Sometimes people do things that get under your skin and they usually aren’t doing them because they’re rude or annoying. More than likely it’s because they are responding to something intense in their internal world.
Of course, it might annoy you and push your buttons, everyone has pet peeves. But when people do these things, they’re probably trying their best. So we thought we’d take a minute to demystify some of these things that might rub you the wrong way.
This doesn’t mean you have to like or allow these behaviors. It’s totally okay to have boundaries around this and to communicate those boundaries. This is simply meant to broaden your perspective, to show you that these behaviors don’t mean anything personal, that they’re actually just survival strategies.
ONE: Triple Messaging You
You know when you get a text, email and voicemail from the same person about the same thing? Does it make you panic a little because you think there’s a huge emergency? And if it’s not an emergency it may really annoy you because it feels extreme and almost intrusive. The reason they do this is usually because the person sending those messages is feeling anxiety to some degree.
It could be that they are anxious about time, anxious about getting something they need, about whether the message will be received or simply anxious in general. The triple message may seem extreme to you and it may create frustration for you, but to the person, it may feel very necessary in order to resolve the situation.
For years, I would experience a lot of pressure if I received multiple messages about the same thing because I feel very responsible and don’t want anyone to think I’m ignoring them or don’t care about their requests. This comes from my own background.
Until I understood the buttons this behavior pushed for me and I understood that the multiple messages were not about whether or not I was doing a good enough job or being responsive enough, this felt very overwhelming.
It’s important to take a step back and evaluate the message to determine why the person felt like it needed to be forwarded to you multiple times. Don’t jump to conclusions or put pressure on yourself to act hastily.
Instead, try to assess what the situation is and how it is impacting the person, so that you can understand their feelings related to it and the best way for you to respond.
TWO: Not responding to messages, canceling plans at the last minute or leaving early
People will usually withdraw in some way because they are experiencing a degree of overwhelm in their internal world. This manifests in different ways such as canceling plans, not calling you back or responding to a text, or not seeing things through to the end.
The overwhelm could come from being busy with too many things (think: parents who are juggling work and kids), being highly sensitive and feeling overstimulated, feeling depressed and not wanting to “spread bad vibes”. This can also come from social anxiety, being introverted and not having had enough time to recharge.
For someone who is extroverted and gets their energy from being around other people, participating in social events or always being connected to friends, it may be hard to understand why someone would want to be alone or miss out on fun, social activities. Or they may feel hurt and upset if their friends cancel plans or don’t want to hang out.
The thing to remember is that this behavior is not usually a comment on whether someone cares about you, it has to do with what they’re dealing with and trying to manage internally. If they know they will be miserable at that party so they cancel, or they go somewhere and start to feel uncomfortable and they leave early, they are doing it because they are protecting themselves from experiencing the negative feelings that are associated with those situations for them.
If you notice that this happens a lot with someone you are close to, instead of becoming critical about it, open the door to communication about it. If they don’t want to talk about it, let them know you support them taking care of themselves, whatever that looks like. Including if that means leaving even though you’ll miss being with them.
You could even establish a code word with them that they can use to let you know they are not going to make it to the event you had scheduled or they are going to leave early because it is what is best for them based on how they are feeling. Then you know it’s not happening because they are being rude or mad at you, and they know that you understand and there is no judgment.
THREE: Making passive aggressive comments
Usually passive aggressive comments come out because there is something that doesn’t feel OK to directly communicate or that someone doesn’t know how to communicate directly, and it comes out sideways.
“If you’re not encouraged to be open and honest about your feelings from an early age, you might use passive-aggressive behavior as an alternative to addressing issues head on.” (mindtools.com | How to Manage Passive-Aggressive People – Bringing Hidden Hostility to Light).
It can be hard for people to open themselves up to a potential confrontation that may occur if they are honest about being angry or upset. Sometimes they feel like their only options are to ignore it or respond in a passive aggressive manner. This may help them feel some relief from the negative feelings by saying something but in a way that does not invite confrontation. This feels safer than directly addressing the issue or concern they have.
This comes up a lot when someone has been in an environment where being “polite” has been valued over assertive, clear or direct communication. This can be a cultural thing. Think of how people from the East Coast of the US traditionally communicate: they are known for being direct. Whereas people from the South are commonly known to value being polite at all costs.
Of course, these are generalizations; simply meant to illustrate the fact that there can be a cultural influence here.
Passive aggressive comments can signify feelings of resentment or opposition that could be resolved with open communication. Therefore, it may be helpful to create a safe space for the person to discuss concerns or issues with you by telling them that you sense that they are upset and that you are open to talking about it.
It’s very common to assume that certain behaviors are just rude and that the person doesn’t care about how their actions affect others. But the truth is most behaviors can be traced back to something the individual is dealing with internally or are a coping mechanism that they have developed as a result of an experience they have had.
Maybe you struggle with some of these behaviors or maybe you struggle to accept others who exhibit them. Contact us if you feel this is something you need help working through.