Moody McGee: How To Deal With Grumpy Friends

Question: When a good friend is in a bad mood, what do you do? Ask what’s wrong and try to help? Or, steer clear until she busts out of her funk?

I have to admit, I usually go with option two.

I ask because I’ve recently encountered a number of generally jolly friends who have seemed out of sorts. Normally they’re laughing, but now they’re sulking. I honestly believe it might be the weather—it’s mid-April and here in Chicago it’s still in the low 40s. The never-ending cold is enough to make anyone a little pissy. But whatever the reason, it’s out there. An across-the-board grumpiness.

In these scenarios, when I can feel a frosty chill emanating from a friend’s very being, my MO is to back off and let her have her space. My only goal is to not piss her off even further, and to keep anything and anyone that might push her over the edge as far away as possible. If the door seems open, I’ll say “You okay?” but that’s the most I’ll pry uninvited. This is my attempt at helping, because when I’m in a bad mood myself I go right to my people-avoidance place. My bad moods are usually accompanied by a strong desire not to talk to anyone, because I’m not in the right mindspace for socializing and also because I worry I might snap at some poor innocent soul for merely talking to me.

I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is.

If a moody friend tells me she has had a bad day or is annoyed about something that she doesn’t want to talk about, my response is “OK. Changing the subject then…”

However, I know this isn’t everyone’s course of action, and it might not be the right one. I treat moody friends as my moody self would want to be treated. The problem, of course, is that not everyone wants the same treatment. Some people sulk just so someone—or multiple someones—will ask what’s wrong, allowing said sulker to open the floodgates of rage.

With some of my friends, I know their preference and cater to it. I am always happy to be the sounding board for a BFF’s mood if that what she needs.

But I’m talking about new friends. The ones whose needs you haven’t yet mastered.

I’ve seen plenty of women take a different approach than I. They’ll say “Is everything okay? What’s wrong? What can I do? Are you sure you don’t want to talk about it?” and either really annoy or really support the bad mood bear.

The point is, I often try to honor what someone says. If a friend says “I want to be left alone,” I buy it. I leave her alone. But I now I’m worried I come off as uncaring.

Sigh. Drama. Sometimes you can’t win.

What do you guys think?


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8 responses to “Moody McGee: How To Deal With Grumpy Friends

  1. LizC

    I fully admit that I am a mess of contradictions. When I’m in a bad mood I often don’t feel fit for polite society and I know that I unnecessarily snap at people and get upset over the smallest things. It’s best if I limit my contact just so I don’t yell at a friend for taking too long to order her food or breathing funny. At the same time, often when I’m in those moods, it’s easier for me to feel like everyone is ignoring me. Logically I know they’re just busy and if I want to speak to someone the phone works both ways but when I’m in a bad mood it feels like they’re ignoring me on purpose and that just makes my bad mood worse. It’s a vicious cycle. I try just to keep my head down and hope people understand I’m not really mad at them (usually once I vent my anger a bit I get over it I just feel bad for venting my anger at someone who really doesn’t deserve it).

  2. Cheryl

    I think we all want to be left alone when we want to be left alone, and we want to be coaxed out of our funk with tea (or Starbucks) when we want to be coaxed. Until you know someone well enough to coax, leaving alone is probably not a bad idea – until they get even more miffed that you didn’t coax……

    That said, I have been known to ask anyway, usually accompanied by goofiness (in case the sight of pathetic puppy eyes and paws elevated would work temporarily), to let people know I care. If they still didn’t want to talk, I went with the “OK, just know that I care about you, and I’m here if you need me” until I realized that some people do exactly what I do – hole up until their inner monster calms down.

    Right now, though, I’d blame the weather – I’ve been in a somewhat growly mood myself, but it’s amazing how that shifted when the sun came out.

    Happy Easter (or Passover)!!

  3. Droplet

    It’s stupid, but sometimes when I tell my friend “I’m having a bad day,” it’s because I want her comfort. If I was really in that bad of a “I just want to wallow by myself and eat worms and die” kinda mood, THOSE are the times when I wouldn’t say anything.

  4. Layla

    If I’m having a bad day, I’m definitely one of those people who wants to be left alone. I don’t want to force my presence on them – I complain, I talk only about myself, I do everything wrong and it just makes my bad mood worse.

    But I know that some people (extraverts?) might be different than me. I don’t understand them but that’s ok.

  5. Pingback: The Hard Facts: This Is Your Brain on Friends | MWF Seeking BFF

  6. I do that to but I have to bffs and she has two bffs but when she’s in a bad mood she takes it all out on me but when she get to her other bffs after me she’s all happy but with me …NOOOOOO!!!:( what should I do…

  7. cathy :)

    when I’m in a bad mood I definitely don’t take it out on my friends it’s horrible when people do . What I normally do is tell them start away and let them hug me and give advice . I’m NOT the person who just sulks in the corner and what’s for someone to come to me . But I also agree everyone wants to be treated differently .

    So when one of my best friends gets in a mood with ME after something I never done and I see them taking it out on other people I explode and some
    people walk on egg shelves just so the friend won’t get any more grumpy ! I think that’s weird so anyway’s this is what I’m going to do :
    Well this best friend of mine usually get’s very grumpy and I’m sick of it . So this is what I’m going to do tomorrow at school I’m going to bring her to a private room and gently explain about how I’m blue in the face ( learnt that praise today 🙂 of her taking all her grumpiness out on her closest friends , and I’m going to tell her to either tell me what’s wrong or I can’t give her all my sympathy and support . ( I also have to patch stuff up between us ) . Then I’m going to give her a big hug and a sip of my hot chocolate ( have it every morning ) 🙂 anyway’s hope I helped 🙂 xxxx

  8. Lance

    Moodiness is one form of difficult behavior, along with other classics like talking too much, complaining, sniping, etc. For all difficult behavior, I follow this four-step guideline: avoid, if possible; then emphasize, if possible; then redirect, if possible; and then explain consequences. If I can stay out of the way of a moody individual, then I will–it’s best for me and the moody person. If I can’t avoid it, then I try empathetic listening: “I hear you,” “That sounds difficult,” “I’m sorry,” etc. Usually, I do not to probe (“What’s the matter?”) because this approach invites encourages complaining. If the mood assault continues, and empathy doesn’t neutralize it, then I redirect: “What is your approach for dealing with it?” or “Oh, let me tell you about what happened to me,” etc. If this doesn’t work, and the moody person is determined to drag me down too, then I draw the line: “Look, I’m sorry you are struggling with these feelings. It’s starting to get me down, too, so if it keeps up, I’m leaving.”

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