling point. From your description, you're not an "over-reactor" by nature -- but have gotten into a position where you have so much stress that it's overwhelmed your capacity to reasonably manage it, and it's just spilling out of you. So you need to find a safe outlet to release some of that, and you need to take steps that will make the practical situation more tenable. Exercise helps, getting the petty bothers of your life more manageable helps, and talking to someone who isn't going to be hurt or (possibly per your own imagination) "disappointed" that you're not unbreakable also helps. To get back on your emotionally-stable feet, you're going to have to admit that you might need some help, and then get it -- whether it's from friends or from a therapist, it doesn't matter. But don't think you have to manage everything entirely on your own. Even Veronica has Backup.
posted by tigerbelly at 5:02 PM on March 2, 2008 [3 favorites]

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