So you are a good person: an ethical, helpful, respected member of your community, a good parent and a faithful spouse. And then without any warning, people tell you that you are insufferable. They still like you, still want to be with you, yet complain that you are giving them a hard time. Is this normal, and is there anything we can do about it? Maybe you will like reading further here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
I am insuffereable
Like any good therapy, we can start by admitting a problem. I personally have a problem. One of my employees characterized it in a very interesting way “You are a great boss, but a slightly inadequate human being”. Once we admit that we have a problem, we can find the root of the problem and change.
I am insufferable, but I can probably fight it. Here are some reasons why people characterize me personally as insufferable:
- You are not fully there at the moment, too busy with the stuff you read and write.
- Your phone is constantly sending you messages. Please stop that!
- Stop trying to fix me! There is nothing wrong with me!
- Why do you feel the need to say something smart or funny? Shut up and listen!
- You are allergic to fun. This cannot be normal!
- Why do you do things without discussing them first?
- Do not call me with every stupid thing you want to do!
Some people are wrong some of the time
We act very differently in different roles. It is possible for the same person to be insecure, overly secure, and duly confident in his skills at the same time, only with respect to different skills and situations.
It is impossible to function properly and remain the same person in everything we do. Tet if we change too much it is confusing: people may think of us as dishonest, disoriented individuals with multiple personalities.
At the same time, different people will have different perspectives on what your normal behavior should be.
Therefore, sometimes the criticism about you is wrong or addresses you in a certain role. Sometimes we simply behave according to one role, while others want to see us in a different role.
Its not you, its me
Another issue to understand before choosing actionable criticism is the source of the criticism. Quite often, people react emotionally because they have their own issues, they are frustrated or illusional. Other times people try to manipulate us with certain remarks. They want us to change not because the change will make us better, but because after the change we will become more suitable for their needs.
It is quite difficult to understand which remarks are actionable. For example, EVERY online video gets remarks on its video and audio quality. Simply because the quality received by the end-user depends on the end-user’s connection. If the speaker on the video is not a good model and actor, his voice and face will probably be offensive to some. No matter how well you describe your thoughts, no matter how original your thoughts are, some will have a hard time understanding you and some will say that you copy from people who later copied from you.
Therefore it is very easy to dismiss criticism or to react to the wrong kind of criticism. It takes an intervention, a remark from someone we trust and respect, or great observational and critical skills for us to react properly.
OK, I need to change, now what?
There are many ways we can change. Simply by sleeping more, eating better and doing some exercise, we will become less nervous. Accepting certain courtesy norms and preserving eye contact we will appear more empathic and less annoying.
Certain things are easy to change. I was annoyed by a coworker listening to music with bad headphones, so he simply brought better headphones. If somebody annoys you by eating in the cubicle, he may easily be asked to eat in the kitchen. We can ask someone not to open the window when it is raining. People will typically be happy to help.
Other things are more complex. How do we ensure that we are truly there? Men try to fix when women want them to listen. Women tend to continue nagging well after men already got their message. Kids are impulsive and immature. That’s partially in our nature.
Do not address the character, address the behavior
It is virtually impossible to change someone’s character without serious and unpredictable consequences. Specific behaviors may be hard to change, but at least there is a fighting chance.
Basically every time we need an urge to do something, we can reroute this urge into an alternative behavior. If you need to say something and feel that it is a bit over the top, you can write it down and later edit the text you wrote. Every time you feel the need to monitor your phone, try to look at your partner’s face or monitor his body language.
In the beginning, the change will look strange: weak, artificial and not emotionally satisfying. Only after using the new behavior for a while it can become an acceptable automatic response.
Monitor your motives
Sometimes people find us insufferable not because of the things we do, but because of the reasons that move us. Jealousy is a strong motivator, but it is usually toxic. Lust is another toxic motivator, and it does not really matter what we want to acquire. Hate is typically dangerous for all parties involved.
We have our needs, our goals, and our interests. People will typically respect them as long as we are ready to respect their own needs. It is OK to seek someone’s company but respect his privacy. Try to get the resources you need to complete your mission, but wait patiently for your turn and release them as soon as you finish. Do not try to look stronger by making somebody else look weaker.
This is a simple common sense, and we know it very well. The trick is to approach the subject from the perspective of another person since from our own perspective we are usually right.
No matter what we do, some of our actions will hurt others. It is perfectly fine to admit the mistake and apologize. We will usually be forgiven and respected.
Some people weaponize this tactic, using the apology as a manipulative tool. Bill Clinton easily comes to mind. Others will not apologize no matter what, because they do not want to look weak. Here I think about Donald Trump.
What is expected from an ideal person: an honest apology, coming from deep concern to the other’s needs, followed by corrective actions. Typically this response is a result of a complex work we can do with our triggers and behaviors.
Think before you act
Today’s post is full of well-known phraseologies because I want to find a way to deal with my own issues, and not desire to entertain or educate. I can build a good plan, learn new positive habits, but then when I act automatically my behavior is less than ideal.
When we feel rage, it changes our hormones and triggers flight or fight reflexes. We can become aggressive, especially when driving and not seeing the other as a person. It is easy to hate a certain car that crossed our way in a certain way. We do not think about its driver, his needs and his reasons.
In a similar way, when we are focused on our mobile device or computer, somebody asking for our attention is an intruder. Programmers are known for strange aggressive behavior others do not understand. A balanced grown-up family man can break his keyboard on the office wall because of some software issues.
Sleep deprivation may also cause strange effects. As we get older our melatonin levels drop, and our sleep becomes restless. If I cannot sleep, I often find myself wondering in the direction of my computer and making strange purchases.
In any of these cases, simply taking several breathes and visualizing a relaxing environment could be enough to modify our behavior. All that is needed: awareness of the present moment and our inadequate state.
If others find us insufferable, we can usually distance ourselves and try to solve the situation. When we find ourselves insufferable, the results are strange and troubling. Some people feel a need to hurt themselves. Others, want to be busy or drugged to escape their own company. If you happen to help yourself, self-help is often dangerous. It is better to search for a good therapist. A good therapist will often challenge our beliefs to the point where we will be able to change.
Lev, stop being insufferable!
I do my best to improve. Regularly I try to identify the things I want to change, and then I do my best to change them. Yet, I can never stop being insufferable. There is always something else that requires attention. Maybe it is best to accept ourselves as work in progress. Otherwise, we can become insufferable for ourselves.