Question #176: The Perpetual Seething Mass of Resentment

The Hulk
The Hulk is my patronus.

We’re going deep into the Jerkbrain today, so let’s start with nice things that I love.

First, a safe-for-work, short animated film, Address Is Approximate. It’s so simple and beautiful, and it punched me right in the heart (in a good way).

Next, Holly’s post about Consent Culture:

A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent.  It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

I don’t want to limit it to sex.  A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well.  Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to.  Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then.  Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine.  (As someone with weird food aversions, I have a special hatred for “just taste a little!”)  Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

 I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general.  Cut that shit out of your life.  If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right.  Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along.  Accept that no means no–all the time.

…It’s good to practice drawing your own boundaries outside of the bedroom, too.  It can be shockingly empowering to say something as small as “no, I don’t want to sit with you.”  “No, you can’t have my phone number.”  “I love hugs, but please ask me first.”  It’s good practice for the big stuff.  Simply learning to put your mind in the frame of “this person does not want me to say no to them, and they will resist me doing it, but I’m doing it anyway” is a big, important deal.

Go read the whole thing, obviously. She lays out a beautiful case that boundaries make life better and sex better, and that there are a lot of small things we can do to make the world better for each other. She also sets us up beautifully for today’s question.

El Capitan!

I hope perhaps you might have some advice — or the crowd might — on how to stop being obnoxious. See, I’m pretty laid-back up until someone does something crummy to me. For instance! Once a dude forgot about a date with me, and when he remembered, went snowboarding anyway. Objectively douchey, but that’s not the problem — the problem is that once someone does a thing like that I WILL NEVER FORGET. I will obsess over it, picking at what happened like it’s a scab. I will quite likely resent them and want them to suffer, up till I forget who they are. Which does happen — bad memory — but takes too long to achieve. Leaving scorched earth behind doesn’t work that well in a smaller community as I’m likely going to have to interact with these people in the future. Or at least I’d like to interact, in a nice blasé way, and with none of the perpetual RAWWWWWWWWWWWWR that goes on in my head (and sometimes escapes my lips). It’s embarrassing to feel so strongly about stupid things from the past. I don’t want to lose the Dignity Game. Also, it’s tiring to keep the perpetual motion hamster wheel of resentment going in my head. It takes up so much space in there, which could be better used by remembering fun sex or something.

So! The question is: How the hell do I stop my brain from going over this stuff? How do I turn it off, or retrain myself? I’d like to keep my feathers unruffled, and stop embarrassing myself.

Yours sincerely,
Shut Up, Brain

Dear Seether,

I think you could get a lot out of visiting someone who practices Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and talking with them about how to work around habits and patterns of thinking. If one date-gone-wrong is sending you into a rage where you’re spending weeks or months working it over in your mind, it’s a sign you could use a visit with a pro.

What your letter (and Holly’s awesome post linked above) made me think about is how learning to set boundaries, speak up for myself, stand up for myself, and have conflict with people by expressing my feelings to them directly made me like people more and get along with them better. Learning how to say “no” is how you learn how to actually say “yes” when you want to.

As a kid and even later, I wasn’t encouraged to have or express feelings, at least not any negative ones. “Stop overreacting.” “That’s not true.” “You’re just imagining it.” “Just ignore him/them.” “You do too like egg salad, and you’re going to sit there until you eat it.” “Are you sure you were raped? If you were really raped, you would have handled everything exactly like I think you should have handled it, ergo, you must be lying.” “Are you still sad about that? You should be over it by now.”  So like a good little soldier, I tried to teach myself to stop feeling that stuff. I still did express it, of course, in all kinds of dysfunctional ways. In some spaces I became Jennifer Who Is Hilarious, or Jennifer The Easygoing Friend Who Never Gets Mad At Anyone And Who Is Always Fine, Can I Do Anything For You?  But in other spaces, I became Jennifer Who Does Secret Fucked-Up Things, or Jennifer Who Is A Mean, Obnoxious Verbal Bully, or Jennifer Who Suddenly Yells and Cries About Seemingly Innocuous Things or Jennifer The Toxic Complainer. That Jennifer was tightly wound, passive-aggressive, and easily overwhelmed, because she didn’t know how to express ANYTHING in a healthy way but still walked around like a geeky, needy open wound wanting to be loved and understood. In college and my early-mid 20s, that manifested as a combination of Pathetic Attempts To Turn Sex Into Love and Yes, You Can Count On Me To Do That Impossible Work Assignment, I Just Love Helping!

Enter total, horrible, crushing depression.

There is a time in my late 20s when everything broke open and I temporarily could not function. And I am lucky that everything finally broke, and I was lucky to find therapist(s) to teach me to ask the questions that I ask all of you: “But what do you think would happen if you just said ‘no, I don’t want to do it that way’? or ‘can we change the subject now, please’? I swear it won’t be as terrible as you think it will be, most people will just back off and apologize.” They helped steer me away from my own horrified imaginings of how if I ever pushed back at anyone I would immediately lose their regard and respect for all time and no one would ever love me.

I *could* of course disagree hotly and eloquently about (safe) intellectual or aesthetic matters. I could sometimes talk about write a long, overwrought, over-thought email about difficult or emotional stuff if my back was really, really against the wall (at which point you can’t really have a low-stakes, mutual discussion about a thing because it’s built up for so long and been hijacked by OH GOD, WEIRD EMAIL).

But between me and the words “We’re not having sex enough for me” or “Please don’t talk to me that way” or “I can’t come home for Christmas this year, sorry” stretched Zeno’s paradox of infinitely dividing space. I could not step into that space and say the words with my mouth and listen to the words the other person might say. I placed this weird value on being laid back and easygoing, like that is something you should always try to be. I think I’ve told people “It’s really hard to offend me or hurt my feelings, so don’t worry about (that really awful thing you just said).” My relationships with others existed in a state of almost theological pre-forgiveness. I also had that NiceGuy(tm) passive-aggressive quality of assuming that just because I was so “nice” all the time that people owed me the same, and even though I hadn’t expressed my needs out loud. How dare people not read my mind?

(And yet, during all that time? I had great friends and great lovers who talked me down from my ledge and reminded me that we didn’t have to let it get to the weird email stage. They proved to me that I was worthy of love. Which is why I tell all you TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING people that you are also worthy of love, even if you are crazy and weird and sad).

What I found out in therapy is that I was not all that laid back. I found out that I have a lot of rules for how I want other people to treat me. I found out that I was in fact really angry about a lot of things, and because I was not expressing that anger in a healthy or timely way, it was all living inside of me, and it decided that if it couldn’t get out it was okay with being really angry at me and pointing out all of my faults instead. Hello, Jerkbrain!  And I learned the word “boundaries,” and I started to stand up for myself in small ways and then in bigger ways and the world did not end and people did not hate me and it became easier to be awkward than to seethe.

When you first learn about expressing healthy boundaries, it’s rough going for the people around you, because you’re a little bit like a toddler who has just learned the word “no” and you have a lot of lost time to make up for.  “Honey, do you want Thai food for dinner?” “NO I DO NOT!” “Dude.” “What I meant to say, is I’m feeling more like falafel.”  There is a temptation to set all of your bridges on fire and then dance around in the warm pretty flames. There’s a reason I have six separate LiveJournal icons that are The Incredible Hulk, and that I started writing Hulk-ku, like:


Hulk is super-awkward, you guys, but things have been better since he came to hang out in here with Jerkbrain and me.

So Letter Writer, now that I’ve given you the short course in why I write this blog, I want you to examine the concept that you are “pretty laid-back up until someone does something crummy to me.”  I think you might not be all that laid back? I think you might have a lot of rules and standards about how you want to be treated, and that’s okay, and that maybe you don’t have to get to the “objectively crummy behavior” stage before communicating and enforcing some of those rules?

And one way to not fixate on the bad behavior of people is to call them on it when or soon after it’s happening. “I appreciate your apology, but that’s a pretty crappy excuse for missing a date and you made me feel pretty awful the other day, so you’ll understand if I don’t want to make plans to go out with you again.” You’ve got to get it out of your system before it reaches the “I hate you forever/weird email” stage. And then you let it go, which is where therapy can probably help you, by helping you learn to reframe those negative thoughts when they start cycling.

I think what might be happening is you are saying “Whatever, it’s ok, no big deal” to the person who did the crappy thing (so that you can hold onto your idea of yourself as laid back, or conform to a social/cultural expectation that people like you are supposed to be laid back) and then chewing it over in your mind and complaining to your friends and coming up with all the stuff you wish you had said to him after the fact, which is prolonging the negative feelings. Then it comes out later, in an obnoxious way.

You don’t have to forgive people who do crappy things to you, you don’t have to roll over, and you don’t have to be the bigger person. But I do want to make an argument for saying something, out loud, directly, to the person who upset you. Say, “Hey, knock it off” as soon as possible. If you’re not good at speaking up when things are happening, that’s totally understandable – we’re not all snappy comeback machines, and as you’re learning to listen to your instincts and speak up for yourself there is often a delayed reaction. So, ideally within a few days, reach out and say “Your comment about x the other day isn’t sitting well with me, can you explain what you really meant by that?”

One reason I say “in the moment” or “within a few days“, especially with people that you’re not really close to like coworkers or casual acquaintances, is that whatever happened is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Memory is fluid. After too much time goes by, the conversation will become about “Did I really say that? Man, sorry if I did” and you’re not going to get a satisfying result. You look like the bad person for holding onto it all this time. You build it up in your mind. Getting in the habit of speaking up sooner allows there to be lower stakes overall. You can say your thing and then let it go. You can privately have a low opinion of someone and publicly interact with them just fine (at work, for example). If things get awkward? If feelings get a little bruised? It’s better than all that hate churning inside you, where right now it is only hurting you, and I think it might be hurting you real bad. Give yourself a time limit to speak up,  and if the moment passes before you do then say to yourself (as my friend Kim does): “BYGONES!”

And if they really, really fucked up?  You can stay quiet and let them fully, fully apologize to you and NOT jump in right away to say “Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry about it” and let them stew in their own shame for a little while? That’s just fun.

The other day, in one of the online communities I read, the poster was having an issue with a teacher and mentor who said some very toxic stuff in the classroom (without meaning to or thinking it through, but, as we know, intentions aren’t magic), so a few days later she went and talked to him about it and he promised to rethink how he talks about that topic. What struck me was that it only matters a little whether the teacher changes his mind, but it matters a lot that the poster is now a person who speaks up when things aren’t right, and she now has this experience of speaking up and being listened to, and she will never be the same again. That is going to ripple through the rest of her life in an amazing way, I think.

Back to Holly’s great post, I’m interested in building a world where people can say “Hey, knock it off” or “No thanks” or “That was out of line,” without it meaning “YOU ARE A TERRIBLE PERSON AND EVERYONE HATES YOU NOW.” I am trying to learn how to be a person who can say that stuff and who can hear that stuff from other people when I fuck it up. I think you have to learn how to say no to things so that you can say yes to things, like figuring out what you want to do with your life and making friends and falling in love and negotiating sex and having adult relationships with your family. So I appreciate the roadmap that the kinksters have drawn for us, where “No, I don’t like that” is how you get to “I want.”

45 thoughts on “Question #176: The Perpetual Seething Mass of Resentment

  1. Ugh. I have such a jerkbrain too! I think I may need to take up Hulk Haiku as well, or else learn to express myself.

    1. Oh and of course this is a phenomenal response. I have struggled with boundaries – my installed programming was that I wasn’t worth the same as other people, ergo I am not entitled to the same level of respect, freedom, regard, love, fill in the blank as other people. “Oh, that’s OK, I just make do,” was always my mantra. Someone else had to get the nice slice of pizza because obviously I would never. Always low status. Boundaries help you raise your own status in your mind so that you can reduce the shitty treatment and also respond to it in a way that elevates your pride in your self-care as well as the respect of the other person. And the easy lazy (but I think still-legit) shortcut to work on one’s own self esteem is to raise your esteem in the eyes of others. When more people respect me, I respect myself. And then it gets easier to climb upward out of the Jerkbrain Pits.

      Much love to all the Hulks out there and I’ll post when I hear about a sale on purple pants!

  2. I have the same thing going on sometimes – someone will be mean to me (or just thoughtless) and I won’t say anything about it, but I will stew and stew and stew and become a little ball of angry resentment. And I don’t like that about myself, at all, and I’m trying to overcome it, too.

    I think Captain Awkward has some good advice – if someone does something that upsets you, talk about it, to them, directly. They’ll either A) apologize and make you feel better; or, B) not apologize and thereby prove themselves a jerk and not worth your time.

    Another thing that helped me is understanding that people are people. We have a tendency, I think, to want to divide people up into ‘Good People’ and ‘Bad People.’ If someone does something upsetting and doesn’t realize it or doesn’t apologize, we want to immediately move them into the ‘Bad People’ category, which means we never have to hang out with them again or talk to them or work with them or think a single nice thing about them, ever again. And while sometimes it’s good to cut people out of our lives, it’s too difficult to cut everyone out who offended or upset us. We just have to come to accept things like “Elmo, the guy who stood me up to go snowboarding; but who plays a great Jenga game and is also a good professional connection for me to maintain.” So just accept that a good person can do something thoughtless or upsetting and still be a good person, and that it’s easier just to let shit go.

    1. I like that about categorizing people. You can have difficult relationships with people you decide to keep around in your life by managing your expectations of them – “This person is good at x and y, but I don’t call him when I need z.”

      1. The categorizing people idea is what I was going to say. I have a tendency to nurse grudges specifically against people who behave less well than I would expect for the category I’ve placed them in. I have friends who are incredibly fun and good people and easy to talk to, but who I know are not my besties and who I don’t get upset with if I don’t hear from them for a month or two. And then I have inner sanctum people who are the ones I’d call if someone died, and if *they* disappear for a month, I get super pissed. If they do it more than once or twice, they get mentally downgraded to “cool person I’m buds with” instead of “best friends who I trust with my life”.

        I lost/ended some friendships entirely before I realized that it’s okay if people mean different things to you at different points in your life. The choice doesn’t have to be “best friend” vs. “you are DEAD to me”. And recognizing the different categories of people in your life can also help put their behavior in perspective — someone not inviting you to their intimate birthday dinner can be a snub if they’re your best friend, but totally inoccuous if you’re just friendly coworkers.

        And lastly, recategorizing people in your mind can be a helpful way to channel the information that underlies your rage in a productive direction, because then it’s less about dwelling on the thing they did and more about how you’re going to behave going forward. “Acquaintance I have a crush on” can become “guy who’s unreliable but fun to talk to at parties” instead of “that ASSHOLE who cancelled a date three years ago who I will never forgive”. You can’t control how people treat you, but you *can* control how much it affects you by managing your expectations based on their past behavior.

        1. And (see below), that it IS ok to say to your closest, bestest friends “hey, that [thing] you [verbed] really sucked/upset me. Can we talk about it, so it doesn’t get weird?” I am a BIG time* Weird Emailer, and I think I’ll be coming back to this post and discussion a LOT.

          * as recently as a month ago, I fired my entire wedding party because one person was being a jerk. I’m doing a lot better now but that was kind of a wakeup call….

        2. As someone who needs a lot of space and can easily go months without phoning anyone, I would be very surprised and completely uncomprehending of someone getting pissed off just because I took time for myself for a while. Does this mean that besties all have to be of the same personality type? Just because people like me need a lot of recharging time doesn’t automatically mean that we are untrustworthy.

          1. I was thinking the exact same thing! Sometimes I personally have to explain to extrovert friends that I love them to bits, but I badly need my downtime. In my experience it can involve compromises, like a friendly text or an email to say “I saw this and thought of you”, rather than them expecting a full-fledged battery-draining telephone call several times per month. Are there really some people who think that needing time for yourself makes you untrustworthy?

          2. I wouldn’t say pissed off, necessarily, but going that long without any form of communication can very, very easily be seen as someone not caring or wanting to engage in the relationship. Now, that said, communication does not need to mean four hour “let me tell you every detail of my life from here until forever” phone conversations or parties every weekend or anything. The periodic text/email/tweet/Facebook comment can go a long way.

    2. We just have to come to accept things like “Elmo, the guy who stood me up to go snowboarding; but who plays a great Jenga game and is also a good professional connection for me to maintain.”

      Thanks for putting it the way you did. I’ve been trying to work on this, the categorising people with different levels rather than either/or but it’s hard to get the wording right. You really nailed it for me.

  3. This, I think, is the God of All Captain Awkward Posts. So glad this LW wrote in, and grateful to CA for the insightful response.

    1. :facepalm: Some days it seems like my goal is to get enough info about my mental health history out there so I cycle past “unemployable” and “undateable” back into “awesome” territory.

      The truth is that writing about it honestly is what helps to heal it.

  4. [I placed this weird value on being laid back and easygoing, like that is something you should always try to be. I think I’ve told people “It’s really hard to offend me or hurt my feelings, so don’t worry about (that really awful thing you just said).”]

    Wow, this resonates with me so much. When I went through the process of informing others and then enforcing my change of gendered pronouns, I felt like this was my daily life. I wanted to have boundaries around myself and my transition but even though I would construct them in my mind, I had a difficult time feeling comfortable expressing them to people outside of my close friends group or enforcing them when folks then ignored or disrespected them.
    Often when people would apologize (or give the half-apology of “well, it’s just so HARD for me!”), there were several times when I tried to downplay it and tell them it wasn’t a big deal and I understood that it was an adjustment. I thought it was important for me to be laid-back and accommodating, but that lead to a lot of pent-up anger and me feeling shitty about not being able to enforce my own boundaries very well.

    1. I’m sorry your friends didn’t back you up like they should have. If you’re the only one enforcing your boundaries it’s a lot harder.

  5. I am descended from a long line of women whose motto is “maybe forgive, never forget.” Also! I have recently found out via poll that my honey-love considers me “laid back for a tightly wound person.” (Those are my words. He said he thinks of me as “moderately wound.” But I digress.)

    Oh, and I was raised in the southeastern US, where smiling-and-seething is practically a cultural imperative.

    Yet despite those barriers to success, I have become mostly able to set healthy boundaries! To speak up for myself without sounding like a jackass! To in fact request felafel instead of Thai. For me it took a lot of therapy, a lot of practice, and 6 months of medically induced menopause, but it can be done!

    May your journey to a land other than Seethrovia be easy. Enjoy the quiet brainspace to come.

    1. “Oh, and I was raised in the southeastern US, where smiling-and-seething is practically a cultural imperative.”

      Oh, Lord, this is such truth. If I had a dollar for every time I heard “bless his/her heart…” between clenched teeth…

      1. I will never forget my former boss telling me, about four days after I moved to North Carolina, about what “bless your heart” REALLY meant. I do thank the good lord for her letting me in on that little secret bit of regionally engrained passive-aggression.

    2. My experience of the Northeast (which may vary by person of course) is that we seethe openly and say nasty-sarcastic things, as opposed to funny-sarcastic things we say the rest of the time. It’s hard sometimes to tell the difference. I’ve had a hell of a time adjusting to first the midwest and now the upper south. My former Awesome Boss explained to me once that sarcasm read differently to students in the midwest and it helped me adjust my teaching a lot. Alas, you can take the girl out of New York, but ya can’t take the New Yawk outta da goirl.

  6. Eek floodgates! I tried to be succinct in my question, and inadvertently left something out — I do (generally) say something about how they screwed up. I really really like to talk things over and communicate. I’m not perfect, by any means, but I am generally honest (apparently blisteringly, at times).

    I don’t even mind it when someone screws up, as long as they’re honest about it and aim to improve. And I’m happy to be friends instead of lovers — if they just tell me. If things aren’t nicely honest, that’s when Jerkbrain kicks in. Jerkbrain wants to rehash every mistreatment! Also I think my depression helps prod it into motion.

    I think partly it’s because I narrate everything in my head? Yesterday I was narrating possible things that would be said or that I would say should my question be used. It’s difficult to turn that off, if I’m not using enough of my brain on some other activity. I’m sure everyone does this, but mine seems out of control…

    However! I have started trying actively to sidetrack the mad nattering person in my head — sometimes this means I talk about what I’m doing, out loud, to distract myself. Or maybe I redirect into imagining every step of a walk that I’m familiar with. If I slip and start eliding parts of that walk while my brain starts hamster-wheeling, I mentally go back and walk it again.

    For sure you’re right that I should be seeing someone. I know it, intellectually.

    1. It’s good to collect derailing tips for when your brain goes off on the hamster wheel. I like your “imagine/narrate” derail. I usually do something like complicated crochet or needlepoint that requires me to count in my head, but that is not too hard to undo if i mess up. And my kids get stuffed animals! But doing physical stuff is not always possible.

      Good luck, LW. : )

      1. Oh that’s a good idea. I have cross stitching I should/could be doing. I’ll make a better effort to pick it up when I need to quiet myself.

      2. One of my jerkbrain distraction techniques is to pick A Topic that I know a lot about (mineral names, Discworld people, kitchen items), and try to think of one for each letter of the alphabet. Good luck, LW!

        1. I am so relieved that I am not the only person who distracts herself with list pop quizzes.
          Characters on Lost and the corresponding actor’s names can soothe the savage beast.

    2. Hey there, LW!

      You remind me a lot of a friend of mine. She gets into these moods/spirals where it’s easy for her brain to latch on to the injustices (big or small) that happen to her until it just builds up into a RAGE BALL. And she knows it’s happening! And she can acknowledge it at the time! But it’s hard to stop. Your tactics of recognizing what your brain is doing and subsequently derailing/distracting sound like some of the best things you can do, so kudos there!

      I know my friend actually does see someone/take medication for her situation and it helps a great deal, so that’s just another little nudge in that direction (and a reminder that you’re among good company, I hope).

    3. Hey, LW! Oh God, the NARRATING — I thought I was the only one who did that! I practice these, like, monologues, which I intend to give to That Jerk Who Hurt Me. And they’re full of literary allusions and iambic pentameter and witty, witty insults and then I never say anything to The Jerk Who Hurt Me! Instead: with the seething.

      Sometimes what helps me is saying “self, after delivering this monologue in which you describe the PAIN and ANGER and RESENTMENT going on in the depths of your soul, what do you actually want The Jerk to do/say? Grovel? Apologize like an adult? Blow up so you are free to hate him/her? Be silent and sink into a shame spiral so deep you can forget they existed?” And then I can walk through THAT dialogue, which, if not exactly productive, gives me a way to say “and SCENE,” and give myself some kind of mental closure.

      Even though I know a) I will not deliver the Giant Monologue of Pain and b) if I did, The Jerk would not react appropriately, Knowing that I identified what I want to happen makes it easier for me to acknowledge how I’m feeling about it. “It’s not just that she didn’t call me back! It’s that I worry she doesn’t value me as a friend and I am always on the back burner and that makes me sad! I would like her to apologize and then to go get coffee.” So when I see her, I can have the subtext of “I would like to get coffee with you because that would make me happy” in addition to “that thing you did hurt me.” If that makes sense.

      1. I like that, about what I want them to actually DO about stuff (assuming it’s anyone who cares in the slightest). Thanks!

    4. In conjunction with the Captain’s awesome suggestions, you might consider trying yoga and/or meditation. The stated goal of practicing yoga is something like “the cessation of suffering through calming the fluctuations of the mind” — essentially, you train yourself to neutrally take note of whatever thoughts surface in your mind, let them go, and return your thoughts to your breath (or whatever it is you’re supposed to be thinking about).

      In my experience this can help you put some space between a negative thought, and the spiral of negative emotions/obsession that often results from said thought. I’d recommend the book “Full Catastrophe Living” to anyone who wants to start meditating at home. I do try not to be the annoying person who tells everyone they should do yoga, so if you find this advice annoying, please ignore it!

  7. a) Oh god, the ACOUSTIC DUO Hulk-ku had me doing that thing where I cannot howl with laughter because I am at work so I have to progress from biting my lip to sucking my lips entirely between my teeth and clamping down and looking like a really weird ventriloquist dummy.

    b) CBT changed my life and has made me so much less likely to get stuck on the hamster wheel death spiral of analyzing bad interactions forever.

    c) Boundaries are amazing and wonderful things, and “no” is one of the most powerful words in the human lexicon.

  8. ” I think you might have a lot of rules and standards about how you want to be treated, and that’s okay, and that maybe you don’t have to get to the “objectively crummy behavior” stage before communicating and enforcing some of those rules?”

    I’m trying so, SO hard. Better lately, but yeah.

  9. I’m really glad that this post started with “talk to a professional.” LW, the times in my life when I have been stuck – and I mean really stuck, like maybe I just won’t leave the house today – in a whirling rage of self-righteous indignation, there has been something really wrong in my life, and it wasn’t really the person who sparked the rage, and I wasn’t yet equipped to get out of it. And those times, I was fortunate enough to have access to free counseling through my university (and also discounted counseling, which I tried because I could get an appointment sooner, but I ended up liking the free counselor much better). And I remember saying to these ladies – there were several over the course of a few years, because I went back to the center whenever I needed – “I don’t want to have all these feelings. I want to stop thinking about this incessantly. I want to be able to subdue my angry and sad feelings so I can function.”

    Talking to them helped me identify what was going on in my life that was causing so much hurt and anger. (Hint: it was usually me tricking myself into staying in relationships that were bad for me.) It also helped me learn to trust my feelings – if you’re that mad, you’re mad for a reason! – but understand them better when I could plainly state my own needs and aversions. And yeah, it took a time or two for that to stick. (I kind of tried to “fix” one lousy relationship by getting into another lousy one that was different enough to pass for “better” for awhile.) But be kind to yourself and allow that coping skills are skills you develop, that require practice and probably a little teaching.

  10. I really enjoyed this letter and response. A lot to think about.

    I think I know someone that needs to hear “…all you TERRIFYINGLY AMAZING people are also worthy of love, even if you are crazy and weird and sad…”

  11. I also like the way taking “no” as literally no all the time has taught my friends who WANT to be endlessly cajoled and argued with to speak their minds – and the way my friends who took my “no” as no taught me to speak mine. You can start a chain effect this way, I mean.

  12. I have become much better lately at not letting things lie, and not projecting into the heads of my friends/family some strange inner monologue – their reaction is theirs; I can ask for what I want/need.

    As an example, I sources a few presents over Christmas for a family member overseas. I confirmed the prices before buying anything. When I hadn’t had an offer of payment by New Year, I just sent an email (one among many) saying – “btw, total gifts came to $xxx – no big hurry to repay – let me know if you’re short of cash at the moment”

    I always knew he would be fine paying but that he’s forgetful/slack. Instead of letting it ride and getting resentful, I pushed it slightly, and of course he had no problem and paid me immediately. I also realised otherwise I was actually setting him up to let me down – he’d probably forgotten and would go on forgetting, so waiting longer so I had a bigger grievance was actually a dick move on my part.

  13. the poster was having an issue with a teacher and mentor who said some very toxic stuff in the classroom

    I had this issue this week, Cap, except it was a different professional who gave a seminar I was at and what he said really got me angry. I was stuck in an anger cycle for days where I kept playing it over in my head and tried to get the wording of my response right if I had the opportunity to talk to him. I thought maybe getting the wording right would make me less angry, but it kept cycling and cycling until I was going to bed angry and waking up angry, complete with clenched jaw.

    My friend suggested, since I’m more comfortable with the written word, that I write him a letter. There was no obligation to give the guy this letter (and I didn’t, in the end). The letter was basically a response to what he had said, pointing out why it was inappropriate and toxic and why I was offended and gave far more personal information than I would have actually given, but it also allowed me to structure my thoughts well enough to get out of that anger cycle. The letter ended being around 1400 words long. As soon as I closed the Word document, I wasn’t actively angry anymore. I still feel that what he said was inappropriate and, should that ever arise again, I would feel infinitely more comfortable approaching him directly straight afterwards and talking to him about it without any residual seething.

    I spoke to him the next day (yesterday actually) and I wasn’t angry at him. I didn’t bring it up, because the moment had passed, but I felt a lot more comfortable dealing with him than if I’d had to deal with him earlier in the week.

    I just felt like sharing how I ended up dealing with it. I wish I’d gone the way the student you mentioned had though.

    1. Oh my. I’m glad I’m not the only one who writes whole essays in Word about ‘shitty thing person x has done’, while also re-reading it and going ‘ah. That’s what my thoughts *really* are’. I think I’m getting a good handle on moving from ‘here is my ball of rage’ to a succint ‘here is what they actually did, which wasn’t okay and this is why’. (Captain, reading your blog has helped SO MUCH with this). Trapping my feelings on paper means they’re not driving me up the wall and allows me to contine to interact with the person in a polite fashion, if the issue turned out not to be what I thought it was.

      I have however now encountered a couple of situations where even after sorting out my feelings, needs and wants where there is something serious that actually needs to be addressed with the person. I haven’t managed to speak up yet, and the longer I leave it the harder it gets. :-/

      So, what I still need to learn/practise is how to express the problem *directly to the person who offended* in a non-jerk way, instead of pointedly ignoring them until they work out that they’ve done something wrong.
      This, I feel, is where Holly’s post and Cap’n’s advice comes in: Use your words!

      1. I hear you on leaving things until it gets too hard. When I was a kid, I wasn’t very good at using my words with other people even though language and words are the basis of my strongest skill set. I can use the written word really well (side effect of basically growing up on the internet. I learned my social skills in a text-based way rather than verbally). It’s been a long time now since high school, but every year has been a step towards learning how to translate that to Using My Words out loud. I’m miles ahead of where I was, but social anxiety and panic attacks are still major setbacks. But, damn it, I will prevail!

      2. In response to a question I posted here,, the boyfriend and I ended up writing a truly sublime letter to Girl Friend together (to clarify: he wrote it and I edited it for clarity, grammar, and spelling) and we spent maybe a full 5 or 6 man-hours on it. Then we never sent it. But it was really helpful for him to sort out his feelings, to feel heard (by an outside ear, me) and also for me to ask him questions to answer for himself, like, “did you mean X here, or Y?” Also I was able to, um, express myself a little with word choice suggestions. Letters can tame the Jerkbrain!

  14. Oh this resonates with me. CBT helped me out of the death spiral of negative thinking that only resulted in me disliking myself and for that I will be eternally grateful. Also helped that my first psychologist had a twitch which for some reason made me trust him enough to actually try out these crazy theories!

  15. I found meditation the most useful thing for helping me stop focusing on others’ wrongs and start focusing on the cool stuff I wanted to do and be.

    Mantras are good: my meditation teacher had us recite silently “I am x” where X is replaced with whatever we wanted more of in our life. I found ‘abundance’ really good. Just sitting comfortably and reciting that for five minutes or so every day for a week made a really big difference in my ability to focus on what I felt like. (About two-thirds of each five-minutes session consisted of me thinking of ways in which I didn’t feel abundant at all, but whenever I noticed I’d gone off on a tangent, I’d stop and start just reciting again. I think quite a lot of the benefit is that it drills your brain in how to recognise and let go of thoughts you don’t want to waste energy reinforcing.)

  16. I have a sister who takes my boundaries as a personal affront. So I used to keep dropping them, again and again, to keep her happy with me.

    A for instance for perspective? When we were in our twenties, she flipped out on me because I wasn’t comfortable sharing a bed with her with no clothes on. I told her she could wear what she wanted, but I preferred to sleep in pajamas. I actually would have preferred she wear clothes too– but our family was pretty open-minded about nudity when we were growing up, so…
    She went on a “joking” rant about how my husband has made me shed our family ways, and what a prude I’ve become.

    Sigh. So that’s the sort of thing I’m dealing with with her– coupled with a propensity on her part to either rage out or burst into tears if I disagree with her, with she takes as criticism.

    But I’ve been trying to get better about speaking up. It’s hard, because the words for what I’ve feeling don’t seem to surface out of the ick until later. And then sometimes she just won’t listen- hangs up the phone, and stays out of contact for months.

    This is what keeps my hamster wheel of resentment spinning and spinning. I’m starting to think about it a little less, but my situation with my sister provides near-endless jerkbrain fodder.

    But I’ll keep trying to use my words, one way or another. This endorsement of speaking up feels empowering.

    1. roo! You keep your boundaries, lady. I am sisterless, but oh, man if a lady I loved platonically got upset because I didn’t want to be naked in bed with her, I would have downgraded that in about 2 seconds flat to, “I will not sleep in a bed with you at all. Or maybe a room. Yes, let’s go with room, in fact, get out immediately, I need a locked door between us post haste.” Although, I’d like to point out: saying you ‘would have preferred she wear clothes’ in the next breath after ‘I used to keep dropping [my boundaries], to keep her happy with me’..kinda sounds like you dropped what would make you feel comfortable, to keep her (marginally) happy? Let me just affirm for you that it is totally reasonable to tell your sister that despite your family’s lax attitude to nudity, it makes you uncomfortable to sleep naked with her, and you’ll just be on this comfortable couch over here, thanks. And you’re also allowed to do this without being able to verbalize what feels ick about it. Feelings: no origin story necessary to use their powers for good.

  17. Getting enough aerobic exercise (on an ongoing basis) is needed to keep me from being internally angry all the time. There was about a year at the beginning in which I got into verbal altercations with other users of the roads (as a bicyclist) on a very regular basis, but that too passed.

  18. This is a very helpful post for me. I have been wanting to communicate better with the people around me, but haven’t been able to figure out the how.

    My personal impetus has always been to blame other people, not myself. And it seems that every bit of my frustration stems from fear of upsetting others. At work, it’s the fear that I will lose my job (Which is an easily justified fear when there are passive aggressive people to contend with.). In past living situations, it was the fear that I would lose the people I depended on, thus never having anyone to count on in an emergency. But now that I live with people whom I know I can count on in any emergency, things have become so much better – So now I know I could communicate freely, if only I knew how to do it.

    Has anyone else had trouble getting therapists to understand this problem? Generally when I have gone to a counselor, they’ve told me, “You’re just stressed” and left it at that. Which has always boggled my mind, because counselors are supposed to be better able than friends and family at teasing out intricate problems. And thanks to my inability to communicate correctly, I certainly wasn’t able to point it out.

    I’m thinking I might resolve to bring everything up to other people within 5 days, but I also feel that I should reserve the right to bring things up late if I have to. Because at this point I still need to work on bringing things up at all, so I need to start somewhere.

    Lastly, one thing I am finding very helpful is living with people who understand that everyone has the right to come back after being a crab; so even if I were to launch into a diatribe about everything that people did six months ago to annoy me, we can all talk about it, and then find a solution. To be allowed to do that has been the most helpful thing ever. So I recommend that even if you can’t do anything else now, try and talk to others in your inner circle about this. Tell them that you have trouble communicating, that you are working on it, and describe a little of this inability. It will go a long way towards their understanding what you are going through, and also how to help.

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