Episode 351: Preemptive Grief & Triggered by Anger

Hello, friends! This is a short and sweet episode. No ads today, but I have two awesome listener questions.

First, I tackle a question from someone that feels the end of their relationship is inevitable due to moving to another state and they are already struggling with feelings of grief.

The second question is from someone with a background of trauma that wants advice about how to deal with their friend’s angry outbursts.

I hope you enjoy!

As always, you can send me questions to duffthepsych@gmail.com and find the show notes for this episode at http://duffthepsych.com/episode351

Question 1

“Hi Dr. Duff! I want to start with some praise for you and your work, I have learned so much from your podcast over the years. You always have very valuable information to share about a wide variety of topics, and frankly I have gained a lot of insight from your wisdom so I really appreciate you. I have an interesting situation I am dealing with currently. I am wondering, how do you deal with grief or the dread of losing someone or something before it is  gone? I am  in a relationship that began as more of a friends with benefits situation and it naturally blossomed into more (oopsies). I currently live in Georgia, and am going back home to Colorado for graduate school and I am struggling with the thought that we will eventually have to let go of one another. I am experiencing a sort of dissonance, because the relationship is far from broken so my brain is telling me it does not need fixed, but letting go of her is going to be inevitable. And frankly, it is the healthiest relationship I have ever been in and I don’t want to let go but I am not willing to do long distance because it will interfere greatly with both of our lives and neither of us deserve half-assed time and energy. It is a very crappy feeling having to grieve something that I have not lost yet. I struggle with this regarding the thought of losing my grandma someday too. Any advice on how to mitigate/manage early grieving to the point where it is not interfering with daily life? Thank you a million.“

Thank you for the kind words. The fact that you can say ‘over the years’ is still mind-blowing to me. I appreciate the question as well. It’s a good one and I believe one that will be applicable to many people. The experience of pre-grieving is something that many people go through. Where there is an inevitability, it’s normal to begin sorting through your feelings and experiencing stages of grief before it ever happens. It’s something that can be painful, but I also think it can be beneficial in many cases.

In my line of work as a neuropsychologist, I witness this a lot. If you think about it, a lot of the families and spouses that I talk to for patients that I see for testing are facing the inevitability of death. Imagine someone that has Alzheimer’s disease. Their family will see them transition from being basically the same person they always have been to being a completely different person. In that way, they need to face the anticipation of the person dying in a few years and they also need to grieve the person that they have already lost due to the impact of the disease.

All of that is to say that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you that you are already feeling dread and difficult emotions about what feels like an inevitable parting of ways. I’m really glad to hear that your relationship is going well right now. It sounds like it is a beautiful thing that was born out of a genuine connection. Even though you didn’t intend for it to become serious, it just happened, which is a testament to how well you work together.

I think it’s important to recognize that there is not one single way that this needs to go. You have options and they don’t have to look like every other relationship/breakup you have seen. One way to look at this is that relationships are allowed to naturally go through transitions. For example, you guys are allowed to transition from relatively close and committed relationship back to be essentially friends (or FWB when the opportunity presents itself). It doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or she did something wrong. Just that relationships are allowed to transition due to the circumstances at hand.

There’s a great book called ‘Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator’ that might be interesting to you. As most people who listen to this know, I’m non-monogamous, but even if you are monogamous, there is a lot that you can get out of this book. It’s essentially about recognizing and questioning the programming that many of us have about what a relationship should look like and how there is a specified path that you should be shooting for.

There is this sense that things should fall into neat categories and that you are only supposed to have close and deep feelings for someone if the goal is to see how long you can possibly last. I understand the inclination. Why would you WANT to end a good thing? At the same time, how often do you see relationships that try to hold on way longer than they should until something disastrous tears them apart?

There is something beautiful about letting something go before it gets bad. It’s like leaving a job that you loved because you are moving or because you found something that will allow you to grow in a different way.

When you ask about the grief that you are already experiencing and how to deal with it, the answer is to deal with it. To face it head on and not ignore it. Have you guys talked about this much? I feel like talking through it together could be an important way of processing. As well, journaling about it and writing out your mixed up feelings can help.

Question 2

My question is hopefully fairly simple. I have a new friend, who I met about six months ago. We’ve gotten fairly close, and I’m very fond of him and enjoy his company. The problem is, is that he can be moody, and will sometimes snap at people. This is usually due to a misunderstanding, which is quickly cleared up, and then everyone moves on. This has happened with me, and I’ve observed it happen with others.

I do not handle moody people well. This is due to my own past and particularly due to some childhood trauma. I am extremely fond of this friend, but I am wracked with *completely* out of proportion anxiety every time I feel like I might get snapped at, and I know it doesn’t contribute to a healthy friendship for either of us. Any tips on how I can handle this situation?  Thank you!

It’s wonderful to hear that you’ve developed a meaningful connection with this person. Finding genuine friendships can be challenging, so it’s great that you’ve established a bond with him. However, you’ve mentioned that his tendency to snap at people, even due to misunderstandings, is difficult for you to handle due to your past experiences. It leaves you on edge, anticipating the moment he might snap at you and triggering a strong reaction.

The first step in addressing this situation is open communication. It may seem obvious, but many relationship issues can be significantly improved by simply discussing them. Since you both have a level of comfort with each other, consider talking to him about his tendency to get set off easily. Approach the topic in a non-confrontational manner, expressing your observations and curiosity. Asking if he notices his reactions and if it has always been a part of his behavior can lead to meaningful conversations. This dialogue may help you gain a better understanding of his perspective and even reduce your reactivity to his outbursts. Open communication also prevents misunderstandings that can arise from assumptions.

On your end, it could be beneficial to share your own experience and trauma history with him. Explain how his overt displays of anger trigger your sensitivity and how your body reacts to those instances. By openly discussing your emotions and experiences, you create an opportunity for empathy and understanding between you. Sometimes, simply bringing the issue into the open can help defuse tensions and foster healthier interactions.

It may also be helpful to seek support from trusted individuals such as family members, friends, or a therapist. Sharing your situation and gaining their perspective can provide valuable insights and guidance. It’s essential to ensure that you’re not inadvertently involved in an abusive relationship, so their outside perspective can be invaluable.

Ultimately, establishing boundaries is crucial. If he is unable to control his anger, leading to consistent discomfort caused by his explosive behavior, you have the right to protect your well-being. You can express your care for him but also make it clear that you won’t tolerate his anger ruining your time together. For instance, if he snaps at a waiter during a lunch outing, you can calmly ask him to calm down. If the situation escalates further, inform him that you’ll talk to him later and leave the situation (after paying your share if necessary).

While it is hoped that the situation doesn’t escalate to this point, you must prioritize your own needs and emotional well-being. Remember, the first step is having an open conversation, approaching it with curiosity and sharing your experiences. Avoiding the issue and hoping for spontaneous resolution will only perpetuate the tension. You’ll likely find that much of the tension is relieved by simply bringing it into the open.

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