I want to preface this by saying that I’m not generally unhappy. I don’t feel tragically misunderstood, and my issues are typically pretty standard. I’m just a little concerned about a… thing.
Thing being: I hate talking to people about my personal woes. It doesn’t feel like a trust issue or a communication issue. Talking just doesn’t help me process stress…at all.
It’s confusing because everyone says you shouldn’t bottle up your feelings, that you should share your problems with others and get support when you need it. But even when I need support, I try not to discuss it with my friends and family. I’ve had some poor experiences with friends who marginalized my fears and made it feel like a chore to talk to me, and they kind of killed the whole concept for me. Bottling things up has been my go-to option for years now.
I’ve got other outlets—I write and draw, for instance, but there’s no catharsis in talking for me. Just this gloomy kind of… regret. I feel sort of sick if I complain about my lot in life to my friends. I feel like I’m letting myself down, somehow. (Which is stupid, I know.)
I figure, no one piece of emotional advice fits everyone, right? Maybe I’m the exception to the rule? Still, I’m worried I’m just making an excuse here, that I’ve created this problem just so I can have something to complain about. Or what if I’m just convincing myself I don’t need support so that I can feel more independent?
Like I said, I’m just concerned. I don’t want this to metastasize into something that puts me into an asylum later on.
Well, allow me to assure you on that front, Sparkler: as a society, we don’t institutionalize people just for being silent stoics who don’t wanna talk about their problems. In fact, that kind of attitude might even buy you a free pass or two to do actually crazy things and get away with it! Clint Eastwood, for instance, once argued with an empty chair on national television for ten full minutes, and he’s still out there! Walking around, glaring at things, making millions of dollars to make movies, etc.
All of which is to say, this could be a totally workable approach to life for you.
That is, if it were an approach that served you, and didn’t get in the way of your emotional health. But that’s where we run into an issue: if you’re not gonna be honest about your feelings with others, it’s all the more important that you be honest about ’em with yourself. Which is why Auntie SparkNotes is giving the hairiest of hairy eyeballs to the part of your letter where you’re all, “This isn’t a trust issue!” which is followed almost immediately by the part where it is so totally obviously a trust issue:
“But even when I need support, I try not to discuss it with my friends and family. I’ve had some poor experiences with friends who marginalized my fears and made it feel like a chore to talk to me, and they kind of killed the whole concept for me.”
Yeeeeah. In short, there’s a difference between not being inclined to share because you’re just not much of a sharer, and actively bottling up your feelings because you don’t trust people to treat them respectfully—or for that matter, getting so defensive about the bottling-up that you twist it into a point of perverse pride. (“I don’t need to talk about my feelings! In fact, talking about my feelings MAKES ME SICK!”) The former is a totally valid and healthy way to exist in the world; the latter is a form of self-delusion that’ll come back to bite you in myriad unpleasant ways. And since your letter contains a mix of both sentiments, it’s going to be up to you to figure out where your self-knowledge ends and your insecurities begin.
That said, if you really, truly don’t feel the need or desire to tell your friends when you’re going through a hard time, that’s fine. You don’t have to! But you should also realize that communicating with people can be a good idea for reasons beyond catharsis or support-seeking. Talking to your friends might not help you process stress, but it does keep them in the loop about what’s happening in your life—and even if that’s all it does, it’s worth it for the sake of building trust and exchanging information with people you care about. You don’t have to enjoy complaining to see the value in sharing. Just a little something to think about the next time you’re trying to decide between clamming up and letting someone in.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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