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How To Be Ok When Other People Are Upset With You

Slide1 I’m a highly sensitive person, in all respects of the word.

I have supersonic hearing that rivals a dog’s, I am so easily startled that if I’m not paying attention, the toaster going off will actually make me jump, and emotionally I was born with skin as thick as tissue paper.

Growing up, that was really hard.  It meant that I had a lot of empathy to give but at the same time, the slightest criticism or perceived criticism, insult, or hurtful joke took a toll on me that was far greater than it would have been for the people around me. It’s something I had to work on throughout my teenage years and especially in my early twenties.

Now in my mid-twenties, I feel like I’ve grown so much and I’m able to handle things that would rock my world. I think that often times sensitive people are perceived as weak and whiny, when in reality, that’s not the case.  I did not choose to be sensitive but I did choose to work on skills that would allow me to cope with situations in a way that wouldn’t destroy me or bury me beneath mountains of guilt.

One of the biggest lessons I had to learn was how to be ok with people being upset with me, whether they were friends, boyfriends, or parents.

Being able to live with the knowledge that someone else isn’t picking up what you’re putting down but to still have the ability and desire to move on with your day and be ok is a huge asset to those of us who might care a little too much about what others think and have to say.

With that being said, here are my go-to tips for tolerating distress when others are mad, disappointed, or upset with you.

1. It’s not (always) your issue.

I can’t remember where I first learned this, and I’m pretty sure it’s a common spiritual gem, but when I discovered that other people’s thoughts of me weren’t really under my control, it started to set me free.  We can only control what we say and do and how we say and do it.  How someone interprets what we say and do is absolutely and completely not under our control.  How on earth could it be?

Someone’s interpretation of a situation depends not only on their brain chemistry and psychological hardwiring, but their personality, their history, memories, any traumas, and whatever crap they have going on that day.  To take on responsibility for how someone else sees you is just asking for a lot of heartache and pain.  It’s not your issue.  If you can live with how you’ve acted in the situation, that’s all that you can do.  The rest is their work.

2. This too shall pass.

It’s a challenge when you both love and care about someone and their opinion of you but also disagree with them. Most disagreements can be overcome, most misunderstandings or frustration can dissipate within a few hours or a  few days, and the relationship can return back to normal.

3. You can be right or you can be happy.

If there is one tip you remember, let it be this one.  This is the single tip that allows me to have a good relationship with certain people in my life.  Once I stopped trying to get a certain someone to see things my way, to agree with me, to approve of me, the pressure was off.  I stopped arguments before they could even begin by remembering that their issues weren’t my own and it wasn’t my job to fix them.  They were going to approve of me or they weren’t, but their decision was not under my control. It takes some maturity and growing up to get to this point (and I had to do a lot of it), but being happy or at least having a peaceful relationship is worth a lot more to me than trying to prove my point.

4. Only apologize when you actually have something to be sorry for.

This was perhaps the hardest lesson for me because I’m a chronic apologizer even when the problem at hand had nothing to do with me.  It’s a great thing to know when you truly have made a mistake and to try and make amends, but if you know in your heart that you’re just apologizing to stop an argument or not have someone be mad at you, you’re setting yourself up for a pattern of always being perceived as the one who screwed up to begin with, even when you didn’t.  Consistently putting yourself in a position of being the wrong-doer and apologizer will disempower you and send the message that how you’re being treated is ok.

5. Instead of apologizing, find common ground and a way to settle.

If you’re dealing with the type of person to point fingers at everyone else and you’re always the one apologizing, even when you really have nothing to apologize for, pluck up some confidence and instead of apologizing, try to find a way to settle without compromising your self-esteem.  Start by acknowledging the other person’s point of view and how they might feel, and if applicable, point out areas where you could try to be more sensitive, understanding, or aware the next time.  This takes people off the defensive because they feel heard, not threatened.  Then state your case, using “I”-statements and how you felt and perceived the situation.  Offer a solution or a way to change things the next time.

6. If the physical anxiety is overwhelming…

Take a deep breath (or fifty).  Remind yourself of tip #3.  Do some yoga poses (I personally like something that will change my perspective–a backbend or inversion, but do what works for you).  Go outside and ground yourself in nature, force yourself to be in the moment.  Hold an ice cube (you’ll forget about your worries when your hand starts to go numb).  Practice acceptance and knowing that it will get sorted out (and if it doesn’t, then that’s what’s best for the time being).  Most debacles aren’t big picture things–they won’t matter tomorrow, next week, next month or next year.  Perspective can be enormously helpful in these situations!

7. Know what works.

Every person and every situation is different.  There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with others, as we all know.  Mix and match, take an eclectic approach and be willing to be flexible and adapt when the situation calls for it.  Know when an apology is warranted and when it isn’t.  Compromise can be useful, just don’t be a doormat.

How do you deal with others being upset with you?

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{ 14 comments… add one }

  • Davida @ The Healthy Maven May 15, 2014, 7:38 am

    Such an amazing topic Alex! This has always been a weakness of mine. I usually only let one person take me over with guilt (naturally, my mom) and with other people I can get pretty defensive and let it eat me up instead of trying to talk it out rationally. Another thing on the list of things I need to work on. You are seriously becoming my spiritual guru!
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    • Alex May 15, 2014, 9:45 am

      Oh gosh, I think that parents are definitely the hardest to deal with when it comes to this! It’s a work in progress for all of us, including myself. And you sure know how to flatter a girl <3 Thank you so much! I hope these tips help at some point!

  • Polly @ Tasty Food Project May 15, 2014, 12:43 pm

    I love this post! In the past, I would always feel so bad whenever I upset anyone. I was always the person that was “too nice” and put others before myself. Now I’ve learned to be a little more selfish and only apologize when I’m wrong. You won’t hear the words “I’m sorry” come out of me unless I truly mean it. I also learned that it’s not the end of the world when someone is upset with me. I like the quote “This too shall pass.” It applies to many things in life! :)
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    • Alex May 15, 2014, 7:18 pm

      Thanks so much, Polly! I think that there is so much freedom that comes with learning to be a little selfish. I’m so glad that you found that and think it’s so awesome that you’re able to only apologize when you know you need to. I love how you said it’s not the end of the world when someone is upset with you–SO true!! <3

  • Gloria May 16, 2014, 8:33 pm

    I swear, your posts always come at the right time. I have been thinking about this for the past two weeks, as I recently acted in a way I wasn’t proud of and upset someone that I care a lot about. I was also super sensitive growing up and worked really hard to not let other people’s opinions affect how I feel about myself. It’s always a work in progress, but I think I’ve grown a lot in that respect. I was raised to be a people-pleaser and it’s still very hard to accept when I actually do make a mistake or bad judgement and that it negatively affected someone else. In the past, I have dwelled on it until it destroyed me. For me what was freeing was realizing that all I could do was apologize, say that I didn’t intend to hurt their feelings, and that I would try to never do that again. That’s all I could do and I just kept reminding myself that no one is perfect and that just because I am flawed, I am still deserving of happiness and love and that the issue is not that big in hindsight. I chose to accept my mistake, own up to it, and then not get sucked into the negative thinking that would make it into a much bigger deal than it really was. I love these tips and will definitely keep them in mind :-)

    The apologizing thing reminded me of this poetry video I saw before, maybe you’ve seen it? Powerful stuff.

    • Alex May 18, 2014, 10:39 am

      I’m so glad that this came at a good time for you, Gloria! <3 I can relate to so much of what you said. I’m so glad you were able to remind yourself that no one is perfect and accept the situation and then move on. I know for me that has taken so much practice. Which poetry video is the one you’re referencing? I’m not sure I’ve seen it but I’d like to!

      • Gloria May 19, 2014, 10:38 am

        It’s called “Shrinking Women” by Lily Myers.

        • Alex May 19, 2014, 2:44 pm

          Oh yes, I have seen that! One of my close friends is friends with one of her siblings so I found out about it through him.

  • Miss Polkadot May 17, 2014, 4:56 pm

    If I didn’t know it’s impossible I’d have guessed you read my mind and wrote this post for me. Like you I’m one of the most sensitive people I know, an overthinker and constantly trying to avoid conflict and please others. My approach used to be ‘better safe than sorry’ – literally in that I’d say I was sorry more often than I probably was. However, you’re so right when saying that this is disempowering and I’ve gotten better at saying it less often. The other tips you’re giving here will be helpful in accepting I can’t always agree with everybody. It makes me hopeful I’ll be able to work this out the way you did because yes: it can be really overwhelming.
    Thank you for another great post, Alex!
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    • Alex May 18, 2014, 10:41 am

      You know, it’s so funny because I had my reservations about publishing this post, but it seems like it’s something that a lot of us have been thinking about/dealing with lately, so I hope it’s helpful! I hope these come in handy as a fellow highly sensitive person! Thanks so much for your comment, Miss Polkadot! <3

  • Jan @ Sprouts n Squats May 19, 2014, 2:24 am

    I saved this one in my inbox to read because I knew that I needed it in my life! I struggle sometimes with learning to let things go when I know someone isn’t happy with something I’ve done regardless of if I know it is their issue. I’m a people pleaser from way back when and it is just something that is hard to shake even though logic and reason tell me otherwise, my tendency to overthink things usually wins out :)
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    • Alex May 19, 2014, 2:46 pm

      Being a people pleaser is definitely a hard thing to shake! And I totally know what you mean about overthinking things and letting that take over. I hope these tips are helpful for you if you ever need a reminder that it’s ok to not people please :)

  • Gena May 26, 2014, 7:30 am

    Powerful stuff, friend. I linked to it on Weekend Reading. I think it ties in deeply to perfectionism and black/white thinking–the same stuff that feeds EDs. Thanks for sharing. Learning not to panic when folks are frustrated or upset with me is very much something I’m working on with each day that passes.

    • Alex May 26, 2014, 2:14 pm

      Thank you so much for reading and for linking this to your Weekend Reading post, Gena! I’m very grateful. I absolutely agree that it ties deeply to perfectionism, which has been a bit of theme for me personally lately. I’m working on the same thing too, so you’re not alone. Hope you have a wonderful week! <3

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