The other day, a friend of mine told me that his wife was just plain grumpy. She snaps at him frequently over small things. At times, she can be nasty. Whenever he reacts to her irritability, she gets even more annoyed. When he mentions his concern about her behavior, she barks, “If you just weren’t so annoying, I wouldn’t be so annoyed!”
And so goes that kind of conversation — usually nowhere.
What’s this about? Why is it that some people seem to be chronically irritable? Most grouchy adults blame others for their irritability; if others wouldn’t do things that were off track, they wouldn’t be so cranky.
Or would they?
There are many reasons for this kind of disposition. It can be a warning signal that an adult is overwhelmed. Long hours at work, financial stress, home responsibilities, family obligations and just the unrelenting pace of life can send us over the edge. Without realizing it, we start to bark over the slightest thing. That can happen to anyone, even someone who is normally carefree.
Some people are just plain moody. Happy one moment, sad another, tired, expansive and then bang—grumps. They are not even sure how they got there. They seem to be more prone to bad moods than their more consistent counterparts.
I’ve noticed that individuals who tend towards perfectionism can be cross. It really bothers them when others don’t live up to their high, and sometimes unrealistic, standards. They expect that others should strive as high as they do.
Worry can foster ill-temper. Some Saturday mornings I start to think about all of the things on my to-do list for the day. My wife can throw in a few more “honey-do’s,” too. I start to feel anxious — how will I get everything done? That anxiety can tip me over into getting cross — especially when my spouse throws out another task that needs to be accomplished.
So let’s consider some antidotes to grouchiness.
Talk to your favorite grump when they’re in a good mood. Letting your cranky partner know how annoying they are when they are cross is a bad idea. They are just liable to get amped up. Wait until a quiet moment and bring up how their behavior impacts you. “When you raise your voice at me over a small matter, I feel hurt and I withdraw,” for example. Be specific.
Give moody adults a wide berth. I know a few moody individuals (actually I live with one). When summer turns to winter, take a walk. Don’t try to chill them out. They need time and space to get out of their own bad humor. Their mood will change, just like the weather in Washington — pretty quickly.
No one is perfect, especially perfectionists. It can be very difficult for some people to distinguish between a high expectation, a realistic expectation and an unrealistic goal. To perfectionists there are no unobtainable ambitions. This can cause a great deal of suffering-both for them and for others.
Live in the moment. It is only possible to do one thing at a time! When you are doing something, just do that one thing. Be fully present and experience what you are doing. This will help you live in this moment. Worrying about the future that is not yet born distracts you from now. And, it fosters anxiety — a recipe for distress.
Self-care and balance is a necessity, not an option. It is vitally important to incorporate rest (that means proper sleep), relaxation (as in remember to smell the roses), spirituality (that means different things to different people), exercise (walk, swim, bike, play tennis, dance), community (spend time with friends), and hobbies (read, volunteer, coach, woodworking, sew, fish, hunt, camp, or hike). These activities are essential for wellbeing and a positive, warm disposition.
Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www. everettclinic.com/ healthwellness-library.html.