anxiety

Reader Q &A: A Foot-in-Her-Mouth Friend

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*QUESTION:

Hi Dr. Levine,

I'm having (and always seem to have) fractured friendships. (Great phrase, by the way!) I'm one of those people who is always trying to make a joke and therefore throw out a lot of one liners when the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, sometimes the jokes unintentionally hurt people's feelings, and sometimes those people are my friends.

The problem for me is that I don't even realize that what I'm saying comes across as mean. Like, literally, I have no clue! (Sounds strange coming from a 47-year-old woman, I know.) I only realize it later when the friend who've I've hurt, is visibly mad or not speaking to me. And even then, I have to wrack my brain to figure out what it was I said this time that pissed them off.

While I have been trying to work on not saying mean stuff by mistake, it's been very difficult since I don't even know that I'm doing it. But, the thing that annoys me about the whole situation (other than the frustration of missing whatever brain part that would make me know better) is that when it happens, the people take it so personally. I honestly don't mean anything by the jokes and certainly am not trying to be mean. In fact, the idea of me purposely being mean to anyone makes me cringe as I would never in a million years want to hurt anyone, let alone the people who are closest to me.

While my friends know this about me, it seems that it just doesn't matter; they get offended. Personally, I think that anyone can become offended by anything if they want to, and I just wish that people would lighten up a bit. (They don't like to hear that, of course, and it just makes me even more insensitive!)

I am also frustrated that one bad joke that comes across as hurtful can seem to nullify hundreds of nice things that I may have said or done. It doesn't seem fair. When I am confronted with the fact that I said something mean, I do apologize and explain that I didn't mean anything hurtful, but that often seems to only go so far, especially if it's happened more than once :(

In general, I am a quiet person, and I think that's partially from years of unintentionally pissing people off. (It's easier to just keep my mouth shut.) I would like to be able to just have conversations and not put my stupid foot in my mouth, but I'm not sure I'm capable of it. If you have any tips or tricks for this, I'm all ears.

In the meantime, I've just had a run-in with a very good friend/colleague and am feeling awful. I'd hate for her to give up on me, but I also know she's tired of feeling hurt by my insensitive comments. I was at a conference with her and the speaker had not received his drink ticket for the cocktail reception. My friend said to another person within the small group in which we were standing, "I can give him mine." And I jokingly said, "Oh sure, suck up to the speaker!"

And that was pretty much the end of it. I could tell later she was annoyed at me, but I wasn't quite positive if that joke was the reason or if it was something else. We work together and she barely spoke to me the next day, and the day after that (today) I finally said something. She said she was through being nice to me as she didn't want to be seen as "kiss ass" since I apparently thought of her as that.

SIGH, I do see now how these kinds of statements come across, and would definitely like to just stfu! Any advice you can give would be appreciated!

Signed,
Foot-in-Your-Mouth

ANSWER:

Dear Foot-in-Your-Mouth,

If you know that your jokes often come off as mean-spirited, you need to be extra cautious and censor yourself before you blurt out something you'll later regret. Whether you realize it or not, you have control over what you say. And if you've already offended someone once, you should be walking on eggshells the next time you encounter them.

Some people are more sensitive to being the butt of a joke than others, and it sounds like your friend/colleague may have over-reacted. At this point, it might be wise to keep your distance from her, of course remaining cordial and polite, and maybe she will get over it. You could even write her a short note of apology saying that you never intended to hurt her feelings.

I'm sure you realize that you can control what YOU say---although you can't control other people's reactions. Therefore, you are the one that needs to change. In the future, if you blurt out a possibly-offensive joke and regret it after it leaves your lips, perhaps you could diffuse your friend's anger by saying something like, "I hope I haven't offended you," giving your friend the opportunity to get any negative reaction off her chest right away.

You mentioned that you are, by nature, a quiet person and I'm wondering whether you feel anxious with people and are using humor to diffuse your tension. Having a quick wit and good sense of humor is a gift because it is a powerful tool for connecting with people. But you need to hone your talent and channel it in positive ways so that it enhances your friendships rather than fractures them.

I hope this helps.

My best,

Irene

*DISCLOSURE - This and most questions are often edited lightly for the sake of brevity and clarity.

If you have any questions you would like to post, please email them to Irene@fracturedfriendships.com

 

Friends: Just what the doctor (surgeon) ordered

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Need another reason to nurture your friendships? Every year, about 15 million Americans undergo surgical procedures. Whenever anyone goes under the knife, even for an elective procedure, it is likely to be a time of great stress.

Whether the surgery is for breast cancer, an ovarian cyst or a cosmetic procedure, female friendships can help ease an otherwise difficult journey. Friends can provide physician referrals, listen when you need another set of eyes and ears to interview a doctor, and provide a potent dose of caring and cheer at your bedside. A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons confirms that a strong network of family and friends can even ease postoperative pain and anxiety---and speed recuperation.

“Strong social connectedness can have a tremendous impact on patient recovery by helping blunt the effect of stress caused by postoperative pain, as well as ease concerns about health, finances and separation from family members,” says Allison R. Mitchinson, MPH, who works with the Ann Arbor (MI) Healthcare System and was one of the co-authors of the study.

The researchers studied more than 600 patients undergoing major thoracic or abdominal operations at two Veterans Affairs’ medical centers. Prior to surgery, the patients responded to a questionnaire that elicited the numbers and frequency of their social contacts. Patients with smaller social networks reported significantly higher preoperative pain intensity, unpleasantness, and anxiety.

Like exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet, maintaining meaningful friendships is one of the things we can all do to improve health, prevent disease and extend life,

 

Girl Talk: Too much of a good thing?

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The findings of a recent study by Amanda Rose and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia challenge the conventional wisdom that it’s always good for adolescent girls to get problems “off their chest” by talking about them to close friends...

 
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