Dealing With Sensitive Spots

“No.  It’s not difficult between two sane, consenting adults.  It rarely is.

Unfortunately, we’re also rarely entirely sane.

Thing is, sanity is a percentage.  We all have weak spots where if you poke us, we melt down.  We all have embarrassing hotspots that we reflexively conceal, whether we should or not.  You can be perfectly sane about 99% of things, but everyone has some crazy spot that triggers them into overreacting.  And everyone has some emotional issue that, when raised, makes them word not so good that communicates are mall workingfail.

And when someone skips across your insane zones – you have them – then you react in bizarre ways, and God forbid your bizarre reactions trample on your partner’s insane zone.  If you’re lucky, eventually you deal with it.  But that doesn’t make it magically “not hard” to do, especially when your monkey-brain wants to bite their face off for leaving toothpaste on the sink again.”

This Should Not Be Hard Between Two Sane, Consenting Adults

I have been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately. Historically, the “zone” of mine that has perhaps the most history and at times absurd intensity is my sensitivity to flakiness and imbalance in relationships with people (I have written some about this before).

A lot of this sensitivity is on account of a couple of relationships early in my life where flakiness was an issue. More generally, I think the way that my life looks right now is unfortunately conducive to poking at this sensitive spot on a regular basis for reasons that are nobody’s fault. I still can’t physically work a full work week without aggravating repetitive stress symptoms. I am accordingly almost always a lot less busy than most people are. This means I have a lot more time to fill than most people do, which makes me generally more likely to be looking to interact with people more frequently than most.

Essentially, if I and another person are about equally enjoying hanging out with each other, let’s say that means that we each feel like spending time together about once per every 40 hours of free time. Because I have more free time, I will hit that 40 hour threshold faster even given a similar level of interest. Additionally, my having more time means I am also less likely to have uncontrollable schedule things come up that might necessitate my flaking out. This means I am often more likely to feel like initiating more interaction and less likely to flake versus other people without being an inherently more interested or less flaky person.

The sense of imbalance that creates is the Boss Battle Weak Spot of my ability to be levelheaded and rational about things. When it gets hit there are YEARS of frustration and anger behind it the origin stories of which would make this post several times longer. All that accumulated angst gets piled up and directed at completely different people and situations. Knowing about it and navigating around it is a determining factor in a LOT of my social decision-making. Even with all that management, though, there is no way to avoid triggering it entirely.

When that happens, I do my best to communicate about it. While that communication certainly helps and is certainly better than not communicating, it isn’t a cure for the feelings that happen. I am still in the pretty early stages of figuring out how to deal with and process those in a way that makes me feel better. I am also still figuring out how to deal with and process them in ways that do not cause undue distress or hurt to those in the Feelings Splash Zone.

I’m curious if any readers might have experience dealing with the feelings that result from having sensitive spots like this in a way that accomplishes those things? It’s one thing to generally have a sense of a reaction being out of proportion and a wholly different thing to apply that sense and whatever tools are available in a way that actually successfully ameliorates the feeling. Doing scary, haphazard Feelings Science to this is exhausting and, well, scary, and I would much rather just cheat off someone else’s homework.

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4 comments on “Dealing With Sensitive Spots

  1. I would agree with what Kasey said, have had similar problems in the past, and propose the following procedure (it sounds like some of which you already have, but putting the whole thing down just for completeness- sorry for the essay-length comment):

    Develop a consistent awareness of when this is happening, enough that you can reliably tell the difference between an out-of-proportion reaction and an in-proportion one at least 80% of the time, plus the ability to acknowledge the possibility of/hear evidence for it being out of proportion the remaining 20%.

    2a. Continue to communicate that to people, and own it. People will put up with a lot more if you maintain consistent awareness that your reaction is out of proportion.

    2b. Never direct the brunt of the unhappyfeels burden at the person doing the triggery thing (assuming it’s not a terrible thing and just something like e.g. cancelling plans because they’re feeling sick). It’s reasonable to tell them what your feelings are, like, “gee, that’s really disappointing, I was looking forward to hanging out with you.” and then go deal with the feels on your own or with a different trusted friend, but not reasonable to be like “I OWN THIS FEELING BUT I AM SO ANGRY AND WILL YELL OR BE PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE AT YOU NOW”. The former is “expressing your feelings”. The latter is “making your feelings someone else’s problem.” The two are often confused.

    Continue to communicate to people the things they can do to make it easier for you, in a sort of, “I recognize that this is my problem, and things like X and Y tend to exacerbate it. I am working on it. In the meantime, here are some very reasonable things you can do (give me advance notice if you’re going to cancel so I can find other plans; plan things with me a little further ahead of time; when you cancel, you be the one to reschedule, and do it soon; etc.) if you want to help me out.” Check these reasonable things by other reasonable people to make sure they’re reasonable, if you’re concerned. All of these things are examples of totally reasonable personal preference boundaries you could set, even permanently.
    If they can’t follow those very reasonable things, find less flaky and more considerate friends. Seriously, it is totally possible to find people who will not do things like cancel plans at the very last minute (except for emergencies).
    Decouple the association. You have a built-up set of terrible associations between flaky people/people not wanting to hang out with you and whatever the old awfulness was. 3 and 4 in this list will help you break that association, by showing you that people can cancel or whatever it is and still like you, and it will get better over time. Take the time to consciously note whenever something goes counter to the narrative you have in your head, and it’ll happen faster. 1 and 2 in this list are a way to stay fair to the people in your life and keep them around while 3-5 happen.

  2. What has been genuinely helpful to me in learning to be (somewhat) better at avoiding going completely batshit at people out of all proportion to reality is having one or two people in my life that
    1) I trust enough that I will listen to even while batshit; and
    2) are willing to directly tell me I am going batshit when it happens

    The thing is that my feelings can talk me out of all attempts for my brain to be rational at them, but outside input really helps me step back and take a second look at the situation, sometimes enough so that I can actually reframe it in a way that makes the feelings calm themselves.

    • That makes a lot of sense. I think not being sure of #2 is a big part of this for me. I’ve written some about that here.

      I generally trust my friends to be honest with me rather than lie. I have a harder time trusting that people will be honest with me rather than just going, “Fuck it, this friendship isn’t worth going through your bullshit.”

      Like I mention in that post, a big part of the problem is that I’m generally very self-controlled. I don’t generally have moments of overreaction that I’m not able to identify as that, which is great for not doing horrible things, but bad for figuring out if the people around me are willing to handle any amount of fucking up from me.

      Also because, well, I don’t really know what the difference is between asking people to handle your awful shit and asking them to put up with some degree of actual abuse. I think part of me is genuinely nervous that in figuring this out I will cross that line, and not only will someone want to just say “Fuck it, I’m leaving”, it will actually be the thing they should do. Or the thing I deserve. Or something.

      I don’t know how to figure out where that line is without experimenting, and the nature of experimenting is that it is finding out by trying things which may be past the line I’m trying to learn not to cross. And if I cross that…what if people leave? What if they’re right to leave?

      That’s what it feels like, anyway.

      • I totally get what you’re saying. And I don’t have an easy solution. Though I guess for me, explicitly asking people to call out my shit has actually been a step toward fixing the pre-existing problem that they were taking my shit, amd I was super uncomfortavle with that even if they weren’t yet.

        As an alternative (and I can’t believe I didn’t think of this initially) here is a great resource that can help you step outside of yourself and your emotional reactions without someone else’s help:

        http://audrawilliams.me/emotional-rescue/

        I haven’t quite learned to trick of remembering to go through these questions when emotions run hot, but I definitely aspire to it ❤

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