How to Stop Letting Other People Upset You
It happens to the best of us. We find ourselves completely undone by someone else’s behavior. It could be anything from someone cutting you off in traffic to your spouse cheating on you. Mild to severe, other people’s actions can turn our world upside down.
I recently let myself get all caught up in someone else’s drama. My boyfriend’s daughter was behaving in some ways I found unacceptable. He was trying to rein her in; she was acting out more and more; we all went to counseling (I can’t tell you how many arguments, sleepless nights, and general fury on my part all this caused). Suddenly, she decided to move in with her mother. As soon as she moved, poof – there was peace on earth. No more drama, angst, or fury. Is she still doing all the stuff we had problems with? I’m sure. But now it’s not my issue. And you know what? It never was.
Most of the things that you get upset about aren’t your issues. The driver who cut you off? Their driving is not your issue. All you need to worry about is getting safely to your destination. That lazy co-worker who isn’t doing their share of the work? Not your issue. All you need to do is focus on your own good work. Your cheating spouse? Not your issue. Your issue is why you would stay with someone who is cheating on you.
Some tips to help with this:
1. Realize you cannot control other people. They are going to do the crazy, stupid, incorrect things they are going to do. You can’t force them to do anything else. You can’t force someone to stop being lazy or lying to you or cheating on you. The only person you can control is you. You get to decide how much you’re going to let this person’s behavior impact you. Your worrying, obsessing, venting, etc. has zero impact on them – and only hurts you.
2. You have two choices – learn to live with the behavior or change your relationship to the person. My boyfriend is not a planner – it’s just not his way. This used to drive me completely insane. I would constantly argue the importance of planning – that if you failed to plan, you planned to fail. I was quick to point out occasions where his lack of planning cost him (I’m such a charmer!). He finally told me that if I liked planning so much, I could just plan everything and he would gladly go along. I finally accepted that I was never going to change him. I can either make the plans, live with no plan, or find a new boyfriend. But I’ll never make him a planner.
3. Examine your role in the behavior. Did the driver ahead of you cut you off because you just started talking on your cell and slowed 20 MPH? Did your teenager lie to you because the last time he told you the truth he was grounded? Is your spouse cheating because you are on the road 358 days a year? I’m not condoning any of the behaviors – I’m just asking you to look at the only person you can control – you. Maybe you are playing a role and not even realizing it.
4. But realize it may have absolutely nothing to do with you. I hate to say it, but this is more often the case. We are all the center of our own universes. Many times we think people are doing things because of us or to us and they aren’t. The driver may not have even seen you. Your teenager may lie just because he doesn’t want to be embarrassed. Your spouse may be cheating for the thrill of it and still loves you (although they have a crummy way of showing it).
5. Don’t inadvertently enable the behavior. Some people engage in their crazy behavior because the people around them encourage it. If your spouse cheats on you, and you take them back and treat them better than before, can you blame them if they cheat again? If your friend “borrows” money from you, and never repays it and you lend them more, can you blame them if they never repay that loan either? I love Maya Angelou’s advice, “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.” I know you don’t think you’re enabling, you think you’re helping. You think they will behave differently this time, that perhaps your love or kindness will change them. I say to you – why are you trying to control them still? Trying to change someone is trying to control them.
6. Let it go. Think of whoever drives you crazy right now. Get worked up – think of how they lie to you or how they don’t do their share or how selfish they are – whatever it is they are doing that drives you crazy. Assume they will never change. Ever. Can you just let it go? Is it really a minor thing you’ve been focusing on, making it major? In the big scheme of things, my boyfriend’s nonplanning is just not that big a deal. It’s offset by his kindness, patience, and wonderful good humor. Can you focus on the good more than the bad?
7. Let them go. Some behavior you just can’t let go of. Sometimes there’s not enough good to offset the bad. The best thing to do may be to let go of the relationship. Why are you staying with someone who causes you so much upset and pain? If you can’t let go of the relationship (say it’s a co-worker), can you let go of thinking so much about them? I bet they aren’t spending so much time thinking about you.
8. Get help. Can’t let it go or them? Talk with a professional counselor – life is too short for all this drama.
9. What about kids? Obviously when kids are little, you have to control them. They might think running into traffic is a good idea and you should probably put a stop to that. But as they get older, you’ll find that you need to alter your behavior to impact theirs. Maybe they start to dress inappropriately. You have several options – you can check out current fashion before you freak; you can yell and tell them they’re not going out like that (giving credibility to their attempt at rebellion); you can cut off the clothing allowance (controlling your behavior not theirs); or you can ignore it, knowing that sooner or later they will be embarrassed just like the rest of us and will fall in line. And if you are sharing clothing with your children, know that the rest of us are trying to let it go.
The bottom line is that you can’t let the behavior of others steal your joy. But if you do, it’s your choice. Focus on being the best and happiest that you can be – that’s where your energy should go. Set the best example you can and spend time and energy on people who lift you higher. And remember, somewhere there’s someone out there who thinks YOU need to change! Ha!