Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.Jacob M. Braude
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.
- 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?
01First, 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.)
02When 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.
03Sometimes what’s unresolved is a feeling of not being good enough, not feeling heard, or feeling that my boundaries are being violated.
04And 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?”.
05When 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.
My wish for you today is for you to begin to question what’s really behind your reaction to someone else.
Kathleen Dwyer Blair, LCSW, BCD, Director, Nassau Guidance and Counseling.