Friday, April 05, 2013

Why You Never Tell Others Your Problems

Stick with me on this one because it isn't going to seem "right" at first, but if you focus on the angle I'm approaching this topic at, you'll see the point I'm trying to make.

Everybody has problems.  And everybody has friends.  And part of having friends or loved ones is to share your problems.  You need a sounding board, you need to vent, and doing such things are healthy and expected.  However, when you unload and vent, it is usually problems that are not dire, nor insurmountable.  You got a cold, you boss is being a jerk, the weather sucks, whatever, they all have an end and a solution, and are thus surmountable. 

But then there are problems that are terminal. There is no solution.  There is only one outcome.  There is no end.  And if there is one, the cost is not only great, but nothing can be done to stop it.  Things like terminal sickness, bankruptcy, divorce, etc.  And it is here you need to be very selfless and think this one through.

Say the economy has gone south and you are imminently approaching bankruptcy.  There is nothing you can do about it.  It is going to happen.  It is outside of your control.

Do you tell your friends about it?  Do you complain to your loved ones about it?

The answer is no, and let me explain why.

Just as you are powerless to stop this horrible thing from happening, so to are your friends and loved ones.  And in complaining to them or telling them about your unsolvable problem, you put them at unease because they are powerless and helpless to do anything about it.  It is human nature to want to help, but if help is just not possible you unconsciously make your friends feel uncomfortable and powerless.

For example, have you ever had a friend whose loved one got cancer, or your friend got cancer him/herself?  And upon hearing the news you don't know what to say because, well, what can you say?  "I'm sorry?"

That's about all you can do.  You are completely helpless and thus have nothing to say.

Worse still, you can exacerbate this situation, with your "terminal" problem.  Because of the severity of these terminal problems, you don't just mention it once to your friends and then it goes away.  It's a terminal problem, it will be with you until it terminates.  And because of it's severity, it is going to be the single largest topic weighing heavily on your mind.  You will want to tell somebody about it, in perhaps a subconscious attempt to find a non-existent solution, but all you will do is drive them further away because you make it so uncomfortable.

Now, am I saying, you NEVER tell anybody you got cancer or that you filed for bankruptcy or your spouse left you?  No, but I am saying once you make the declaration, there is nothing to gain by revisiting your unsolvable problem with friends and loved ones.

However, if this doesn't make sense, consider something on the flip side or opposite of this.  Say you achieved something REALLY great.  Something phenomenal.  Something nobody else has done.  Naturally this great achievement means a lot to you and even defines you.  And if it truly is great, you will want to share it with people, not out of bragging, but out of wanting to share something of genuine interest.  But here too you face a somewhat similar problem.  If your achievement is so great, most people won't even believe you did it, or at least be able to comprehend.  For example by the time I was a senior in college I had:

1.  Paid for everything working full time going to school full time
2.  Was on track to graduate 6 months early.
3.  3.96 GPA
4.  3 Internships under my belt
5.  Held various performance records at my job

I thought I was a shoe-in for a job after graduating, but in hindsight, I believe what I achieved was so great, nobody believed it and my resume went in the dump.  Even my friends didn't seem impressed in my early 20's and so when meeting new people I would never mention this great achievement.  I would just say, "I went to college."

In short the lesson is to consider the position your friends and loved ones are in.  They are already your friends, they are already your loved ones, but unless it is within their power to do anything, constantly bringing up major problems you have (no matter how much they are affecting your life) only pushes people further away.  Love and appreciate your friends and loved ones, be selfless enough not to hound them with your unsolvable problems.

25 comments:

Andrew said...

So, I'm guessing you wouldn't recommend college students doing internships? I'm a Senior working on Political Science and Legal Studies... and employment looks bleak. (I only found this blog and common sense last year.) Basically, it's either paralegal or hopefully a job in Law Enforcement for me, assuming I can magically get 3 years legal experience for the former, or tons of amazing professional references for the latter, haha.

Bob Wallace said...

I have found it doesn't do any good to help people unless they ask for it. They are rarely grateful.

Anonymous said...

There's another angle to this.

Suppose you have a problem you think your friends can help you with. For example, telling people you're having difficulties finding someone to date, hping they'll help you out.

Suddenly, you've redefined yourself. You're no longer the guy your friends know - the guy who likes motorcycles, or dances tango, or has a great sense of humour or whatever.

You're the guy who can't get a date.

You've re-defined yourself as the guy with the problem.

And if, among your friends, you are the guy with the problem, guess who's not getting a date through that social circle. Or, even worse, guess who's getting set up on a date with the woman with the problem from either the same social circle or an adjacent one.

Ditto jobs and money. If your friends provide word of mouth recommendation to an employer because you're known to be demonstrably hot, all well and good. But if you've become known to be the guy down on his luck - good luck to you. You're going to need it.

Believing your friends can help you with your problems is an illusion. They are too engrossed in theirs, no matter how trivial theirs are compared to yours. They can provide companionship - that's what they're for. Don't try and turn your friends into social services.

About the only use for a psychoanalyst that I've found exists is precisely this. You pay them to listen for an hour a week to the problems you don't want to contaminate your personal environment with. You then go away and, no matter what you do, you do not speak of your problems to anyone else.

Facing the problems is difficult enough without the problems also socially re-defining you and limiting your possibilities.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more, You ever notice how old people want to talk about there problems? It drives me nuts I DON'T CARE what you have I don't need your whole life story.
My wife who I dearly love also tries this when she comes home from work she just loves to tell me every little detail about her day and one day I just snapped and said I DON'T CARE I don't need to know every detail about your day this is not communicating your using me for your whipping post and I don't appreciate it if you want to bitch about your day call your mom or one of your girlfriends, men are not wired this way you give us a problem we will start thinking of solutions but when you do this we tune you out because there is no solution. I don't tell you everything about my day so please refrain from doing it to me. I tried to explain why but you did a much better job I will have to have her read this post.

Anonymous said...

You should have tried a STEM field.

Having a few internships and a gpa above 3.2 while working part time is considered pretty good.

Thing is, even Einstien would have had trouble getting a 3.9 GPA while working full time as a physics or aerospace student.

Matthew Walker said...

Sound advice.

Hope you're OK. But don't tell us! HRUR HURRR HURURRRURRR!!!1!

Roberto Severino said...

Balance is key! I will be the first one to admit that I hadn't taken enough time to look at things from a different perspective and understand the POV of the other person. I also have no control over the stupid decisions that people I used to know well are making right now. Live and let live.

Anonymous said...

Friends and Family more often then not, unconsciously fall prey to two of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride and Envy.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm dealing with this with my wife. Last June our house was severely damaged by a small tornado. The house is nearly repaired - lots of small stuff to do and some outside stuff remains. We lost 28 trees, most broken off. So that's the background.

First, the Mrs. has been milking this for all the sympathy she can get from anyone who will listen and even those who don't, has stopped looking for work because of the time she has needed to grind through the insurance mess and to repair the place.

Me, I just moved forward one step at a time and will continue to do so until it's all done and I can relax and enjoy how good things are.

But, there's a large - 36 in + diameter broken-off fir tree stump which is prominent when you drive into the place. I want it gone. She wants to keep the thing as a memorial of the storm, but she really wants it to pull the chain on the pity pot when there's opportunity to do so.

I said, let's compromise - let's cut it off parallel to the ground, make a flat top for it and make it into a planter. No dice, because that hides the ripped and shattered wood.

The only socially redeeming thing is that the damned thing will naturally rot within a few years. Maybe I can find some stuff to make it go away faster. ;-)

Meanwhile she's driving her family and friends crazy to the point that they don't answer her phone calls because of her whining. They've called me asking what to do about it. I told them to listen, but not buy into the pity, but force the conversation toward what she's doing to move forward. We aren't living in the past, we're living forward.

Not ssking for your help here, just providing an example of what the Capt. has experienced.

Roberto Severino said...

"So, I'm guessing you wouldn't recommend college students doing internships? I'm a Senior working on Political Science and Legal Studies... and employment looks bleak. (I only found this blog and common sense last year.) Basically, it's either paralegal or hopefully a job in Law Enforcement for me, assuming I can magically get 3 years legal experience for the former, or tons of amazing professional references for the latter, haha."

If I were in your situation, I would just quit now and not waste any more time. Maybe focus on paying back any outstanding student loans you have before you go further. Please read these. Law enforcement sounds much better than attempting to find work being a lawyer or an attorney on the basis of economic demand right now.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/31/education/law-schools-applications-fall-as-costs-rise-and-jobs-are-cut.html

http://www.npr.org/2012/07/23/157217098/job-tuition-woes-a-drain-on-law-schools

I tried to show my political science majoring sister these sorts of links and she still hasn't listened or realized that the market for law has been virtually shot in the foot and has been on the decline since 2004.

You already seem to show way more promise if you're starting to come to that realization and I wish you good luck.

dashing said...


Idk, these terminal problems seem the best to ask for advice.
Like divorce or bankruptcy, I'm sure you could say doing this is better than doing that.

Reluctant Paladin said...

Take strength from your faith. It is very rare that you will be able to show vulnerability around your fellow man and not suffer for it.

Anonymous said...

I don't tell people my problems because I have man parts

Stonelifter

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 2137 - You want to apply potassium nitrate to that stump.

Anonymous said...

You don't tell other people about your problems because...

Some can't help.

Some don't care.

The rest think it is hilarious.



Anonymous said...

Anon 4:41 PM

Thanks! And if the potassium nitrate doesn't make it rot, I could blow it up. The latter would be more fun anyway.

Anonymous said...

This article explains why I no longer have friends.

Anonymous said...

This article explains why I no longer have friends.

Bob said...

I linked to your post here: http://bobagard.blogspot.com/2013/04/struggling-with-tough-decison-should.html

Helping Hands said...

Right....

Helping Hands said...

I feel most of the replies are in support of this article.and I also think that my clarification may be blocked by the moderator as I completely disagree.
We must know it is a psychological aspect when we share our grief or happiness it gives us satisfaction.
when we share our grief we melt out our internal worries.
when share happiness we provide happiness to all.
Actually day by day the persons are getting involved in their own hemisphere of life. Time is changing. You see even the persons don't tolerate their wives or blood relatives. What of others?
So, in the real sense of term the world is becoming 'egomaniac'. All persons are getting involved only in their own cell. No one is altruist or extrovert.
So,what is right for everyone, I told. Give and take policy or sacrifices are the part of life. Egomanicness or egoism can't make us happy. So speak what,you,feel right and be happy,even the listener don't like it ......

TracyinMexico said...

I found this article by googling 'why do I feel like shit after telling someone my problems?' Ha! The article is good, but the rest of the comments are great. Specifically the idea of 'contamination'. You become the guy who can't get a date. No one can solve the issue for you. All they seem to be able to do at best is feel sorry for you. So now I've go the problem and someone feeling sorry for me. Shit, that's worse.It can be a trigger reaction for women - we've been trained from a young age to communicate. Talk this shit out while men were trained to scrap and fight their way out. I'm going to do more kickboxing and less talking. Balance, its all about balance boys.

Anonymous Concerned wife said...

Well sheesh. That was kind of harsh. She may see you as the ONE person she can vent to on some of her rough days. You're her husband, so why not let her vent to you? That was pretty mean. And for you to say directly to her that you don't care... That would have shit me down completely knowing that my own husband doesn't want to hear me vent. BUT everyone is entitled to their own way of doing things.....

Anonymous said...

Real friends ,not so much of a real friend , business friends I believe it is important to be a real friend and to have real friends ,real friends are our support and we are their support if we can not be there for him or her when their world comes apart ,why to call friends to simply acquaintances.
Can we separate business from private life, I think business is our survival game, we can't put this in the same bag with family and real friends .
Now whining all the time is a different story ,there we need a mental therapist and we can call him or her friend, and still there we need a real friend too. Life is more difficult than saying do this or don't do that
Carlos

Jose Romero said...

A fantastic post Cappy!!