Thomas G. Plante Ph.D., ABPP

Do the Right Thing

4 Ways To Cope With the People Who Drive You Mad

Is it them, or is it really you?

Posted Oct 15, 2014

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We all have people in our lives who drive us a bit crazy and we are so 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. It 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.

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 over and over again 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 at all.

2. 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 sure 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 slight, some upsetting action, or something rude that someone said to them. Often we really just 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 needs to 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 you might be the problem after all. Perhaps what seems so appropriate and reasonable to you just isn’t to others.

My patient would be a lot happier and more at peace if she would follow these four principles. She'd have a better relationship with her son and his family as well. She’s made progress, but still has a long way to go.

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Copyright 2014, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP