We’ve all said it: “She makes me sooo mad!!” But, can anyone really “make” you mad? If that’s true, then why is it that two people can ask you the exact same question and you feel angry towards the first one and willingly answer the question when posed by the second?
Suppose you have a teenage boy who is contemplating what to do after high school. You ask him: “Hey Josh! Have you submitted any applications yet for college?” His response to you is that of annoyance and he lets you know that he doesn’t appreciate the question.
A few days later, a friend of the family sees your son and asks: “Hey Josh! Have you submitted any applications yet for college?” His response to the friend is more amicable and he lists off a couple of universities he’s interested in attending.
While you’re standing there with your mouth open, you’re wondering what happened. Both of you asked the same question, so why the different responses?
The simple answer is that Josh’s response is influenced by his beliefs about the person asking the question. To you, the parent, he may feel that you push him too much, that you ask too many questions, that you will be disappointed with his answer, among many other things. He may have viewed the question as your telling him to do one more thing. It doesn’t matter if you were merely striking up a conversation or were just curious; Josh’s thoughts take precedence and he ends up responding in a manner that is hurtful towards you.
Your son has little history with the family friend so he wants to be respectful and responds in a positive manner. Your son does not pick up on any implied accusation that he is slacking off when she asks the question. Josh can take the friend’s question at face value with no hidden agenda, thus there is no fuel to generate feelings of annoyance.
Now, let’s flip things around: How did you react when Josh became annoyed at your question? Did you begin ranting about how disrespectful he is towards you? Did you feel any anger building up inside of you? If this describes your reaction, it would help to stop and take a few deep breaths. Don’t try to suppress the feelings of anger or annoyance; just acknowledge them and understand that you don’t have to act out on them.
Even though this might be a bit difficult at the moment, take the time to think about what you love about your son. Then, appreciate what he has accomplished and try to look at the situation from his point of view. Ask yourself whether expressing your dissatisfaction towards him is more important than the relationship? Is it worth eroding the quality of the relationship so that you can feel better after complaining, nagging or exchanging harsh words? Taking the time to think about what you appreciate in the other person does wonders for alleviating your annoyance and helps you to stay focused on what is really important.
These steps are a great way to respond when an important person lashes out at you. First, you recognize that you didn’t do anything wrong and that you cannot “make” anyone mad. Then, you acknowledge that he may be feeling stressed and you just happen to be a safe person to whom he can express his anger. Remember, the negative reaction of the other person is not about you; it’s about him. If the relationship with that person is an important one, it’s best to be empathetic towards him by commenting that he appears to be bothered by something. You can then encourage him to label his emotion and talk about what’s really troubling him.
Do yourself a favor and make the effort to develop this new belief that no one can make you mad, annoyed, feel guilty, etc. You can begin by catching yourself when you feel that way. When that happens, pause and pay attention to your emotions. You can also explore the limiting beliefs that could be causing you or a loved one to act out. Take the time to challenge your beliefs and show compassion for others who are struggling with theirs. You always have a choice in how you respond. But before you do, think about the importance of the relationship and make a deliberate decision about what you do next.