Let’s Talk: Filtering

Filter: to pass (a liquid, gas, or sound) through a device in order to remove unwanted material.

I’ve struggled with filtering my thoughts and actions for my entire life because my personality tends towards bluntness. I often see things in black and white on instinct and only come to see the gray over time or in hindsight. So if I don’t filter, I end up saying or doing things in the short term that I eventually come to regret. Lots of people do this, but I’ll be honest and say I feel as though I’m probably more likely to do it than most. It’s just who I am, though not a part of me that I’m particularly proud of.

I make a conscious effort to filter, though. And while I’m sure there’s still a fair amount I miss, I’m much more adept at it than I was as a teenager. I’ve learned from my numerous mistakes. But recently I’ve come to realize that sometimes when I filter, I just put aside all the things I would have said rather than finding new ways to express the feelings. And it’s causing some problems.

When I filter I successfully stave off conflict, but I don’t actually address the underlying problem. The issue that caused the initial filter-necessary reaction is still underneath and it has to be addressed in order to go away. Most of the time I deal with this given a little time to sort my thoughts, but as I recently wrote in my article about patience, some things aren’t worth the effort. It doesn’t mean they’re not hurtful to me or that I don’t have a reaction to them, but I don’t confront the issue because there’s no value in the argument. So essentially I avoid a useless fight, pick my battles, etc. This method doesn’t much bother me – the anger eventually fades – but it can apparently come off as cold or insensitive to other people while in my mind I’m just giving it a bit of distance and time.

Oops.

My instinct is also to disengage from things that I can’t handle maturely, to walk away so I don’t say something I regret. Other people understandably have misinterpreted this tactic to think that I’m avoiding them, when what I’m actually doing is protecting them from myself. Because I can be quite vicious and while no one wants to be avoided, they also probably don’t want the raw end of my anger. Experience has told me that, on occasion, I’m not fit for company; so I remove myself from it. But I don’t know how to explain to them that this is what I’m doing. How do you tell someone that you’re raging upset and need a few hours/days to swallow it before you can talk to them? They’re probably not going to take that well no matter how you mean it.

I’m working on all this. I’m working on filtering and I’m working on patience and I’m trying to be better. Mostly I’m successful, but none of us are perfect and I feel like I need to do better at communicating my tactics to people so they don’t take offense when I employ them. I once had a friend in college who wouldn’t talk to someone for a week if he was mad at them, but then after seven days all was forgiven and forgotten no matter what. While that could be frustrating, it didn’t happen often and he was quite upfront about it; you knew eventually it would pass. Perhaps if I just explained myself this would be better understood from the other side.

But how to do that…

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