How can we support ourselves in relationships when other people's behaviour upsets us?
The first step is 'acknowledge'.
I want to be clear that ‘acknowledge’ means that we understand we cannot control other people and circumstances. So when you say something ‘reasonable’ or place a boundary and you get a less than positive reaction, can you be in a place where you understand that their reaction is ‘theirs’ it is their wounding, nothing to do with you? It’s how they feel about themselves. So accept the behaviour in this way.
By acknowledge I want to be clear that I am not saying that their behaviour is ‘excusable’. In that, if their behaviour is toxic and is causing you distress, it is also your responsibility to remove yourself from that situation. For exactly the same reason as the paragraph above. You are not in control of others, you are not responsible for their behaviour. If it is not supportive to your needs and mental health to be with people whose behaviour is damaging to you, it is your responsibility to decide if it is better to remove yourself from the situation, behaviour or relationship.
I will use a personal example. A relative likes to feel superior by having other people feel inferior, so often they will try to get into discussion with me to talk about a charged topic as a way to have a sense of control. I will place the boundary ‘I do not want to talk about this because we think differently and it makes us both angry’, they will keep pushing the conversation, I place the boundary a second time, third time I tell them ‘I’m leaving the room because I have asked not to talk about this and you are not listening to me. I don’t feel respected.’ I then walk away no matter what they say to try and pull me back in the conversation.
So I acknowledge the fact that they are behaving from their own traumas and triggers. But also I am protecting myself by placing boundaries and removing myself should I need to.
The first few times I did this with this person was when I was still very much in the throws of anxious attachment it was frightening to my nervous system as I feared abandonment. With practice it got easier. Now we are in a situation that most times now I am able to place the boundary in the first instance and they listen and respect that (most of the time!
This work can feel really tiring, being in relationships and constantly 'working' to change the way we respond to other people and to naviagate, place boundaries or hold space for what comes up for them.
Relationships are areas of our lives where we do experience the most growth. It doesn’t mean we stay in ones that we don’t want to be in just ‘to grow’. We do need to recognise that it is our childhood relationships that hold onto these patterns that we have created and we unconsciously go looking for the same triggers, until we learn for them to be triggers no longer, or we are better able to hold ourselves in those triggers.
My invitation is when you notice the behaviours of others which activate your nervous system, can you allow yourself to fully experience the sensations while simultaneously observing the stories around the trigger and recognising the core wound?
Everyone experiences reality in a completely different way. So when something happens in front of us, how we interpret and react to that event is completely different to the next person standing next to us. We are using our past experiences to influence our current experience. Which is absolutely normal and how we’ve been designed. Our ‘ego’ is keeping us safe by creating predictable situations and adding a predictable story to that situation. Because there are parts of you that believe that the pain you know is easier than the pain you don’t know or are trying to avoid. So how can you take that leap of faith in yourself and step into choosing a different way and the ‘risk’ of experiencing the pain that you have been avoiding?
I invite you to explore….
Can you hold yourself in...
Your experience of how you interpret a situation is absolutely valid, because it comes with your conditioning and patterns that have created that interpretation. This behaviour of recognising where we are at and why we have behaviours creates 'acceptance' and means we are less likely to view ourselves as 'bad' and feel shame. Shame can be an emotion that if not held and accepted can cause in us to react in hurtful ways. Hurtful to ourselves and hurtful to others.
While also recognising…
That you can choose to have a different perception. Through this option of choice, how would you like to perceive a situation? How would you best be served by choosing a different story for yourself? Our perceptions of situations and creating new narratives will ultimately support us in processing in the future how we respond to similar events and behaviours.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other articles and podcasts which are supportive around this topic are: