4 Ways to Cope with the People Who Drive You Mad
Thomas G. Plante
Recently a therapy patient expressed great upset to me while speaking about her adult son. In a nutshell, he just doesn’t do what she wants him to do. She has discussed her disappointment and anger about him many times before with me. It's a common theme in psychotherapy—experiencing great upset with the repeated behavior of important others.
We all have people in our lives who drive us a bit crazy, and we are often perplexed about their behavior, lifestyles, and decisions about things. We likely have important people in our social orbits who chronically frustrate us. Perhaps their behavior is truly unreasonable, but often it isn’t at all. Sometimes it’s is just that we don’t like what they say and do.
When our frustration with important others becomes chronic, and we experience the same anger and disappointment over and over again, we really need to find some helpful principles to cope better.
When our frustration with important others becomes chronic, and we experience the same anger and disappointment over and over again, we really need to find some helpful principles to cope better. Here are four to consider:
1. Maintain realistic expectations.
We often expect people to be reasonable, rational, logical, thoughtful, and perhaps to think and behave just like we do. Guess what? They don’t! Having reasonable expectations about the behavior of others based on their past behavior is critical for our peace of mind. As we often say in psychology, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.” We need to remind ourselves of this important truth in order to minimize the upset, disappointment, and anger that we experience from the same behavior by the same people. Just because we think it is reasonable to behave in a particular way doesn’t mean that others think the same way.
2. Learn to control your responses to the behavior of others.
While you can’t control the behavior of others, you can control your responses to it. There is some great wisdom in the often-quoted Serenity Prayer. We really do need to learn to change what we can and accept what we can’t. While we may not be able to control the actions of others, we surely can control how we respond to them. We don’t have to go along or agree with others when they do what they do and say what they say. We can, and perhaps should, say “no” more often when asked to do things that we believe are unreasonable or not in our best interest. We can be better at not putting ourselves in situations that result in chronic upset and frustration with others simply by being careful about how we respond to others and their requests.
3. Let go, while keeping the big picture in mind.
Often people get so frustrated with the behavior of others that they just can’t let go of some perceived slight, some upsetting action, or something rude that someone has said to them. Often we simply need to take a deep breath and ask ourselves if our distress would be as upsetting to us if we were lying on our deathbed. In other words, what’s really important and what’s the big picture here? There is wisdom in the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Letting go should become an ongoing daily coping strategy for many people.
4. Ask yourself if you’re just being too demanding.
Many of us think that the world would be a lot better off if everyone thought and behaved as we do. If you chronically get frustrated with the behavior of others, you have to ask yourself if maybe you are the problem. Perhaps what seems appropriate and reasonable to you isn’t to others.
Like my patient, you would be happier if you follow these four principles. Also evoking one of Santa Clara’s three Cs, compassion towards self and others might go a long way.
*A version of this article was originally published by Psychology Today on Oct., 15, 2014.