View Full Version : Emotional Disconnect: internal thoughts vs. external expression (ranty)
04-15-2005, 12:41 AM
For as long as I can remember, I have had problems expressing my emotions or desires visibly or in my speech. Tonight I had to "break up" with someone I've been "seeing" for a month because we had made plans to see a movie, but he kept on asking (like, five separate times) if I really wanted to see said movie, because I didn't sound like it (we were talking over the phone) and afterwards I freaked out and wrote him this really long email that I'm already regretting. And it's not just him: almost everyone I've gotten to know really well has commented at one time or another about how flat I seem, or how sad I look. Which is so fucking frustrating for so many reasons, because I'm not sad (or at least I wasn't until tonight) and whenever I think I am expressing my thoughts externally I find out later that I was totally off the mark, like I did tonight. I've always had a non-inflected voice, but it's only a problem now because I'm around people who don't know that this is how I always talk and act.
Basically what I want to know is: how can I convince people that I really mean what I say? How can I get people to buy that I'm excited about something, or that I'm having fun? Because obviously just telling people what I'm feeling doesn't mean shit. It's like I have to play some esoteric mind game just so people will believe what I say. And then of course I can't actually have fun or be excited, because I'm worrying that my behavior is wrong... it's such a catch-22.
This probably doesn't make sense to anyone at all. Maybe I'm just blowing everything out of proportion. But it really did bother me a lot when the guy I was talking to wouldn't stop asking me if I was okay and whether I wanted to go see the movie or not. My "flatness" is especially bothering me now that I've moved, because I want to go out and have a social life now that I'm living in a city but I feel like I can't because I'm expected to act a certain way and I don't know what that way is. If you're the kind of person who makes other people jump through hoops just to hang out with you or always comments on someone else's behavior (which, as it turns out, is almost everyone) I'd really like to understand your rationale. Because from where I'm standing it seems like everyone else is just being a jerk and trying to confuse me. What is it about "yeah, I really want to see that movie" (no matter how it's said) that is so hard to understand? Why do I have to say it in a certain way to be believed? And what is that certain way?
(I put this in IMHO and not the Pit because I really am looking for advice on convincing people that I really do mean what I say I mean, and I don't just want people bitching with or at me. Something tells me it will be moved though. So I'd like to respectfully ask that it stay here. Thanks.)
04-15-2005, 12:05 PM
I have a friend who is much like you, at least based on your description. She rarely smiles or shows much emotion, and her voice doesn't have a lot of inflection, unless she is really really comfortable with the person to whom she's talking. The more uncomfortable she is, the more she seems to 'shut down'.
She has been criticized for this, and it has caused problems in her personal relationships because people feel that she is apathetic, and they take it very personally.
Do you smile? Laugh? Feel excited?
Have you always received this kind of feedback from people, or is it something relatively new? Are you shy or self-conscious or do you think you suffer from social anxiety?
I've read the OP a couple of times- I'm not 100% clear though on whether YOU want to change the way you act / react or if you think that the people you meet should change the way they react to you?
There must be books you could read, or a counsellor you could see, or an acting class you could take. What about just observing the way other people around you behave, and the way others react to that?
If I was trying to get to know someone who seemed very "flat", as you describe it, I would assume that they weren't interested in getting to know me, and I would find someone to talk to who was more responsive. I think that is just human nature. NOBODY likes rejection, whether it is real or just perceived.
Good luck ...
Heart On My Sleeve
04-15-2005, 12:40 PM
I used to be like this, and probably somewhat still am. And I sometimes compensate(d) it with people I really liked by being over-exuberant, which may come across as fake and probably kind of weird.
I don't know what advice to give you, because I don't want to tell you that there's something wrong with you. However, I didn't like that trait in me and found out the reasons why I was like that, and addressed those.
I think for myself it was kind of a whole package deal...I was adept at supressing my emotion probably as a combination of being teased for being an emotional child and abdonment from my father, and I learned to simply not feel, which made me appear very stolid on the outside. I have been accused of being a snob...I also had hearing problems, which made it worse. Not usually being the first to say "hi", and not hearing someone if they say "hi"...not a great combination.
I think age has tempered me somewhat, but mostly doing some self-exploration to figure out why I felt that I needed to supress my exuberance really helped. I met people who were more like I thought I was inside, and thought they were okay, so that helped, too. When I liked something or someone, I was always hesitant to express the "panting puppy-dog" excitement I felt inside, until I didn't feel it anymore. Now sometimes I err on the panting side, but I'd rather that.
I'm still an intensely emotional person, but I've learned how to be appropriate about it. I experience most of my deep emotions alone, listening or Tori Amos or out hiking :)
So, I'm not saying that is your problem, but it might bear looking at. Maybe you are not emotionally intense, but are just having trouble communicating with verbal/visual cues. As someone else mentioned, you may not feel the problem lies with you, and maybe it doesn't. However, as you know, you can only change yourself, not other people.
So what do you do? If you have the ability to see a counselor, this might be a good thing to discuss. Maybe you can discuss it with someone really close to you. Like "This is how you reacted" when "This is how I would have expected you to react". It may seem fake, but you may just not have learned the appropriate cues. I know it seems unfair sometimes that you have to change when you're not intentionally doing something or someone sees a fault in you by assuming. Buuut, a little refinement of these social skills goes a long way in producing gratifying relationships.
One last thing--maybe if you get into a situation where someone is questioning your enthusiasm, you could always say, "You know, I get that comment all the time. I'm working on it." and look them in the eye and just say, "Trust me when I say I want to do it, because I really do mean it." Or something like that.
Also, I'm not sure why you felt you had to break up with him because of that?? :confused: Was it just because it was annoying? Or maybe he touched a nerve?....
Sorry for the long post, but I hope you got something out of it.
04-15-2005, 01:08 PM
Yeah, I was pretty upset when I wrote this, and wasn't thinking clearly, so it's a little scattered. It's always been a problem; one of my earliest memories was of my parents yelling at me after a day in Disney World because I wasn't acting happy like the other kids, I wasn't smiling or anything. When in fact, I was having fun, I did like the park. But no matter how much I told them that, they didn't believe me, they just said I was an ingrate. It's really become a problem recently because I moved, and while the people I talked to before are used to the way I am, my new friends aren't.
I've tried studying how other people react to things and copying them but I don't like doing that because it seems so fake, and also because I'm probably not doing it right. And I've tried reading books, too, but it doesn't seem to do any good because I never remember to smile when I should have been or make my voice sound excited when I should be sounding excited. I guess my problem with coaching is that such induced "correct" behavior is not instinctual, and so it's false and why would someone want to be friends with someone who is false? Are people really that fixated on inflection and expression that they'd take a false emotive friend over a genuine flat one?
And I'm not really a shy person, though I know I come off as one. I just don't talk to people I don't like, and I don't talk unless I have something to say. I don't have any anxiety from talking to people, the only anxiety comes when I get worried that I'm not following The Game, that my voice or expression doesn't match what I'm saying. And I'm not apathetic, either, but when I try to be overly enthusiastic about something it sounds like I'm over acting, and overblowing an emotion or feeling just dissipates it altogether for me. If I have to spend my entire time at the movies worrying about how I'm going to tell my date I liked it and be genuine and believable, then I'm not going to have a good time, because I'll be worrying about what I'm going to say afterwards.
I guess what I want to know is: why can't people take what I say at face value? Is the problem with them or is the problem with me? I know it's fairly ludicrous to think that everyone else is at fault and I'm the only one that's looking at everything clearly. But, from my perspective, it seems like I'm doing everything right. After all, why would I hang out with someone if I didn't like them? Participate in an activity I didn't want to do? Say I liked something when I really didn't? I guess I just think that my presence alone should be enough for someone to deduce that I like them, because if I didn't, I wouldn't be there. Why is there this added passive aggressive mindgame attached to basic social interactions?
In short, why do you (and other people) think thisIf I was trying to get to know someone who seemed very "flat", as you describe it, I would assume that they weren't interested in getting to know me, and I would find someone to talk to who was more responsive.? Why is it human nature to ignore what someone says and focus on how they say it?
On preview:One last thing--maybe if you get into a situation where someone is questioning your enthusiasm, you could always say, "You know, I get that comment all the time. I'm working on it." and look them in the eye and just say, "Trust me when I say I want to do it, because I really do mean it." Or something like that.I do say this. People don't buy it. And I know I broke up with him because it touched a nerve (actually, a whole pile of nerves). I mean, I would really like to change just because it would help me get along easier with people if I wasn't so flat, but I'm just curious as to why people place so much emphasis on expression/inflection in the first place.
Heart On My Sleeve
04-15-2005, 01:35 PM
In short, why do you (and other people) think this? Why is it human nature to ignore what someone says and focus on how they say it?
Because communication isn't only about the words you're saying. It's about visual/verbal cues. You may be acting genuinely and really meaning what you say, but humans are trained to look at the whole package. I'm not saying that's right or wrong...it just is.
It sounds like your parents' distrust at what you said really affected you, and knowing that, it's easy to understand why others' similar reactions would bother you. Maybe you just need time with your current people so they can understand how you are.
Your fear of people interpreting how you express yourself appears to be getting in the way of you having a good time, and you can't really put that on the person you're with. You may just have to put yourself out there as is, not worry about it, and deal with it if it comes up. Again, it would probably be helpful to discuss with a counselor as to how this anxiety (worrying that someone is going to react to your "flatness") relates to how your parents reacted to this trait. This might be a good start.
04-15-2005, 01:46 PM
In short, why do you (and other people) think this? Why is it human nature to ignore what someone says and focus on how they say it?
I have seen various studies showing that humans get as much as 75% of the meaning from a spoken phrase from inflection and body language. That means as little as 25% of what you meant to say is derived from the words you choose.
Why? For the same reason written language provides puncuation and message boards provide smilies - words alone are rarely sufficient to relay emotions and intent. Social norms and politeness dictate that we sometimes say things we don't mean (No, dear, that dress does not make your butt look big) and sometimes we just lie. We have been conditioned to realize that the way something is said is at least as important as the words themselves, IOW, what you do carries more weight than what you say.
I understand that this doesn't come easily to you, but the more you can change how you communicate to fit what society expects, the fewer misunderstandings you will encounter. You simply cannot expect people to overcome a lifetime of social conditioning when dealing with you. (I hope that last sentance didn't sound too harsh, imagine me saying it in a quiet, respectful tone while looking urgently into your eyes, my hands held out, palms facing each other, in an almost pleading manner)
04-15-2005, 06:23 PM
I understand that this doesn't come easily to you, but the more you can change how you communicate to fit what society expects, the fewer misunderstandings you will encounter.But that's the thing. I don't know what it expects. The expectations seem to change from person to person, from place to place, from day to day. If it was as simple as just smiling when I'm happy then I'd be able to figure it out. But it's a much more complex code than that. And again, I don't know how to keep away the fear that I'm going to fuck up the code, and how I'm supposed to, on top of THAT, make my emotions seem spontaneous and not like I'm obviously rehearsing an emotional script. Oh yeah, and also have a good time doing stuff.
I really just can't figure out how most people get along in the world. God, maybe I do need to see a shrink.
I have video of my daughter's 3rd birthday party, 6 other kids running around screaming and my darling just soaking it all in. My sisters tried to nag her about not looking like she was enjoying her presents/party/other kids, and I had to stand over her to protect her from them. They wanted her to behave in ways thet suited them, that made them feel better about themselves and I would not allow it. Same thing when my parents took us to the ballet at Christmas. "Didn't she enjoy it? She never smiled!" No, she just talked about it when they left for 3 weeks solid, just danced every part every day for the rest of the month. At 19, she has good social skills, is holding a job and juggling boyfriends. She can be "secretive" and "mysterious" if she wants to.
04-16-2005, 10:57 AM
I've tried studying how other people react to things and copying them but I don't like doing that because it seems so fake, and also because I'm probably not doing it right. And I've tried reading books, too, but it doesn't seem to do any good because I never remember to smile when I should have been or make my voice sound excited when I should be sounding excited. I guess my problem with coaching is that such induced "correct" behavior is not instinctual, and so it's false and why would someone want to be friends with someone who is false?
Maybe it will help to think of it as learning to express your genuine feelings better. That is think of it not as being false, but as letting others see the true you better. I know that's not easy -- I have a struggle with depression and shyness that often makes it difficult to express how I feel about the situation in the moment rather than having it overshadowed by the chronic negative feelings in the background.
I came in here to suggest an acting class, as Stainz has. I don't know your employment situation, etc., but a community college class should be relatively low pressure.
If you have access to student health counselors or an Employee Assistance Program through work, they may have some ideas for you.
I'm a little surprised to see that no one's come in here to mention Asperger's syndrome yet. I don't know enough about it to connect it with you in any way, but I've heard people who identify as having it say things similar to what you're saying. Even if Asperger's doesn't apply to you at all, maybe some of the therapy techniques would help you? I don't really know anything about that, but I thought I'd mention the possibility.
Also, being in a new area is very stressful. That in combination with your break-up is probably making you more self-conscious than usual. Be generous with yourself and give yourself time to adjust and get used to new friends and let them get used to you.
Just my two cents. Take it for what it's worth from someone that doesn't really know you.
04-16-2005, 11:55 AM
I think a lot of the problem you are having is because of the way certain other people act. Some people just can't come out and say, "No, I'm not interested in that movie," or "Geez, this is kind of boring. Could we do something else?" They aren't comfortable openly disagreeing or complaining. Sometimes they really are just trying to be nice, and aren't aware that their unhappiness is being communicated by tone and body language—and sometimes they are fully aware of it, and they expect other people to pick up on their nonverbal cues, and draw them out about it, or maybe psychically understand what's wrong and fix it. (There was a thread not to long ago about someone who was fed up with his girlfriend behaving like this—whether it was intentional or not on her part wasn't clear.)
This is so simple that I'm almost certain you've tried it already, but when people ask if you're
having a good time, could you say something along the lines of, "Oh, yes, I am. I'm just not a very emotive person. Trust me, if I'm ever bored or unhappy I will let you know." And then follow through. Say very clearly when something is bothering you. This could help your new friends get used to your reserved demeanor.
My gut feeling agrees with yours, that if you try to fake expressions, they will come across as, just that, fake, and the people around you will remain convinced that you're not having a good time. I would say that instead you should go to an effort to express your emotions verbally in a clear and sincere way. If you can, tell people before they ask, "This was a great restaurant to come to," "I'm really enjoying this party. Thanks for inviting me," etc. Being preemptive, rather than just responding to them, might make it easier to give them the impression that you really are sincere. It can also help to be specific, like saying, "Yes, I really want to see this movie because I like movies that are about blah," or "because I read a review in the Times that made it sound really interesting," or "because it stars Adam Sandler, and I think he's a geeeeenius" ;) or something. Not everyone is in touch with their own emotions enough to express things like this verbally, but I think that's probably easier than learning to smile and laugh when that is not natural to you.
04-16-2005, 05:04 PM
I think a lot of the problem you are having is because of the way certain other people act. Some people just can't come out and say, "No, I'm not interested in that movie," or "Geez, this is kind of boring. Could we do something else?" They aren't comfortable openly disagreeing or complaining. Sometimes they really are just trying to be nice, and aren't aware that their unhappiness is being communicated by tone and body language—and sometimes they are fully aware of it, and they expect other people to pick up on their nonverbal cues, and draw them out about it, or maybe psychically understand what's wrong and fix it.Yes, and this is what I HATE about people--that they think passive aggression and lying are nice and that honesty is a turn off. Nothing turns me off more than people who lie, even if it's about something stupid like what I'm wearing, because I never pick up on it and when I do find out they're lying it makes me feel like the biggest fool in the world. To take the "do I look fat?" example, how is making me seem like a fool going to make me feel better about my weight? If anything, it will make me feel bad about both my weight AND my intelligence, once the first honest person I see really tells me how I look. Of course, I don't get the motivation of the woman asking the question either; usually when you're having doubts about something like that (and, IMO, this also goes for "is this racist?" or "would this be a bad idea?"), your gut instinct is right, you DO look fat in that, and you shouldn't suck someone else into your own mindgame just so you can share your misery with another. Pick another outfit. I just don't get it!
I've read a bit about Asperger's syndrome, and I identify with it a lot except for one thing: I like being around people (as long as they're not lying or being PA, of course). Given the choice between spending a night home alone and spending a night hanging out with someone I like and can talk to, I'll take the latter every time. Things would be a lot easier if I could do without a social life, but unfortunately I do feel like I need people around me to be happy. Then again, it seems like I want people around me just so long as they're not acting like people, so maybe I should just, like, build an army of perfectly logical yet caring and sympathetic androids or something. Data is my fictional boyfriend.
04-17-2005, 11:47 AM
Well ... the chances of changing the way people relate to each other are pretty slim! :)
But maybe YOU could take the initiative to explain to people that you're getting to know that you are a very reserved and fairly unemotional person. Tell them it has caused confusion and some hurt feelings in the past, but that it's something you're aware of and you're working on.
Assure them that you are a very honest person and you always mean what you say - so if you say you're looking forward to going to a movie, you REALLY ARE looking forward to going to a movie, no matter what your tone of voice, your body language, or your facial expressions might be conveying.
I think if someone said that to me, I would be MUCH more likely to set aside my preconceived ideas and take what you said at face value, rather than putting as much weight as I usually do on nonverbal expressions. However, if I am NOT provided with that information, I would really be at a loss with how to take you.
Remember too that most people have some social insecurities and fear of rejection. If they don't have all of the additional reassurance - body language, tone of voice, facial expressions, etc - to go along with what you're saying - they don't know how to read you and your signals and they will likely seek to spend time with people that they CAN understand.
Perhaps a little time spent educating and informing the people you're interested in will have a big payoff!
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