Too Much Talk

As I connect with friends, most often now by text, email or phone, when certain issues come up, I try to change the subject. If that fails, I discover that my cat urgently needs to be fed.

I have closed the door on commiserating at length about the latest actions or tweets of prominent politicians, of either stripe. I can feel a visceral response to the anger or distress of a friend. My muscles tighten, my breathing becomes shallow. I’ve decided to withdraw from this sort of political conversation. Too much talk to no good end.

Scientific studies validate my stance. 

Actually, on the very day I was completing the final edit of an essay about the benefits of self-disclosure, with the underlying message that talking with trusted friends about one’s worries and feelings is a positive thing, I came upon research on the negative aspect of excessive talk. At first, this was a counter-intuitive theory that startled me. But I read on.

Psychologists have termed the daily, lengthy problem-dwelling talk between adolescents, “co-rumination”. They talk, they text, obsessively discussing the same issue. The conclusion is that this often leads to increased anxiety and depression, among girls far more than among boys who, no surprise here, tend to talk less. 

Amanda J. Rose is a researcher in the field of adolescent psychology, and a professor at the University of Missouri. In a study published in the Journal of Developmental Psychology, she stated: “When girls are talking about their problems, it probably feels good to get that level of support and validation, but they are not putting two and two together. Actually, this excessive talking can make them feel worse.” Not putting two and two together. Not working on solutions. Just commiserating with each other.

This is not just problematic for adolescents. For some time now, I’ve known of studies which confirm that people who live with others suffering from depression tend to become depressed themselves. Is this, in essence, what is happening?  Following the latest public pronouncements and tweets has become a national wringing of hands, (albeit not universal misery for there is joy in the land as well.)

 Am I becoming “infected” with the misery of others?

Before I could put two and two together, I sought to better understand why talking with good friends with whom I share most values is dragging me down.

So, I’ve taken a deep dive into the scientific research* and learned about the mental hazard psychologists call “emotional contagion” or “contagious anxiety” in which one person’s negative thoughts or worry can affect another’s mood. Emotions are contagious. We actually “catch” one another’s emotions and when intense negative emotions are expressed emphatically, they are even more contagious. As I struggle to swim out of this miasma, to put two and two together, I will keep my focus on ways I can have some impact on the election outcome.

But here is an odd twist to my personal story, and I wonder if it is true for others. Although I ration the amount of time I spend each day checking in with my most trusted news sources, I am keeping up. Reading about what is going on in Washington, the pandemic, protests, and other national hot spots, and even checking in on my most trusted editorial voices, some who present an alarming picture of our future, I remain calm. Concerned, of course, and stories of great loss or suffering can bring me to tears, but my breathing is not altered, the emotional contagion is kept more or less at bay. In fact, checking in on my trusted news sources delivers a certain relaxed resolve.

It seems that my empathic response to the anxious alert in the words and facial expression of my friends when they express fear or anger or predictions of doom, heightens my anxiety, when similar views, delivered by a stranger, spur me on to put two and two together, to make a rational plan.

So, in today’s political arena, for now I am drawing away, trying to protect myself from emotional contagion, and doing so well aware that I am giving up on empathy, having a shared emotional experience, not only the characteristic I most admire in others, but which from an evolutionary perspective is probably the trait that saved the day for early man.

Perhaps after November, I will return.



11 thoughts on “Too Much Talk

  1. Bea, You continue to be top-of-my-list wise woman. Thanks for your essay.

    I have not been consistent in protecting myself. I will renew my efforts… again.


  2. Hey Bea,

    Remarkable how well you express ideas in writing. And, how you explain from whence/why/where the ideas keep coming. An ever flowing spring of fresh, cold, reality cutting through the barrage of stuff. Perhaps Rumpke could start a monthly pickup of the nonsense?

    I am now able to go to the studio to interview people by phone. Would you be my guest some Wednesday?

    Regards, Lew

  3. Bea Thank you for Too Much Talk. Helpful and certainly timely in these final 90 days. I hope you are healthy and we can sit again with Bill DeCenso over lunch and laugh. Bill

  4. Well said, again and as usual, Bea. Sometimes it’s hard to remember to save yourself first.

  5. Darn, you’re good—insightful on top of well-informed. I bet you’d make a good….mediator!

    Thx for caring, sharing. I’’ll share this missive with Lois, who thinks I spend TOO MUCH time contemplating and complaining about current events! BTW, I’ve adopted an adaptive strategy: in addition to not checking the news near bedtime, I now don’t look at it first thing in the morning, either. So, it’s confined to the middle of the day. When I can bear it better!

    But query: If primordial persons needed Expressed empathy to survive, how long can we moderns hang on without it; will November come in time?

    STAY SAFE, Bea!

  6. Bea I recently sent the attached to my extended family. I will also send you the Margaret Sanger and Umberto Eco articles I reference in the email. Please delete if this is bothersome.

  7. Hi Bea. I agree with you. Whereas, it’s nice to let off steam about troubling events and issues, too much of it leaves everyone sort of depressed. I have been guilty and am trying to avoid so much complaining.

  8. Bea,
    Sending you warm thoughts, a virtual hug, and as always, thanks for your wisdom.
    Amy W.

  9. I just wanted you to know that I am among those who enjoy reading your blogs—especially the honest introspection you bring to them.

    In your last one, I found myself identifying with you but pulling for you to take a different direction than you did in your resolution of your angst. I completely understand how you feel. At the same time, I believe that voices like ours are needed by those working hard to change the mood of our country away from our toxic dark underbelly to one of compassion and empathy.

    I’ve felt like I’ve been beating my head against an invisible wall over the last 30 years where a “law and order,” “tough on crime” narrative has ruled our politicians and driven our policies. The emphasis of tough on crime, and harsh discipline has overrun the boundaries of peaceful social order and stability and descended into the dark underbelly of cruelty and revenge. Our country’s capacity for meanness has reached a level so blatant that even us white people can finally see it. Now, fear-driven rhetoric is slowly–oh, so slowly–starting to move in the direction of compassion and social and economic justice.

    I’m not sure how peacemakers like us should participate in supporting this movement, but I do believe we may be among those capable of “uplifting” rather than letting the negative drag us down. My conscience tells me that if I believe in this shifting rhetoric toward compassion and working together, I need to find a way to say so. I just have to figure out how to do it without letting the fear of losing my peaceful self get in my way. What holds my feet to the fire is the question I heard recently: “What kind of world are we binding over to our children?”

    I’ve made a commitment to try and stay in conversations with those who are worriers and hand-wringers—letting them have their “ain’t it offle” feelings for a bit and then ask, “But, aren’t you excited about the cracks developing in the ceiling?” Eventually, I get to the big picture of shifting rhetoric and how even the “Better Together” slogan of Hillary and the “Soul of the Country” are beginning to take root—trying to redirect to not only the positive but to the language we need to pick up and use as often as we can.

    It’s like a challenge to myself to keep trying to not only find and bring out my “better angel”, but also to appeal to the “better angel” of the angry and dispirited. In most ways, that’s been my life’s work and, in my mind, yours, too. So, Bea, I’m sending a little challenge for that honest introspection of yours to chew on.

    Keep on putting your beautiful thoughts out there. They are tonic for the soul.

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