Dealing with difficult people at Christmas

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I bet you think you can read minds don’t you? In fact, I would go as far as to say that you think you have mind control super powers and can make people think things about you and even, change the way they think about you. Don’t worry. It’s not just you. Everybody thinks they have mind control superpowers.

What do you think happens in that first 6 seconds when you meet someone? They judge you.

Of course.

You judge them.

Of course.

But whether you judge them because of what they are wearing, how they sound, what their hand shake is like, whether they make eye contact etc has nothing to do with them. It’s all to do with you and the way you see the world.

I had a client that felt it was very important to remember people’s names. They made a point of paying attention to that fact. They would get offended if the other person didn’t remember, and use, their name. I couldn’t care less if you remember my name or not. I respond to anything. This unique perception can be referred to as your model of the world.

We weigh up situations based on our model of the world. This has nothing to do with reality. It also has nothing to do with what is going on in the other persons mind – because you are not a mind reader.

This can often be a bigger problem at Christmas where you are forced into the same space with other people you don’t know very well for a length of time.

Why do we struggle with some people and not others?

So when you don’t get on well with with someone, or even out and out fight with them, it’s because you have a different model of the world to them. But beyond that, it’s because you assume they have the same model of the world as you and are deliberately and maliciously doing the exact opposite just to get up your nose.

Not true. In fact, they believe the same as you. They believe you have the same model of the world as them and are deliberately and maliciously doing the exact opposite just to get up their nose!

This difference in the way we see things is the basis of pretty much every relationship problem. Ever.

Is there anything you can do?

No matter how it comes across, it’s not about you.

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Imagine they are wearing a pair of glasses with a filter on like a Snapchat filter. You know the ones. The ones where you end up with dog ears or an abnormally large mouth. Now, everything you say, you will say with that filter on. It doesn’t matter if you try and speak more clearly, or are less animated – they still have the filter on so will always see you in the same way.

Nothing you can do to change that, so stop trying. Most of your frustration will disappear if you stop trying to be someone that your non-existent mind reading skills tell you that you should be!

How can you avoid getting into arguments?

Have you noticed how some people really wind you up and others don’t? Have you ever had to talk your other half down from a rant about one of your mates that they really hate and yet you can’t see why?

The thing is, this model of the world thing means that you don’t see people for how they are.

Your brain is constantly pattern matching. It’s looking for things in your environment that may be of some risk to you. How did it learn what those things are? It learnt as you grew up. Like a baby tiger learns to hunt safely and sleep safely from it’s parents, we learn from ours. Not how to hunt. But whether we are good enough, whether we listen, whether we are clumsy or can turn our hand to anything. We learn the things to avoid. In terms of your subconscious, those things you avoid are the things that would hurt you (and as far as it’s concerned, hurt equals death). These days it treats things that hurt you emotionally in the same way as things that hurt you physically. It triggers the fight or flight response. People forget the “fight” part of fight or flight. It comes from the same basis. When you get angry with your own (or your partners) relatives, it’s just a protective response to feeling threatened.

I did a survey recently of people who had a fear of public speaking. Of all the respondents, 88% could remember a childhood event that was connected to the fear. Of those 88%, 69.1% were from a time in school. Not big things either, small things like being put on the spot and not being able to answer a question.

So if your brain decides that the way someone is speaking to you is just the same as the time Mrs Fudgebucket, when she asked you a question at 12 years old that made you feel like a total muppet, then you become 12 years old again. You react as the 12 year old you. You feel stupid. You can’t tell that it’s not them making you feel stupid. You just know how you feel, so you go into fight of fight or flight. You fight back. You will not let them make you feel that way! But they have no idea this is all going on, because they can’t read your mind. All they know is that you are having a go at them. And so they fight back…and neither of you is really in the room. You are both off in your head working of memories.

What happens when it’s too late?

The problem around Christmas is that people often drink, and drinking can lower inhibitions. It may be that no matter what you try, you still get into the argument.

There are a couple of ways you can counter the pattern matching going on in your head.

One is defensive and one is preemptive.

The defensive way is the easiest. Image you have a shield of some sort around you. It can be an invisibility cloak, a two way mirror, a blanket, bubble wrap or something else. Inside that space is your happy place. Think of a happy or a calm memories. Use it to reinforce that shield. Nothing that they say can get through to you. After all, you can’t read minds. You can deflect it away so it bounces off. You can transform it like Harry Potter and Boggart so it becomes harmless, or you can distract from it by totally changing topic. Either way, you don’t let it in.

The preemptive way takes a little more time and preparation. You need to stop the memory becoming a trigger. We need to re-programme your brain so there is no match when your brain goes searching. This is far more simple than you might think thanks to neuroplasticity. Try something for me. Don’t think of a pink elephant. Did you manage it? If you did, it’s only because you thought of a blue elephant instead, or maybe a different animal. You can’t not think of something. Now, your brain doesn’t have a revision history. There is no track changes like there are in Word. So every time you change something it’s permanent. You can’t go back to a time before you thought of a pink elephant. Too late. Update has happened. We can use this to change the way memories are stored.

So let’s go back to the memory of Mrs Fudgebucket. Let’s change her voice to something that is impossible to take seriously. Donald Duck is good, or like she’s breathed in a helium balloon. Your brain doesn’t learn from things that are silly, only things that hurt. The minute she sounds silly the memory loses the meaning and, because of neuroplasticity the memory is permanently changed. When your in-laws say something that reminds you of that moment, it no longer reminds you of feeling stupid, which means there is no protective response and you don’t rise to the bait.

So see if you can think of how they make you feel when they say what they do, then see if you can find your earliest memory of feeling the same way, then change the memory to make it ridiculous. Job done.

Repairing arguments

Now, you are only human. Things get said. Emotions get out of control?

What if it’s too late?

What if the same thing always comes up?

Well, it’s never too late. If it doesn’t matter to you what they say, then you can just ignore it. It’s a lot easier to push off something, so if you don’t respond to what they say, then the argument will automatically lose momentum. You can then resort to the distraction or transformation options mentioned earlier and just change the topic.

Useful phrases can be “I can see how you see it that way”, and “I guess we just see it differently” or “Here’s 10p, phone someone who cares” (ok maybe not that last one).

So there we are. Just remember we are all screwed up and we are all operating from our own model of the world. Nothing is really about you. You are not that powerful!

Here’s an MP3 that might help if you need a timeout moment 

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