Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Constructive Emotional Recognition

Recognize the things that make you angry, make you cry, create that knot of tension in your stomach that rises into your throat telling you an anxiety attack is on the way.

I’m not always the great at doing this in the moment. I still don’t have the best ability to be emotionally immersed in the present when something unpleasant happens. I still dissociate emotionally – my emotions and feelings are shut down until I’m in a physically or emotionally safer place to process them. However I can recognize and reflect on these things in order to make conscious decisions about similar situations in the future.

It’s very difficult to learn to create constructive behaviors and improve your environment if you don’t know what is contributing to your distress in the first place.

For example: I am a civil rights activist. As such, I participate in a number of on-line forums to expand my worldview and knowledge. One of them was hosted by a friend to discuss current events. There were a couple very reasonable and rational people in this group. I didn’t always agree with them, but they always had thought out and well researched opinions which I respected. More often than not, people would post articles or rants that had very biased and bigoted viewpoints. One member in particular would attack everyone that didn’t share his exact opinion. There were mornings I’d open my feed and some of these would be the first thing I saw for the day. Ignorant, hate filled, historical revisionist, sexist, xenophobic posts that I do not have the capacity to ignore without calling people out on their bs. I found that just looking at new posts from the group, seeing a response from a particularly sexist member, or even building the courage to post something myself (because I was anxious about other members) created a massive internal struggle. The anxiety and anger that was being caused would stick with me for hours. If this was the first thing I saw that day, I would have a very difficult time getting my day back on track.

At first I simply blocked the people that were causing me the most strife to keep up with the group. Finally, after someone attempted to take a snippet of history and shoe horn it into their own agenda – I called them out flat and spoke my opinion of the general trend occurring in the group. After that; I deleted the whole group. I realized many of these groups and random people caused an unnecessary amount of strife for me and got rid of any that created more emotional debt than rewarding experiences. I needed to find my own balance between my activist communities and my mental health.

I can’t control the actions or thoughts of other people. I can control my own and make informed decisions about what I need and do not need in my life.

I enjoy trying new things. Talking to new people and groups. Sometimes they’re just not a good fit. Even family or friends can be this way.

Another example: I’m from the Midwest and every Christmas/holiday season I go back and stay with my parents for a few days. 5 days this past trip. My father and I get along just fine (though he can aggravate me too) – probably because he and I have similar reclusive personalities. He’ll chat with me occasionally about something important or if I’m actually sitting down to engage in conversation. Otherwise he basically leaves me alone. I appreciate this.

My mother is a different story. My mother is a nice woman. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you she’s the sweetest person alive. She’s very friendly and always has to be talking or engaging with you. No matter what. Even in the bathroom. Our personalities clash – which is as much my problem as it is hers.

The second I’m in her line of sight the questions and chattering start. Nothing important. Nothing that anyone would find offensive. Just nonstop poking at me. She has no concept of boundaries or personal space – regardless of how many times I’ve asked her to back off or give me room in the past; it never sticks.

When I’m in a room alone with her I can feel not only my anxiety, but my anger rising. I can keep my anger in check though I will bark at her occasionally when she’s pushed me for too long. Granted I rarely say anything until it’s gotten to the breaking point instead of letting her know earlier that she needs to back down. It takes two. I recognize my part. If I don’t say something, often multiple times, she can’t read my mind and won’t realize what she’s doing.

I have noticed that when there are other people around and her focus isn’t solely on me; I’m able to remain calmer and even happier to participate in conversation.

As far as I can tell I have 3 options for fixing this one:

1.       Never visit my parents or be in a situation where I am alone with my mother ever again. Not the most reasonable – as I can’t always predict this.
2.       Only visit my parents when I’m sure I’ll have Bats or my siblings there as well to mitigate the full attention of my mother.
3.       Open up some kind of therapy or dialogue to discuss what is going on to improve the quality of our relationship with the hope that they/she will eventually learn my boundaries and stop pushing my buttons.

The thought of discussing my relationship with my parents – with them – fills me with dread and irrational guilt because I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I’d rather spare their feelings than stop my own distress. That, and I don’t actually want a better relationship with them. I’m perfectly happy with the amount of closeness we have now, which is very little, and I don’t want any more.

I do believe the solution lies in #3 though (with a bit of #2 thrown in). I have to find a way to properly express myself that will let my mother know what she is doing and how it affects me.  Hopefully then, she will make the decision to alter her behavior.

She clearly can’t tell when I don’t want to engage with her, or if she can she completely ignores it. Subtle is not the approach. Being able to recognize when my anger and anxiety are triggered in relation to her will allow me to formulate that dialogue in a more rational way before actually speaking to her. Working on the solution (not fixating on the problem) ahead of time will help prepare myself mentally and emotionally, and allow me to organize my thoughts so I can discuss things in a constructive manner.

Even if it’s as simple as, “Could you please give me a little more space in the morning until I’ve had a chance to wake up. I’m not very sociable when I first wake up and I don’t want to be crabby.” Not a full discussion of every incident, but a small correction in the moment when things happen. I feel I could handle that.

Though frankly if it wasn’t my mother, I probably wouldn’t even bother. I’ve discovered that when certain people routinely cause you an inordinate amount of strife, anger, or anxiety, it’s often best to choose not to associate with those people. I’m very empathic, often overly empathic, so when other people are having a garbage life, I end up feeling that burden as well. I take in a lot of what others put out. Not all people are healthy to have in your life – even if you really wish they could be. Sometimes you have to decide what is best for you and not for anyone else.

This is not the same as avoiding problems or hiding from responsibility. Especially in relationships. Relationships take work and effort. Both people must be willing to work on it though. If you find that you’re the only one contributing; it may be time to reevaluate.

It helps to make a note of the events that create these feelings. Family, friends, groups, work, doctors, social activities and interactions. This can help you organize your thoughts and feelings on each one and make them more manageable.

Remember, this is not about placing blame. It’s about recognizing your own limitations and making a conscious decision to continue or move on; and how to go about that.

·         Recognize the problem

o   Try writing down when you are emotionally triggered
·         Determine a Course of Action for yourself
o   You can’t control anyone else’s thoughts or actions
o   You can control your choices and involvement
o   Write down a list of possible actions/solutions that you can take, no matter how minor, to aid in your decision
·         Act Constructively
o   Work towards a solution if one is possible
o   Do not make anything about blame
·         Evaluate
o   Reflect on what you’ve accomplished or didn’t
o   What was helpful; what wasn’t

What do you think? 


  1. "As far as I can tell I have 3 options for fixing this one:"

    Have you considered a fourth option: know that your mom will be your mom and rather than changing her, maybe change the situation or the dynamic?

    I relate to the morning routine, so I'll use that as an example. I need some time and coffee to wake up and some people have trouble understanding and respecting it - it's been a "thing" for decades with me.

    These days, I make sure to wake up before others (or at least the ones that make me crazy...) and have my coffee.

    This allows me to have control and maintain the boundary - the reasons and the other person buying in are now irrelevant.

    Glad to see you back at it. :)

    1. Thank you. That's an excellent suggestion. I'll have to try that.

  2. I just finished a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) & in it, we learned a technique for communication & interpersonal effectiveness which is designed to maintain the relationship while staying true to yourself & maintaining self-respect. It's called 'DEAR MAN GIVE FAST', which is an abbreviation of the components of it, & if you Google that, you'll find loads of info on it. Here's the basics to get you started: https://ilovedbt.com/2014/05/27/interpersonal-effectiveness-dear-man-give-fast-skills-at-a-glance/

    Good luck!


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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