Feelings Machine

3 Dec

I sometimes joke that I’m a feelings machine, but that description isn’t really so far from the truth. My brain churns out emotional reactions a rate that leaves me breathless, too fast for me to understand the why and how. Everything, everything seems to provoke some kind of intense feeling in me, and they almost always seem to be negative. I’m never just a little sad or anxious or concerned – I feel like the world is ending, over and over again, all day every day. It’s like the volume dial on my emotions is constantly cranked to 11. It’s exhausting for me, and I know that it’s hard for the people around me. I’m too intense, all the time, every day. It’s just too much.

The problem is that almost everything feels like an emergency, especially when it comes to interpersonal conflict; I have a seriously hard time distinguishing between an every day, run-of-the-mill argument and a relationship-ending barn-burner. If a friend or family member leaves before the conflict is resolved, I’m certain that they’re never coming back. Nothing ever feels solid enough.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, trying to figure out why I react with panicked sobbing to stupid differences of opinion that most people would just roll their eyes at. Why do these situations send off deafening alarm bells in my brain when they seem to be just blips on everyone else’s personal radar? And why can’t I ever stand my ground and assume that I might be right instead of turning into a babbling mess of frantic apologies and promises to do better next time?

I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of it has to do with the relationships that I’ve had with volatile, unpredictable people. And I don’t just mean romantic relationships – I mean any kind of relationship, with a parent or a sibling or a teacher or a friend. For whatever reason (I mean, I can think of actual Reasons, but I’m not going to get into them right now), I’m drawn to these people. For one thing, they’re exciting, aren’t they? You never know what they’ll do or say next, and they tend to stir up my otherwise boring, predictable existence. Staying on their good side seems like some kind of a challenge, and I’ve never backed down from a challenge. And I guess it’s a dynamic that I understand and feel comfortable with, even though you can never really feel as if you understand or feel comfortable with these types of people.

The problem with volatile people is that everything has the potential to be an emergency; something that they think is fine and dandy one day could send them into screaming fits of rage the next. You never, ever know how they’ll react, so you always have to brace yourself. Anything that you do or say could set them off. Conversely, anything that you do or say could also delight them to no end. There’s no way of knowing how things will play out, and so trying to please them is like aiming at a moving target – you’ll probably never be able to hit it, and if by some stroke of luck you do, that strike has nothing to do with your skills or capabilities.

If you live with a volatile person for long enough, it’s hard to maintain a consistent personal narrative. Every event is re-framed by how they saw it, and no matter how hard you try to hold on to your version of events, the force of their overreactions starts to erode your confidence in your own perspective. Trying to fight against them begins to exhaust you – they’re too good at pushing your buttons, know too well exactly what to say to hurt you most deeply, and you can’t keep up, can’t maintain that level of mean-spiritedness. You start to accept what they tell you, because it’s just easier. It’s easier to be wrong all the time. It’s easier to apologize. It’s easier to lie down and let them walk all over you. Of course, you lose yourself in the process, but what does that matter? By that point you believe that that self was worthless anyway.

Once you’ve experienced that type of relationship, it’s hard to know how to interact with other people, non-volatile people. You’re constantly looking for hidden meaning in their words and actions, looking for clues that might tell you how to behave. You don’t trust them when they say that everything’s fine, because you know that nothing is ever fine, not really. Even the smallest thing could escalate into a disaster.

So you overreact. You cry and panic over stupid, petty things, because how can you ever be sure that they’re really so stupid and petty? You grovel and apologize before they can get to the point where they demand and apology, because you know that it’s so much easier that way. You call yourself every bad name in the book before they can even open their mouths. You try so hard to beat them to the punch, even when there’s no punch coming. The new people in your life, these normal, non-volatile people, can’t figure out where you’re coming from. They chalk it up to low self-esteem, and try to build you up or bully you into feeling better about yourself. They all tell you that you need to care less about what other people think, and you want that, you want it so badly, but you have no idea how to stop caring. You’re not certain who you are unless someone else is telling you something about yourself; you feel like a sort of black hole, sucking in everything from the people around you. You’re so hungry for a version of yourself that you can love and accept, but nothing that anyone can tell you is ever enough.

You feel more defined by absence than anything else and incapable of emitting any light.

weird-machine

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34 Responses to “Feelings Machine”

  1. M. R. December 3, 2013 at 3:09 am #

    You have indeed suffered at the emotional hands of others. I imagine it must be extremely helpful to be able to write honestly about it. I do the same with my own problems, and I never have the slightest problem in revealing my thoughts – and everyone knows my name. All a matter of priorities.

  2. seewithsoul December 3, 2013 at 3:16 am #

    I have a friend that is exactly like that. Her emotions always seems exaggerated… And she’s not very smart (I shouldn’t say that about a friend, but it’s true) so she always gets in trouble and people get mad and she then starts to think everyone is against her. My brother is like her so I kind off know how to deal with her. I try to explain to her how she can try to control/hide her emotions a bit so people don’t pick on her as much. But like I said she ain’t very smart and doesn’t listen to any advice so… It’s quite hard and Ido get angry with her, because I’m on the other side completely. I hide my emotions all the time and don’t like people getting in my business. Her, she cries in front of everyone and tells whoever wants to hear (or not) the misery of her life. I’m trying to be patient with her and I think this post actually helps me to understand her a bit more.

  3. Miriam December 3, 2013 at 3:20 am #

    I’m also very intense. No question, life is harder this way. At some point in my 30’s I read “The Highly Sensitive Person” and everything fell into place. There’s even a little quiz you can do online. Once I realized that it was okay, things began to ease a bit. I became more careful in my relationships. I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I have found that I can pick who I hang out with. For the most part. And now, I choose to be with people who are easy to be around.
    My family is still pretty volatile though- we have a bunch of sensitive kids. But I am much mellower than I used to be. It can happen.

  4. Hannah Louise December 3, 2013 at 3:25 am #

    You just summed up my entire past relationship. I was with a volatile guy for years, and didn’t realize it until after he broke up with me. I’m in a new relationship with a guy now, and he can’t understand why I react with panic and anxiety every time I think that he “may” (he never is) mad at me. I realized, as you have, how much my past relationship contoured the way I deal with conflict, and how I shut down and immediately panic, respond with apologies, when none are needed.
    I think the first step in resolving this issue, however, is realizing the way you act and being conscious of it.

  5. Miep December 3, 2013 at 3:26 am #

    Reblogged this on There Are So Many Things Wrong With This and commented:
    Been there done that. It’s possible to unlearn this, but it takes time and distance. <3

  6. Anjali Sharma December 3, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    I love the honesty in this post. And I had this most evident smile on my face after reading your post for it reminded me of the person I used to be. I was the abnormal, weird species landed up from a distant land among these normal and perfect people. And today, looking at the person I am, looking at all the beautiful and pathetic changes in my life, all the journey, I can only smile for I know you’re gonna smile too, after some years. This will change. And you will smile. God bless you, good luck with your life!

  7. CC December 3, 2013 at 4:14 am #

    While it’s understandable to feel exhausted and drained dealing with “emotional people”, there is also the other side of it – when you truly can’t help getting upset or emotional, and having people blame you for it. I’m on the autistic spectrum, and there are times I will, in the eyes of “normal” people, overreact. It took me a long time to find the balance between groveling apologies for having feelings, and not caring at all about the effect my meltdowns had on others.

    I cannot help meltdowns unless my environment is structured absolutely perfectly, which is not going to happen. But I can help how I react afterward. It sounds as if you’ve been faced with people who don’t know how to handle their own meltdowns. I can’t promise I won’t freak out, but I do explain, and – if necessary – apologize afterward. You deserve that. Everyone does.

  8. keelyellenmarie December 3, 2013 at 4:46 am #

    1. I have also felt, at times, like a feelings machine. I feel things very intensely, by default. I’ve learned to regulate my emotions a bit better, and I think one of my antidepressants has tamped down the volatility a bit, but I’d still say I’m more emotional than the average human. It’s hard, but it’s manageable, in the absence of volatile abusive people. Someone else already mentioned the Highly Sensitive Person book, and I’d recommend it.

    2. I’m not diagnosing you, because I don’t know you and because I think this diagnosis is highly problematic, but sensitive person + abusive/volatile relationships is generally considered to be where borderline personality disorder comes from. Extreme emotions are a key feature of the disorder. I mention this because this means that a great deal of the therapeutic techniques in BPD deal with a) emotional regulation and b) re-learning how to have relationships, minus all the crazy volatility.

    As a sensitive person who has had relationships with unpredictable/abusive people, I have at times in the past fit the technical criteria for BPD, though my therapist and psychiatrist could never agree on whether the label was actually appropriate. It really doesn’t matter to me, the point is that the tentative diagnosis got me access to therapy designed for BPD, and I found some of it very helpful. Maybe check out DBT, see if any of the ideas are helpful?

    3. As is true of all your posts, this was insightful and beautifully written. Thank you.

  9. Tiana December 3, 2013 at 4:52 am #

    This is exactly how I feel.

    I spent several years in a relationship with a man who threatened a breakup over everything – from the way I parent my daughter to the fact that I quit eating eggs to my discomfort at him taking a week-long trip to Mexico with an ex.

    My current boyfriend is the most wonderful, understanding man I have ever met. He tells me the truth about everything, even if it’s not what I want to hear. He listens, he has never once raised his voice to me… the closest we’ve come to a fight was due to me reading too much into his behaviour, as I tend to do. And, still, I’m always afraid that it’s not all okay.

    Thank you, so much, for this.

  10. Foghorn The IKonoclast December 3, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    I too have faced each day with a cause for concern. always feeling the other shoe is going to fall. Is this the nature of being sensitive or articulate on these matters?

  11. samara December 3, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    I am digging your blog. So very much.
    I read your fiction post, Delphine, and loved it.

    This is even better. Raw and real. A feelings machine? I just spent the last 3 hours emailing a blogger I barely know back and forth. Over nothing. And everything. I’m going to forward him your post. This is too good not to share.

    I love that you’re pretentious as fuck. Can I be that, with you? Are hats involved? And alcohol?

  12. ramblinginthecity December 3, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    I think some of us (me included) also need to accept that this is how we are. In a bid to always find rational explanations for how we are, we tend to beat ourselves up quite a bit. I relate to some of the feelings you describe about relationships, but I realize I am that way even with non-volatile people! The people closest to me have learned to or are learning to react with reassurances. some never learn, but then I need to learn to laugh with them at myself when the tantrum passes! Essentially, I am learning to take myself less seriously every day, even as those around me learn to take my feelings a little more seriously!

  13. lruthnum December 3, 2013 at 10:48 am #

    I think that all of us have this side to our personality – it just takes a certain type of person to bring it out of us. When my partner and I first got together we had an extremely volatile relationship with extreme screaming matches, but now we are both so placid with each other – it is refreshing. Perhaps some people just find it difficult to put things in perspective when they are swept up in emotion, but it doesn’t make you a bad person. The experiences you have had have led to you reacting in this way, but perhaps it is something you can work on. I used to get annoyed very easily by all sorts of silly things and I started to use my breathing to give myself time to take stock and realise it was not really a problem. When someone tells you something and you start to feel yourself reacting, why not take a deep breath and count to 10. If the reaction is instinctive, you will have some time to cool off and really think about what is happening rather than becoming emotional.

  14. Eimear December 3, 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I never know if I’m drawn to volatile people because of the anxiety (and that perverse need for extremes, for action, for FEELING, to cancel out the nagging background unease) or if the fact that I spend a lot of time around volatile people makes me anxious… either or… or both I guess.. chicken and egg.. anyhoo, I’m much better these days at hanging out with non-volatile individuals, but I TOTALLy get that overreaction/trust dynamic. My lovely, not volatile at all, totally laid back boyfriend recently proposed… and I had a huge panic about what his motives might be in doing so… I’m such a pain in the ass. I got over it though! And said yes. Then I panicked about explaining to people why I am now getting married despite the fact that for many years ‘I did not believe in marriage’ and OMG inconsistency, what will these people think of me???!!! And yet, this is me SO much better than I used to be. You learn to laugh at yourself I think, that’s the key. Or was for me. Thanks for the post. Truly. There’s a lot of stuff out there, and rightly so, about depression and what that’s like, but much less about the anxiety side of the coin. This was really nice. Xxx

  15. amyschacht December 3, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

    Thank you so much for this post – I especially appreciate the vulnerability you are willing to feel because you know some of those very people will be reading this post! And it made me think about how addictive volatile relationships can be – So that we end up needing more and more not to feel good; just to not feel so bad. Plus our brains adore coming up with reasons for why we feel the way we do, and these relationships provide such reasons. End those relationships, and we’re just left with these feelings – that – make – no – sense. Because depressed brains can also be hyper active negative beat ourselves up brains. For no reason. Or at least one that doesn’t make sense. Ah, well, just ramblings – All I really wanted to say was thanks. And kudos.

  16. ambernikel December 3, 2013 at 6:46 pm #

    This used to describe me so well. For me it likely came from invalidation of my feelings as a child and continued with my own invalidation as an adult. It’s taken a lot of work, but I have finally broken free from patterns of beating myself up, or choosing volatile people in my life. One of the biggest steps I took was learning cognitive behavioral therapy (Feeling Good, the new mood therapy by David Burns explains these concepts really well – sounds cheesy but it changed my life). I realized for the first time that I wasn’t a victim to my emotions. I always despised hearing, “well just be in a better mood, just think more positive thoughts”. It doesn’t work that way! But there are methods that help and ways to shift your perspective and open up entire new options for how to live the way you want. Followed with weekly psychotherapy by a doctor who utilizes CBT/DBT, my life has taken wonderful turns I could have never expected. I still have intense emotions, but I tend to them and love them. I listen to what they want me to hear and decide my actions. They don’t control me any longer but I didn’t just repress them. It’s nice. Good luck and thank you for your honest post.

  17. Rebecca December 3, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    I understand these feelings all too well. And I’m so very sorry that you feel them, too. Sending hugs, and hope that there is a way out of this pattern.

  18. Psychobabble December 3, 2013 at 11:41 pm #

    I’d like to make a suggestion that by volatile people, you also mean abusive people. People who choose to act in such an unpredictable way that the behavior serves to keep power and control over another person. They even serve to have the target, victim, person-who-this-behavior-is-directed-at question his/her own thoughts and feelings. I call that crazy-making.
    I’m so sorry you’ve experienced this. The picture you painted made me feel more connected.

  19. Becca Joyce December 5, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    I can really relate to this blog. For me, recognising the problem and talking about it has done wonders to diminish it. Getting, and keeping those volatile people out of my life has also led to a massive improvement. Get off the roller coaster if you can – too many ups and downs can make you very sick. I’m having the words ‘Be Still’ tattooed on my wrist next week to remind myself to do that. There IS a way out if that pattern, you just have to find the route that works for you. And you have to be ready to change.

  20. Mari Nikonen December 5, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    Absolutely brilliant. Thank you!

  21. janetisserlis December 7, 2013 at 1:56 am #

    yes yes, yes, yes

  22. victorialittle December 8, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Reblogged this on victorialittle.

  23. ladymirth December 10, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    I began to cry my eyes out halfway through reading your post. For so long I have wondered whether I was just broken or weak for flying off the handle at the most absurd triggers and then spending days feelings suicidal. Now I understand why. I have lived 25 years with an alcoholic, emotionally abusive, extremely volatile parent who vacilitated between loud jovial laughs, calm reasonableness, glowering, sullen silences and screaming hair-trigger rages that sometimes led to physical violence. I grew up to attract friendships with those sort of people because I thought that was just how normal people behaved, and pain and unpredictability were things I expected and understood. Now I’m married to a gentle, soft-spoken man with whom I am happier than I can ever remember being, but I still have crazy, vicious outbursts at him over stupid shit that leaves him baffled and hurt. I’d been telling myself all this time that this is because I’m an immature, crazy person who likes to self-sabotage her relationships.

    I can’t thank you enough for your post.

  24. ladymirth December 10, 2013 at 4:00 am #

    I began to cry my eyes out halfway through reading your post. For so long I have wondered whether I was just broken or weak for flying off the handle at the most absurd triggers and then spending days feelings suicidal. Now I understand why. I have lived 25 years with an alcoholic, emotionally abusive, extremely volatile parent who vacilitated between loud jovial laughs, calm reasonableness, glowering, sullen silences and screaming hair-trigger rages that sometimes led to physical violence. I grew up to attract friendships with those sort of people because I thought that was just how normal people behaved, and pain and unpredictability were things I expected and understood. Now I’m married to a gentle, soft-spoken man with whom I am happier than I can ever remember being, but I still have crazy, vicious outbursts at him over stupid shit that leaves him baffled and hurt. I’d been telling myself all this time that this is because I’m an immature, crazy person who likes to self-sabotage her relationships.

    I can’t thank you enough for your post.

  25. Megan December 22, 2013 at 2:42 am #

    Magnificent writing. This truly spoke to me. I am a feelings machine too. You shed some light on me. Thank you.

  26. Cassie Garbe December 30, 2013 at 6:11 pm #

    We could probably be good friends….I find “stable” people to be quite boring.

  27. JulianeAshley January 6, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    I could not relate more to this post! My brain is constantly thinking about worst-case scenarios, jumping to conclusions, or turning a small matter into a 4-alarm emergency/meltdown.
    I’ve been afraid to write much about my struggles on my blog because most of my family and friends do not believe anxiety is a real thing and is just me being “not in control of [my] emotions”. Thank you for sharing this… and everything!

  28. Kade Azkyroth February 16, 2014 at 3:33 am #

    “While it’s understandable to feel exhausted and drained dealing with “emotional people”, there is also the other side of it – when you truly can’t help getting upset or emotional, and having people blame you for it. I’m on the autistic spectrum, and there are times I will, in the eyes of “normal” people, overreact. It took me a long time to find the balance between groveling apologies for having feelings, and not caring at all about the effect my meltdowns had on others.”

    …oddly enough, the kind of reactions she describes is pretty similar to that state of mind dealing with allistics’ reactions to my symptoms has produced.

  29. Geekgirlsrule February 28, 2014 at 5:04 pm #

    This post is so very true. I just got out of a truly horrendous work situation, and even though everyone in my new job is very chill and understanding, I still break out in a sweat if I screw something up, even something really stupidly minor, like I typo-ed someone’s name, because at my last job that would result in a screaming tantrum.

    I did warn my new boss that I may react disproportionate to things because of that job, but didn’t go into specifics. Although I think from things that slip out from time to time, she’s getting an idea of what it was like over there.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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