There is no question that there are people in our lives who manage to push all of our buttons, whether they are a relative, our partner, an acquaintance, a friend, our children, or a neighbor. They easily manage to get under our skin and annoy us, frustrate us, anger us, or insult us.
Who is it really about?
The reality is, though, when we have a strong emotional reaction to someone, it is more often about us, not them. And when our response internally or externally is out of proportion with what’s truly happening in the moment, it is clearly about us or our history.
This is hard for most of us to accept, since we often want to blame others for our behavior. For instance:
- “if they would just stop doing X, then I could be a better mother.” Or,
- “if my boss wasn’t such a jerk, then I’d be able to be better at my job.”
But really, it’s rarely about the other person. Their behavior is always giving us an indication as to our feelings and what we need to work on in ourselves.
The person is a catalyst or a trigger to show us what we’re feeling. On a unconscious or conscious level, the other person may be reminiscent of someone in our history, there may be something familiar about the way they talk or walk or speak that might remind us of something with our parents or an old relationship. Or, it could be something very subtle that we’re not even picking up.
Or this person may remind us of some part of ourselves. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase: You spot it, you’ve got it, meaning that sometimes we are annoyed at others because they are reflecting back to us something that we don’t especially like or want to see in ourselves.
How can you come to terms with the other person’s behavior?
First, check in with yourself and determine what emotions you are experiencing. Is the way that you’re experiencing this person and situation in proportion with what’s happening? Really check in with what’s going on for you in this moment. Ask yourself: what is going on for me in this moment, that I am feeling this way? (Try to keep the word “why” out because that keeps us in our heads and in the analytical.)
When someone says something that bothers us, then we might be mildly annoyed but able to let it go, but if our annoyance level is bigger and we’re having trouble letting go or obsessing about it, then clearly there is something unresolved in our history and unresolved in ourselves that’s creating havoc with our emotions.
Sometimes what’s unresolved is a feeling of not being good enough, not feeling heard, or feeling that my boundaries are being violated. And sometimes we don’t even have words for that or know that that is what we’re experiencing, we may instead be saying something like, “How come she is talking to everyone else but constantly ignoring me?” Or “How come this person is always coming at me and doesn’t leave me alone?”
When we’re focusing on another’s behavior, then it’s usually an indication that we need to look more deeply into our own emotional state. The looking outward instead of inward may be a sign that deeper issues are being activated, and we’ll have to determine what’s being triggered within us.
So how can we let go of another person’s behaviors?
No longer mind-reading:
We often engage in mind-reading when interpreting the other person’s feelings and thoughts towards us.
As author and psychologist Roger Covin, Ph.D, says: It is very common and normal to try and guess what other people are thinking. However, when most of these guesses are negative -- when you assume that others are often thinking negatively of you -- it can affect your mental well-being.
We think “well, she knows I don’t like it when she leaves her music on, so she must be doing it to annoy me.” But in reality, most people are so caught up in their own world – solving problems in their own time – that they are rarely sitting around thinking of ways to annoy or harm others. So when we catch ourselves ostensibly reading someone else’s mind, then we can just remind ourselves that we really have no way of knowing what the other person is thinking.
Not taking it personally:
Another important tool and corollary to mind-reading is learning not to take things personally:
- Even when something feels like a deliberate snub or insult. People don’t usually intend to hurt our feelings.
- Most people are usually so caught up in their own heads that they are not really worried about ours – they aren’t intending to hurt us or to cause us pain or worry.
- Even if they are trying to be insulting or cruel, then it’s about them not about us.
Either way, though, we don’t need to make other people’s words and actions into a personal attack.
Letting go of those triggers:
Of course, as mentioned before, it’s not only just about the actual behavior, but the emotions and patterns from our past that are triggered by the behavior.
If something is bothering us, then there is usually something that we need to acknowledge from our childhood or own past. Oftentimes, though, it’s hard to see these triggers, and it may be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist.
At Nassau Guidance and Counseling, located on Long Island, our empathetic psychotherapists work with clients to examine past hurts and make way for more emotionally resonant thinking patterns.
We offer support and help with finding ways to accept others and to accept ourselves, and we welcome you wherever you are on your journey to self-awareness.