Life in the Slow Lane

Life in the Slow Lane

Thursday, August 07, 2008

One Of Those 'Life' Posts Filled With Questions That Have No Answers And Lots Of ' Marks

Do you ever find yourself in the same difficult and perplexing situations over and over again? You start to wonder if the universe is trying to teach you something or it is some heinous personal defect since the only constant element in all these situations is you.

Or in this case, me.

My particular situation is that am finding it increasingly difficult to be in the company of people.

I have a couple things going against me. First of all I have terrible social anxiety complicated by some pretty weird phobias. Any social situation is pretty agonizing on most levels. Secondly I am very sensitive to the emotions of others and so called ‘vibes’. Just very aware of the undercurrents of most interactions. Some therapists think this is why I have such bad anxiety. It is like I am lacking some sort of protective life filter.

That is another consideration as well. I’ve had a lot of therapy. A LOT. Some really bad but mostly good. I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the various limits and problems I deal with daily and as a result I am also able to recognize various psychological ‘issues’ (pronounced ithews) in others.

Let me give you an example. I have some family members who bicker a lot at family gatherings. You know, insults with smiling faces. They would also talk poorly about other family members behind their backs. When I first started seeing these people socially I would become seriously depressed for a day or two afterwards. On a couple occasions I was even teary. It got to the point where I would decline invitations to be social with them. With a couple therapy sessions I came to realize that bickering is the way some families show affection. Certainly not how I am comfortable with showing affection but each to their own, right? And I also learned that I could very subtly and politely show that I was not accepting of the negative talk about other family members. It totally worked and I am now able to be social with these people again.

The fact is that I was not raised to be assertive at all. I was raised to be ‘good’ and we all know that being ‘good’ often means being a doormat. For years I have not stood up for myself when being treated poorly and have swallowed all the emotions that go along with that. No wonder I have depression and anxiety, right? It is only in the last few years that I have stood up for myself and become pretty open about how I am feeling and, especially, how I want to be treated. As when anybody learns a new skill it is not always performed perfectly but overall I am happy with these changes. I’ve learned that not only am I a pretty quirky outspoken person with people I know and trust but in fact a leader in many respects opposed to the follower I always thought I was.

But here is the thing; I still am not sure how to deal with people who hold back from me. I’ve had a few friends/family members/acquaintances who I could sense were annoyed, displeased, or outright angry with me and for whatever reason couldn’t tell me so. I trust my gut that I am right about this and can probably guess what I had said or done to make them feel this way. Usually it is that I have an opinion that differs from theirs or have done something that they disagree with. And fair enough. I am happy to say that I am ok with all this and am totally happy to be disagreed with. I can safely be sure that I’ve not done or said anything out of malice or anger. Or it might simply be a misunderstanding. But they won’t tell me. They just start treating me differently. Sometimes it is just a feeling and sometimes it is outright passive aggressive behavior. In any case I just don’t know how to talk to somebody who cannot tell me what is wrong. And I hate being afraid to be myself and have my opinions and own ideas when I think they clearly are uncomfortable with that.

A few years back I had a very good friend who I met at work. We totally hit it off and became very close very quickly. We had a blast hanging out and were very similar in many ways. I totally trusted her and really felt like she had my back. After a couple years she seemed to be having some problems at work. I tried very hard to be supportive but found it very hard to know how to do that. So I just tried to listen and agree with her feelings. A few months went by and her behavior towards me started to change. I’d ask her if everything was ok and she’d say it was just work. But I knew it wasn’t. Unfortunately she decided to bring up everything that had been bothering her about me while we were on vacation together. Stuff that had happened over a year or two in the past and unto itself not a big deal but over time it had festered within her until it became so overwhelming she damned near lost her freaking mind. Her behavior scared me and after she brought up personal stuff I’d trusted her with and thought she accepted me for (mostly about the limits of my anxiety disorder) and then threw it in my face I knew I couldn’t save the friendship and I’ve never spoken to her since.

I hate that it got so out of hand. I really missed her but ironically not as much as I thought I would as I didn’t realize until I was out of the friendship how much I had to tippy-toe around her ‘stuff’. It was somewhat a relief in many ways to have her out of my life.

So what do you do when you just wish your friends/family/aquaintances would come out and say what they are feeling? How do you deal when you feel like you can’t be straight with them or else they will disengage or ‘punish’ you in some way?

Is this a common situation with friends and acquaintances or am I just some crazy lady? Is being up-front, honest with how I am feeling, and willing to talk about how we can agree to disagree maybe not a good thing?

Being with people is hard.


Sharkey said...

I don't think it's an uncommon situation. When JP gets that way (not being straight with me because he doesn't want to tell me what's bothering him), I bug him and bug him until he finally tells me so we can clear the air. But I guess it's a little different with a spouse, huh?

I'm glad you're learning how to be more assertive--being good doesn't have to mean being a doormat. If you don't stand up for yourself, who will?

I don't have any advice on how to deal with people who hold back. But in most cases if they won't tell you what's going on, it's probably more about them than it is about you.

lawyerchik said...

It happens to lots of other people, too, Kranki. Nobody is really that good at being with other people all of the time, no matter what they tell you! ;)

Sometimes, I think of dealing with people like dealing with animals that didn't get good socialization (or that grew up a little wild) - sometimes, you have to coax them a bit to get past the defenses, and even if you succeed, there are still times when they will scratch or bite you when you didn't do anything wrong.

You can offer them good things (like company and friendship), and they just aren't capable of returning it - so you do the best you can and realize that they are doing the best they can, too.

You seem to have a better understanding of relationships than a lot of people do, and that will mean that you are more aware of when things aren't going the way they should. At the same time, any good friendship has to be a two-way street - the other person has to be willing to participate in and contribute to the relationship for it to work.

Sometimes people just need time apart, and sometimes, they just don't have very good skills themselves - and sharkey is absolutely right: if somebody won't tell you what's going on, it's probably more about them than it is about you.

Hang in there, Kranki! :) It's worth it to keep reaching out to people!!

JP said...

I think everyone has a little anxiety when they are put into social situations. I know I have a bit. But when I feel a little anxiety, I remember that nothing lasts forever, I just need to take some deep breaths, and I can leave whenever I want.

And you know how they say, "There's one in every family," that goes for the bickering family members too. You are totally not alone. I am from "the silent, honorable race" and trust me, even Asians have issues in their families like what you're describing.

mrtl said...

First off, Kranki, you're a hell of a lot stronger than you're giving yourself credit for. When I told mister mrtl about your anxiety after we got together, he was shocked. I had forgotten, too. Fake it till you make it? Whatever, you didn't give off an uncomfortable vibe at all. Try to remind yourself that, k?

When dealing with other people's silence, it's best to think how you'd like to be treated. You probably wouldn't want someone trying to force you to interact, but to let you know that they love you and will be there to support and listen to you when you're ready to talk. In doing that, you're also showing them how to treat you. Hopefully they'll pick up on it.

Are we related? I have relatives like this, too. Liberties taken constantly. "Small doses" is my answer to that. When something untoward is said about me or in my presence, I may not say anything (picking my battles - ones with a win/win situation preferably), but I'll change the subject really fast or move on.


Amber said...

This has SO been the theme of the day for us in my house. My MIL is the queen of not saying what she's thinking, but implying her disapproval. It's infuriating. So in order to deal with it, I don't spend time with them.

I too lost my best friend a couple of years ago and thought for sure I would be crushed once I called it off for good, but it was such a relief. And so much for the better.

I'm not saying that you should every ditch family, but in my immediate family we have learned that we're all too close and know each other's buttons, so if things get dicey we just leave each other alone for awhile and things seem to brighten.

I think the biggest part of dealing with other people's crap is being okay with their opinion of you. If you've gotten that down then you're a rock star!

alan said...

Since I'm a bit behind here, I hope you find this way down here!

You are so absolutely amazing...

There are whole paragraphs of this I could have written word for word!

But I lack the courage...

That family you speak of is mine, but rather than figure out how to deal with them, I walked away from most of them years ago.

Every person I've ever trusted with the "inner workings of my being" has used it against me or walked away...except for the ones I've found here!

Being honest is the very best thing you can do for your own soul;
where mine ends up because I haven't been is worrisome!


I Hope So said...

been meaning to comment on this post for a while. i can identify with so much of it. learning to be assertive and call people out when they do that holding-back b.s. has been tough. it's hard not to feel all uncomfortable and guilty afterwards. but after so many years of carrying around other people's problems, there comes a point when you kinda have to stop giving a damn.

Anonymous said...

I initiate the conversation.
Why wait until it sneaks up?

That way I know if;

1. it is a misunderstanding

2. the other party is just stressed or depressed in general

3. there is something that needs to be dealt with

The trouble is, for many people it is a surprise to them when they react (as your friend did). As you mentioned you were raised to be a good girl, and so were a lot of other people, and they have not done the work you have. Hence they feel powerless or abused. This is a pattern they create, and in no way does it reflect on the people they interact with. I think most people are not capable of high level honesty, it is uncomfortable, so they try to cram their stress and anger inside - it comes out.

Classic passive aggressive behavior, nothing to do with you, but perhaps you can try to open the airways

or choose to detach yourself; either emotionally or completely.