This article appeared in the Chiswick Herald on the 21st December:
Someone upsetting you? Here’s what to do about it.
In this article we will look at getting upset with other people, how we can usefully think about what is happening and what are some of the options available to stop this from happening.
Before getting into the main part of the article it is really important to acknowledge the times when relationship problems are serious and have serious consequences for the health and safety of ourselves and/or others. Some people find almost everyone else difficult and they can find therapy really useful in understanding how their own expectations are causing conflict and find new ways to improve their relationships. And some people are in abusive relationships and they need to get out of them. If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, and abuse can take physical, sexual and emotional forms, there is lots of really helpful information available. For example this page of the NHS website https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/getting-help-for-domestic-violence/. If you are in either of these terrible situations there is a lot of help out there and whilst it might feel hard to take the first step to get help you will be glad you did. Finally, particular in close relationships patterns of destructive and painful behaviour can really put a relationship under strain and often people can find couples therapy helpful. In all these situations the important thing is not to suffer in silence.
Now back to the main part of this article. Most people have difficult relationships with others at some point or another. Sometimes it is something a partner, family member, colleague or friend does that annoys on a regular basis or it might be something that has happened that you are really shocked or stunned by and can’t find a way to deal with it.
Step One - Relax
Relax - this is something that happens to everyone. And it is not all bad - it means your psychological defences, designed to keep you safe, are functioning.
Step Two - Look at this objectively
Sounds easy and it is likely that your hurt feelings will not want you to do this but being able to be objective will enable you to find a way through. Think of an area of your life where you are strongest at being objective - for some people its work, others with their children, for others with authority - identify yours.
Step Three - Own your feelings
In the spirit of being objective it is valuable to remember this fact. Other people do not make us feel bad, we feel bad as a reaction to others - we make ourselves feel bad!
Step Four - Review the facts
Recall exactly what happened and write it down. Then edit what you have written to remove all interpretation and subjective wording. For example a friend is late - you might write:
They are so annoying. They were late as always, they knew how important it was to me, we missed the train and they couldn’t even be bothered to apologise - they said nothing. It is so typical, never take responsibility for anything and doesn’t care about anyones feelings except their own. They ruined my day.
To rewrite this factually:
They were 20 minutes late and we missed the train. I had said not to be late, they said nothing when they arrived. They have been late before. My thoughts were that they don’t care about anyone else’s feelings. My day was ruined and in my thoughts I held them responsible.
Step Five - Review your interpretations and subjective responses.
And question them as follows:
Are they always annoying?
They are always late?
You told them not to be late but how can you know they understood it was important to you - did you use those words?
When people do not apologise does that always mean they do not care? Isn’t there another explanation?
Do they really never take responsibility for anything? How can you be certain? Also how can you be certain they do not care about anyone else’s feelings? If so how do they manage in life?
If they don’t manage in life then why are you taking this personally when you could have anticipated this happening?
You think they ruined your day - does that mean you were powerless to salvage your day - how come?
Step Six - Decide what to do.
By now three things will have happened:
- You will feel calmer - you are taking back control of the situation and your feelings
- You will be starting to think about what happened differently
- You may now want to just forget about what happened or maybe you will want to talk to the person about what happened
- When you replay things in your mind you might now find that the other person was even upset that you were upset - so maybe they are feeling bad too now?
Step Seven - If you decide to talk to them
If you decide you would like to speak to the person then use this simple framework:
State the facts - “you were late and I had asked you not to be so we missed our train and I did not enjoy the rest of the day”
Say how you felt - “I felt angry and upset”
Say what thoughts you had - “I was thinking it means you do not care about me and I remembered when you were late before”
Say what you would like - “I would like you to be on time in future”