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Using “Stupid Brackets” to Say Things that Aren’t

I struggle with depression, and I grew up hiding my feelings and thoughts because voicing them usually didn’t turn out so well. It was/is hard for me to speak up about myself because a) I often think I’m being ridiculous and b) the people around me often thought I was being ridiculous too. But to hold your tongue when you are hurt is like watching a flame turn into a fire and not doing anything about it: you threaten your own happiness, and your relationships, the longer you let the secret burn. This is how I learned to just say the things, even when it felt difficult.

We call them “stupid brackets,” and they’re short-hand (or short-speak) for the phrase: “Okay, this is going to sound stupid, but…” Or, maybe that’s not what you usually say. Maybe you say “I’m not trying to be a jerk…” or “This feels silly, but I can’t stop thinking about it…” Maybe there are no qualifiers like this. Maybe you just want a space to be brave, and say what’s on your mind without being shouted at. Say: “Stupid brackets. Okay?”

What your partner(s) — or friend(s)! — should understand about this practice for it to work is that:

(1) something is bothering you, and

(2) you don’t WANT it to bother you anymore because you love them.

This second point is so important, and the key to the success of “stupid brackets.” Isn’t that why we say all that other stuff mentioned above? We wish we didn’t care about Thing X (whatever is bothering us), but we do, and it’s affecting how we feel, and it’s really inconvenient, and you’re not out to hurt anyone you just want to feel better! It’s not about blame, or about the schadenfreude of a good fight: it’s about moving past whatever the issue is, for real.

If this is going to work, everyone in the room (including you!) has to know that you have already asked yourself the following question: am I upset because I want to throw a tantrum?

In other words, are you being vindictive? Are you out to hurt the person(s) in question for an unrelated reason? (If so, analyze that ORIGINAL grievance and see if you can bring that under the “stupid brackets” spotlight.) Are you looking for attention? (Why? Can you “stupid brackets” your loneliness?) Do you want this relationship to fail?

If the answer to these questions is: nope, I’m actually hurt. Or sad. Or angry. Or whatever. But I have the future of this relationship in mind, and I want it to succeed, and I love these person(s), I really do — then it’s “stupid brackets” time, and when you use them everyone in the room can and should be able to trust that you’re saying what you’re saying from a place of equal parts love, concern, and insecurity.

And now that you’ve gone through all this set-up, all you need is that phrase: stupid brackets.

You’ll be amazed what it can help you uncover, and in the moment instead of after weeks of worrying/fuming. One of your partners makes you jealous, and instead of kicking back and forth the idea of a fight (is it worth it? am I overreacting? what if he gets angry that I don’t trust him?), you can let him inside your head in a matter of moments.

“Stupid brackets. I just got really jealous because you flirt so naturally with him, but you hardly noticed me this morning.”

And maybe the response, without defensiveness in the way, is: “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. I was finishing up a thousand things for work.”

That, instead of the jealousy gnawing at you for hours or days or weeks. Because you’re not giving yourself time to obsess, your tone will be less accusatory and more natural. Your body language won’t be stiff, steeled for battle, but vulnerable and honest. You won’t have withdrawn, however unconsciously, from your person(s). We read these things from one another, don’t you think?

I predict that the more you use the “stupid brackets,” the less you’ll need them. Experience has taught me that nothing I feel is actually stupid, because when I say it in the moment there is none of the incredulous anger I used to encounter. My perception may be nuanced, or incomplete, but it cannot be wholly flawed: the way I see things is true for me, even if it is not objectively true. It’s not about things or people being right or wrong, but about whether your person(s) are sending the messages they mean to send. If we can trust that no one means any harm, then we can always do better with the brackets.

And if you can’t trust that… What are you doing in the relationship?

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