Making myself smaller around other people's negative emotions

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spryte

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I took some time away from these boards, too much going on in the last 8 moths. I'm so glad to see familiar names still posting!

I need help processing something and this was the place I thought of for help doing that. I'm not seeing a therapist at the moment.

Two weeks ago I moved in with my boyfriend. It's a huge step in our relationship. We're living in what amounts to an efficiency type arrangement because he takes care of his elderly mother...so we live in the garage. We have use of the kitchen in the house, but we don't spend any time in there. It's her space. The garage is ours.

We both have c-ptsd. We both have anxiety disorders. We're both introverts who are very protective of our comfort zones and alone time and personal space...except with each other. We're much more tolerant of us being in each others comfort zones, and personal space, and we're working out ways for each of us to get sufficient alone time. None of that is even really germane to my particular issue that popped up yesterday for the first time with him. I've seen it in action before...actually, within the last 8 months, because I was dealing with an emotionally abusive work situation.

He woke up feeling anxious for various reasons. Because we didn't live together before, it was easy for us to retreat to our separate corners when we had "episodes". Now, we're learning to allow the other person to see that. So, he expressed to me when we went to the store that he was anxious, and I could see it when we got home in a change in his normally joking demeanor.

He knows exactly how to deal with me when I get anxious like that. He makes jokes, he distracts me. It works. He never fails to make me feel better.

I was feeling anxious myself about an issue, and we discussed whether or not his anxiety set off mine....but when I realized how anxious he was, my own private stuff that I was anxious about went out the window to be replaced by anxiety about HIM. How can I make him feel better? What do I do in this situation? What set off his anxiety? Was it me? Am I contributing to it?

I immediately felt guilty because I am not that jokester. I am a nurturer. So I was trying to feed him, and then cleaning up around the house, and trying to stay out of his way because I know that having his space is nurturing for him...

I wasn't freaking out. I was watching myself have these emotions. I recognized them. I've seen them before. It's "freezing". The second someone else is having negative feelings whether they be anger (which is what I was dealing with at my job) or distress...anxiety, inside, I immediately freeze and start looking around for "danger". Are they going to freak out? Yell at me? Throw something? Is he going to emotionally distance himself from me? Shut down? How do I fix it? How do I fix it? How do I fix it? And guilt because I can't fix it, that I'm not "good" at making him feel better the way that he can make me feel better. I wanted to make myself smaller, be out of the way, not contribute any more to his stress. All of my confidence in this huge transition that we made slowly filtering away...maybe this was too much for him, maybe he's anxious because he's changed his mind about all of this and now he can't go back.

Rationally...all of which is absolute garbage. He was having a moment. I have moments. It passed. He works excessively hard NOT to freak out around me, and the likelyhood of him yelling at me or throwing something around me is like...zero. I already have a long long list of "proof" about how into this move he is, and how hard he's already worked to make it work and so far it's been amazing and awesome.

I want to stop having that reaction though. I used to do that "it's about me" thing all the time with people. I worked on that...and it got better. I was immediately able to, in most situations, see clearly that it was probably about something else. And then that damn job put me back about 10 steps because I had a co-worker who was bullying me, and acting * towards me and I worked hard to make it not about me, give her the benefit of the doubt, she TOLD me it wasn't about me, and then turned around and told me it was and spent months acting like I was the dumbest, most annoying person she'd ever had to deal with...and then gaslighting from her and my boss...

Sooo...I guess I've backslid a bit. Add into that experience the natural stress of he and I learning each other in this new environment....

I'm not even sure what I'm looking for other than just discussion, processing. Have you experienced anything similar? Worked through it? What worked for you? How do you reframe situations like that when they happen?

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Kubali

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Re: Making myself smaller around other people's negative emotions
« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2015, 05:22:03 PM »
To sprite

I read your post slowly and carefully. I became involved and started to feel anxious. My God I'm exactly the same!!! Your words became my words.

I have been with my husband now for 10 years and I still do the 'invisible' thing when he has a negative emotion. I feel like I'm being drained by anxiety and I want to FIX IT QUICK so I can be SAFE again. He is wonderfully comforting and supportive of me but I still panic in case the worst thing happens.... I'm going to be all alone and I'm NOT going to make it.

So YES I know.

kubali

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spryte

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Re: Making myself smaller around other people's negative emotions
« Reply #2 on: June 10, 2015, 04:24:03 AM »
Kubali,

I'm sorry that you're experiencing similar issues. Are you seeing a therapist about your anxiety? Unfortunately, it's not a quick fix. At least, it hasn't been for me. This is a scenario that I've run into many times, and it seems like each time it pops up, I learn more about it. I've done a lot of mindfulness work in the last year or so and noticed that I finally got to a point where I could observe what was happening while it was happening. Being more aware of it as it's going on, may not help you to change it in the moment...but it gives you valuable data for later that you can analyze in a less emotional way. You can see more clearly what your triggers are...for me, it was his anxiety escalating because we were in a store, and then we had to come back and do a bunch of lifting of heavy furniture which made me feel even more useless and ineffective because I couldn't help much. The more helpless I felt in the face of his anxiety, the more anxious I felt...the smaller I felt like I needed to make myself, the more I felt "in the way" and like I was certainly making it worse.

Seeing all of that, recording it as it was happening though, helped me come here...write about it to process it, and to talk with him about it. Do you ever talk with your husband about your feelings? After my boyfriend and I talked about my feelings, I was also able to talk to him about his anxiety and find out specific ways that I CAN help him when he is anxious. But, I also feel like I got a good lesson in simply...sitting with his anxiety, because sometimes it's not about helping, or fixing, sometimes it's just about being there...whether I can make him laugh or not.

I hope that you are able to find a healthy way to address the issues you're having with this.  :bighug:

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bee

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Re: Making myself smaller around other people's negative emotions
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2015, 06:03:31 AM »
Spryte,
I do this too. Negative emotions in others can send me into an EF. I even had a tendency to try to manage my H in order to prevent him from having any negative emotions. I realize now that everyone is entitled to feel angry/sad/ anxious whatever. I still react to negative emotions. It is my Inner Child sounding a red alert. In her experience negative emotion were always directed at her. I need to prove to her, that bad things will not happen.

Now when I realize I am getting upset, because I sense a negative emotion, I ask for clarification. Even if I know that H is not angry at me; I'm not sure he has ever been angry with me; I ask him calmly, "Are you angry at me." He says no, I am angry that x is not working." This verbal proof helps to calm me down. H and I have discussed why I need to ask this, and he understands it has nothing to do with him. Maybe you can figure out what proof you need to help you calm your IC. It sounds like boyfriend would be willing to work with you on providing verbal proof that you are safe.

It's good that you realized that it is not your job to make fix it. Probably you had to calm the PD's in your life, and so you were taught that this was your job. It's not. You can help if you want, but it should not be a requirement. It doesn't sound like it is, just a reminder of what you probably already know.

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spryte

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Re: Making myself smaller around other people's negative emotions
« Reply #4 on: June 12, 2015, 07:50:00 PM »
Bee, I used to have a horrible horrible time with "managing other people's feelings". I'd use everything from straight out lying to emotional manipulation to try to manage other people's feelings because I was so uncomfortable with other people's negative emotions. My BPD mother "taught" me that I was "in control" of her feelings...it was always my fault that she was upset. It was my fault (or our fault, me and my brother) that she was stressed, angry, crying. That has a tendency to make a kid grow up feeling powerful..."I have the power to make people feel things! Or not feel things!" So yeah, I see the mechanism behind it all.

An extension to this is a much more visceral fear reaction I get whenever I'm put in a situation when strangers are angry, or there is conflict going on around me. Because then, my brain short circuits and I think some part of it gets fearful that whatever THAT going on over there is? I CAN'T control it (even though I know I can't control stuff with people close to me, my brain thinks it can at least try, if that makes sense?) I was having a horrible time in my old apartment because I was surrounded by domestic violence, so every time someone's voice was raised, I'd go on red alert.

I think that the next time something like this happens with the boyfriend though, I'll be much better prepared to say something like, "What can we do about your anxiety, is there anything we can do? What do you need from me?" I think that will spark conversation that will will "prove" to me that it's not about me.