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Why Other People's Behavior Really Isn't Your Problem

Here's why you should focus on yourself first.

Key points

  • You don't have to agree with how other people behave—and nothing you say or do is going to change them.
  • However, understanding why certain behavior triggers negative feelings for you can help you choose healthier reactions.
  • Try focusing instead on what you want out of the relationship and be honest about mistakes you may have made along the way.
Sigitas Duoblis/Shutterstock
Source: Sigitas Duoblis/Shutterstock

Have you ever thought how curious it is that when you are having a bad day, don’t feel well, might be rushing or otherwise distracted, and you do or say something to someone else, you want them to be understanding; however, when the converse is true, you have no ability to cut some slack and give someone else the benefit of the doubt?

“If he wasn’t like he is, I wouldn’t respond this way.” “I try so hard, but she doesn’t reciprocate.” “His approach sets off something in me, and I just have to respond negatively.” The list of excuses offered as to why you are not the person in the wrong is endless; it’s the other person who is causing the angst and upset. If they would get themselves right, all would be well with the world.

If you have ever had children, teenagers, a significant other, family members, or friends who rub you the wrong way, you know the so-called pain of a difficult relationship. People you care about just don’t do what you want and need them to do! It is eternally frustrating that they can’t understand how good you are to them, and they don’t reciprocate in kind. Much of people’s lives are spent looking at others and lamenting how they should or shouldn’t do something differently. People truly believe if they could fix the other person and get them to behave in ways they dictate as necessary and appropriate, all would be well.

The most important lesson you can learn in life is that you can’t fix others.

You can’t dictate their behavior, and you can’t change them to suit your needs. As a parent, you can guide your child; you can nurture them and provide a role model to show positive behaviors. In any relationship, you can address something that is amiss; you can bring up issues that are troubling and might need to be examined or corrected.

You don’t have to hide your viewpoint. You don’t have to ignore what’s meaningful to you. You don’t have to take abuse and say nothing, but you do need to recognize that your way is not always the only way or the right way.

Other people are not your problem. Yes, they can be mean, they can do things that hurt, they can behave in ways that are not mature and appropriate, but they aren’t your problem. Figuring out what triggers you and why, and understanding how to modify your approach and your behavior, is going to serve you much better—both in the short and the long run.

What to do when others are difficult:

Try the following instead of working to be “right” and convince them of the error of their ways:

1. See your triggers in action.

Everyone has something that triggers them. Ever considered why there is no one single definition of the “difficult” ones? Some people love forceful people; others find them intimidating. Some parents love children at certain ages, while others loathe those ages and stages. Some people enjoy quiet, unassuming people, while others think they are conceited and disengaged.

If there was one definition, everyone would agree, but there is not—because each person is triggered by different things. Try and see what triggers you, what you want to control, and what you “can’t stand” about others. Once you see it, you can start to recognize the triggers in action.

2. Consider the “why?”

Why does this behavior or approach trigger you? Again, assuming it is not someone physically abusing you or stealing from you, why does someone speaking in a sharp tone set you off, for example? Why does someone who gets upset about something you might have done irk you? Why do you want to chew out that person who doesn’t agree with your point of view? Is it because they are wrong, or because you have some background or prior experience or belief that you should be treated a certain way? Consider the why, and often you will find a connection between what you consider acceptable behavior and what is crossing your (imaginary) line.

3. Focus on what you want out of the relationship.

Is this someone you care about, someone you hope to deepen a relationship with, or someone who is important to you? If so, what do you want to gain? Do you want to make them feel bad or less important and “wrong,” or do you want a relationship with them? Sometimes establishing your personal objective helps to orient your next step. Oftentimes in relationships, you don’t get what you want because you focus on being right and making the other person pay the price, and this only serves to destroy aspects of the relationship, not build them back up.

4. Consider when you have been the wrong-doer.

This isn’t meant to beat yourself up or criticize yourself; this is just meant to see that you have probably wronged the person you now consider to be in the wrong. Human beings make mistakes and struggle to have good relationships in many cases. You have probably done something that deserves an “I’m sorry,” and you realized that you wish you had not have done it. Maybe the person you are holding accountable could be in the same situation. Rather than holding a grudge, realize how similar you really are and how much you are both hurting over something that has gone wrong.

This leads to the last point: Life is hard for most people. Most everyone you meet is struggling with their own issues, concerns, demons, or life circumstances. Thinking that you are the only one with a problem and that you deserve to have the people around you make things right is about the most selfish perspective you can take.

Everyone needs a shoulder, a friend, some support, and to be cut a break. See where you are being selfish by what you are asking of others, and choose to take another approach. Your relationships will be stronger, and you will likely feel better about them too.

Facebook image: Sigitas Duoblis/Shutterstock