Making allowances for moodiness
A moody person may be going through a difficult stage in their lives; they may be exhausted, ill, chronically worried, or lacking what they need in terms of love, sleep, challenge, or security. Such people need to be listened to, supported, and cared for; and certainly clinical depression and other ‘mood disorders’ will entail mood extremes and fluctuations. But there is another type of moodiness; that of the bully, who will use their moods to intimidate and manipulate. It’s this aspect of moodiness that I want to look at here.
Moodiness as mean machine
People may be moody because their life, the way they are leading it, isn’t meeting their emotional needs adequately - producing, as a side effect, increased moodiness. Perhaps they are not usually moody, so it’s obvious they need help (although whatever the cause of moodiness, you may still need to protect yourself and deal with it).
The moody manipulator is different. If you observe them, they’re more likely to be overly self-referential generally. Other people figure in as far as they can be used to meet the needs of the moody one. They may have learned (whether that learning is registered consciously or not) that emotional incontinence gives them ‘benefits’.
Grabbing the spotlight
Habitually moody people routinely prioritize their own feelings over and above your or my feelings. If, heaven forbid, we are ever moody, they may not be able to stand it.
Others find themselves worrying about what so-and-so will think. This emotional non-sharing (unconcern with how you feel and over-concern with how they feel) is a kind of greed (no matter how you dress it up).
Just being understanding or just listening may help the moody person (if their mood isn’t unconsciously aligned with controlling others), but if they are gaining something (attention, influence, power, status) from being moody, then they won’t stop until:
•Either moodiness no longer confers these ‘benefits’ or…
•They start to meet these needs in more mature ways.
I’m a firm believer that moods (like holiday photos) should not be inflicted on one work colleague by another or by a professional onto customers. Part of professionalism is mood management.
I realize all this may sound judgemental, but I have judgement and I can’t help but use it sometimes. So how can you best manage the fallout form other people’s moodiness?
Tip 1: Consider your options
If you know someone who always seems to have to dictate the emotional atmosphere, then be clear: they are a dictator. Another term for dictator is bully. If your empathy, patience, advice, and general attention-giving doesn’t seem to help them and you are suffering because of their moodiness (and they don’t seem to care about that), then consider carefully: Do you need this person in your life?
A friendship is reciprocal; it should be give and take - but not in the sense that you’re always giving and they’re always taking. If you have to have them in your life for whatever reason, then consider the following:
Tip 2: Don’t play their games
If we’re not careful, the moody person can start to get preferential treatment because, well, it just seems easier to ‘smooth things over’ for them. However, short-term ease equals long-term hassle. Remember: people won’t change if they are being ‘rewarded’ for not changing.
Decide now not to be unduly influenced; stop tiptoeing around this person or making special allowances.
Tip 3: Don’t reward moodiness
Reflect for a moment: just what, do you suspect, is this person getting from acting out? All behaviour is purposeful. Is it a bigger share of the attention pie? Is it getting out of work? Is it simply control of others for its own sake?
Tip 4: Just ask
Some moody people may use anger as a way of influencing you.
Or they may clam up and not speak or suddenly start speaking very negatively about something dear to you. One day, good cop; the next, bad - shifting sands and you wondering where you stand. We all fluctuate a bit, but these moody types may do it minute by minute and if you peek at what is happening (rather than just reflect on how you feel about what’s happening), the moods will be purposeful as regards influencing other people.
But if ever you display moodiness, they may be surprised - even outraged - you’ve trespassed onto their behavioural territory.
Not mentioning someone’s mood can be paramount to being sucked into their games. Who says it’s an unwritten rule that their behaviour go unchallenged? Sometimes actually challenging someone’s mood may get them to observe what they themselves are doing.
“I’ve noticed you keep snapping. Is something upsetting you?”
“I think you look bored. Do you think what I’m saying is tedious?”
“I think your irritability is spoiling the morale in the office this morning.”
These kinds of statements can:
•Be disarming if someone truly does use their moodiness as a means of social coercion.
•Pave the way for letting you try to help them if they genuinely do have problems.
Even if they say: “What do you mean?” and deny it, now their moodiness is becoming an issue in itself rather than just a device to get want they want.
Tip 5: Practical sympathy
I am cursed with an empathetic nature and have had to consciously fight against it sometimes. Why? Because of the principle of cruelty in the pursuit of genuine kindness.
Some people are genuinely distressed, depressed, psychotic even; but we still need to separate that out from how they behave toward others. If we let people get away with anything because they are distressed, going through a divorce, clinically depressed, even then we are making it too tempting for them to start unconsciously using their ‘distress label’ as a means to an end.
Tip 6: Don’t take it personally - it’s them, not you
We value niceness from a moody person more because of its scarcity, but no one needs to be grovelling, grateful for crumbs of decency on the rare occasions they appear.
Moody people may work through implication. It’s implied that somehow you’ve done something wrong. And because the guilt button is quite large on many of us, even the implication that we might have done something wrong can knock our confidence and unsettle. By putting Tip 4 into practice, you short-circuit implication strategies.
Tip 7: Take time out for yourself
If you live or work with an exceptionally moody person, then make sure you get time out to relax, have fun, rest, and recuperate away from them if necessary. Whatever the cause of moodiness, it is draining for others and you may be a significant other. Having to be the ‘rational adult’ all the time can be exhausting; and if you’re not careful, you can start to feel as moody as they are. And I stress again: even the most depressed person (and even the most severely psychotic people I’ve known) can still know that other people have needs as well.
Lastly, remember that everything changes - the moodiness of adolescence can progress to the serenity that comes from self-mastery. And if you are the moody one, remember that what feels permanent at the time never is.