Clamming up is an unfair cop-out

May 07, 1991|By Barbara Turk, M.S.

When you're upset with someone you care about, you clam up, keep your distance.

He/she tells you she hates it when you clam up (or pout, as she puts it). And it infuriates her that when you decide to end your silence (to quit punishing her, as she puts it) you expect to go on as if nothing had happened.

You say you're not pouting, you're just upset and don't want to talk about it. And that once you've gotten over it, there's no reason to stay gloomy. Let's get on with things.

Sounds like you're copping out. And being unfair.

It's a cop-out because rather than confronting the issue that upset you, you're sweeping your feelings under the rug (where they'll lurk until the next time you're upset).

And it's unfair not to give an explanation of your sullen behavior but to expect to resume business as usual.

What are you supposed to do when you're upset, go on the attack? That would only open a huge can of worms and alienate the other person even further.

A verbal attack, like silence, is hard on a relationship. Try a middle ground:

If you need some space before you can talk about the issue, let the other person know that and agree to bring it up later. Then do so (no cop outs!).

When you do talk about it, tell the person calmly what upset you: for example, "I felt like you ignored me at the party." Say you don't want to go to war over it but since it's bugging you, you'd better talk it through so it won't happen again.

Remember, clamming up can lead to a cold and clammy relationship. Giving yourself a little space and then discussing the issue with the other person shows sensitivity and respect for both your needs, and that's a great foundation for a great relationship.

Barbara Turk is a psychotherapist in private practice.

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