What to Do When the People You Love Drive You Bananas

We’re now in the sandwich space between Thanksgiving (in the US) and Christmas. Opportunities abound to spend time with loved ones. And opportunities abound for those very same ones we love to push our buttons.

Unless you’re living on another planet where feathers never get ruffled by other people, especially the ones you share genetic material with, this season is rife with chances to choose how you respond to said ruffled feathers.

There are times when someone pisses you off and you must say something in that moment. You’re telling your family about something exciting that happened to you at work and suddenly your sister interrupts you to complain about how her boss never acknowledges her for her ideas. A kind but firm reminder that you were in the middle of a story may be in order.

Then there are other times. Your dad starts doing that thing he always does that he’s been doing since you were a kid, that thing you hate. You’ve asked him to stop doing it several times in the past. Every time you bring it up it’s painful—you feel like your heart is undergoing a dissection on the dining room table. And yet here he is doing it again.

Three Simple Questions

These are those times when it’s really helpful to ask yourself three simple questions that a girlfriend shared with me a while back.

Here’s how it works:

A scenario arises when someone does or says something that doesn’t feel good to you. You feel an emotion rise to the surface. Your cheeks get hot and your tongue stings with choice words for that person.

Before you speak, ask yourself:

  1. Does it need to be said?
  2. Does it need to be said by me?
  3. Does it need to be said right now?

If all three of the answers are not yes, consider taking a deep breath instead of blurting something out.

I believe in transformation. In fact, I live for it. People can change and they do every day.

But the truth is, certain people do certain things that drive us nuts, and they may never stop doing them.

I’ve realized of late that there comes a moment when I’ve said what I’ve needed to say once, twice, or even ten times—and I’m done.

twitter_standingAt some point, you have to release the seductive idea that you can change another person. (Tweet it.)

I’m not advocating that you pretend things are okay when they aren’t. I’m not advocating that you stuff your feelings. I’m not advocating that you tolerate abuse of any kind.

I’m simply suggesting surrender. Surrender to another person’s soul journey. Surrender to their need to be who they are and do what they need to do. Surrender to the fact that there may be nothing you can do or say to change them. Surrender to letting them be.

We find peace when we let go and let others find their way.

We find serenity when we accept the things (and people) we cannot change.

This holiday season and beyond, may we all give the people in our lives the space to be who they are, no matter who we might like them to be instead.

May we say only the things we need to say, right now, and may we say them with love.

And when we decide not to say anything at all, may we relish knowing that every soul has his or her own journey and the only one we’re in control of is our own.

Over to you:

Do you have any techniques that help you determine when to say what’s on your mind and when not to? What’s been your experience with surrendering your desire to change other people? I’d love to hear from you, so leave a comment below!


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  • harry o' halloran

    I was feeling angry all morning .when I read ur email I realised my friend was driving m e BANANAS . soooooo I surrendered it & let him be. He is going to do (it) anyway. peace at last, let it be! so thanks Katie.
    regards Harry O’Halloran (Ireland) :-)

  • Tracy

    Hi Kate,
    Thank you! Perfect timing. I have a sister in law that has been on my last nerve since an outing this summer and she put the cream on the cake on Thanksgiving. I’ve been thinking about how I was going to deal with her on Christmas Eve. I do love so much what you have said about surrender. I am going to take your advice. I love the questions too. I wish I had them Thanksgiving night when she was raising her voice to her brother (my hubby) trying to control a situation where he was doing her a really big favor but it still had to be her way. It’s not easy dealing with people who can make your skin crawl…. but your post today will make a difference in my future. Thanks again!

  • Kristy

    Kate, this is so perfectly timed! Thank you for sharing those simple steps to surrender. When I have the mindfulness to pause before I speak, I ask myself if what I want to say is for me or for the other person i In other words, is what I am about to say intended to allay my anxiety – ‘I need them to not be such-and-such so I can feel such-and-such’ – or benefit me in some way – ‘now I can show how much I know.’ Or is what I am wanting to say meant to support their sense of integrity and wholeness. I may need to say something that is uncomfortable, but it can be said with compassion and kindness. But I have to check myself for the deeper intention.

  • ronald keulen

    this hit home big time, when I meet my brother. I have only one. sometimes I interfere and sometimes I forgive not only him but also myself

    thank you so much for sharing
    it’s a little early: a happy xmaskindest regards


  • Hello,
    When someone triggers an uncomfortable emotion I validate it is there. I’ll go someplace alone (like the bathroom) close my eyes & describe, not judge, what I am feeling, where it is & how it feels, maybe even what it looks like. I give it all the space it needs & when it is ready to process I’ll sigh or give a deep breath & my eyes will automatically open. Within a short time I will receive a message about what the pain was, when it happened (in childhood) but the best part is it is processed never to return. Whatever triggered me in the past will no longer! People are easily distracted with blaming another for how they feel, but the truth & reality is they are just the messenger to what needs your attention… YOU, your inner you, so give it the proper validation so you can get on with living. Blaming others for how you feel does not work. Get the gift & go within, miracles are ready to be born! When YOU (not the other)change your world changes! Much peace!

  • Lu

    My fantasy was the opportunity to throw a glass of water in the face of my “father” at all gatherings (darn!) who has now joined the spirit world …some thing recently came to mind while watching “League Of Denial” documentary by Frontline the 3rd time. (That I first came across from your awesome Mom who posted it on Facebook). As Im watching I remembered my grandfather who was trying to stop him from abusing us told me ” I don’t know what’s happened, he changed after football” …Then an image of a local newspaper photo of him as a big deal high school football “hero”. I thought it was his narcissistic inflated ego but Im now wondering if he may have been experiencing the beginning of CTE. (maybe both yikes!) As they mentioned some of the symptoms I felt an “aha” moment. This may pull the plug on my reluctance to let it go. I have to let compassion in somehow. Maybe I can visualize my sister’s face as Ronald the Clown when she starts’ in :) I hope what I shared was ok… May we all be at peace. In gratitude

  • Very timely post, Kate! This line, in particular, made me simultaneously laugh and groan:

    “May we all give the people in our lives the space to be who they are, no matter who we might like them to be instead.”

    Haha, whoops, I definitely find myself wishing people would be different — “If only they would change this or stop doing that” — and, I’m realizing now (and I’m a little ashamed to admit), it’s usually because I want them to see my perspective or do things the way I would do them. But that’s definitely not how I want to be in my relationships!

    This was the perfect reminder at the perfect time. And (as always), eloquently written, Kate. Thank you!

  • Lana

    This is what happened to me this morning. I felt as if my partner was being particularly selfish and annoying this morning before she went to work. I kept my mouth shut, and after she left checked my email. Then boom, I found this word from you. What can I say? It changed my whole day and mood around. All I can do is focus on me. She is who she is, and I’m not going to change her. I started saying to our dogs this afternoon, “Save the pandas.” They’re cute and cuddly–maybe this needs to be my way of checking what comes out of my mouth before it comes out of it. Will it save the pandas? If not, maybe I shouldn’t say it!

  • Carmen

    Thank you so much for this Kate! I had a really difficult time with my father over Thanksgiving and have been dreading the Christmas get together. I’ve done a lot of work this year on my feelings with my dad and I think I magically thought it would all get better. Nope! It’s still work!

    I’m going to use your tips, but what has helped me the most is taking control over what I can control. I CAN control how much I see him, I CAN control for how long, I CAN control an out or escape and I CAN control what my triggers are. I start there and take deep breaths. And I love the commenter’s going to the bathroom to calm down – while I’m certainly not that organized about it just getting some space works wonders!

  • Susann

    Oh, man, this could not have come at a better time! I keep thinking “it’s ok, I have this, no problem”, then I get triggered all over again and forget everything. But I am SO much better than I used to be. I catch myself now before I say anything a good 90% of the time. I have three little “matras” and when I feel myself getting sucked into trying to change someone because their behaviour drives me crazy, I remind myself of the following:

    1. no one is driving me crazy. I’m at the wheel, and if I’m being driven anywhere, it’s my own hand.[I can’t control someone’s actions, but I can 100% control my REactions. I can choose to not engage, to be kind instead of being right, to give that person the respect to allow them to be who they are without needing them to change to make me happier/calmer.]
    2. this is NOT my circus, and this is NOT my monkey [someone else’s choice of turning everything into a drama is not my problem; I don’t have to fix it & I do not have to participate.]
    3. play in your own sandbox [just a nice way of telling myself to mind my own damned business]

    And Kristy, I think your comment deserves an award! I’m going to add this question to my list: “am I actually helping this person, or am I just being Little Ms FixIt and/or showing off or trying to be morally superior?” I’m a classical Virgo, and fixing things is one thing I’m good at. Unfortunately, I tend to extend that to other people if I am not very careful. I suspect I have been as irritating in my life as I have been irritated.

    What an excellent post, Kate!

  • Those three questions might come helpful. Thanks for sharing.

    Writer of emotionalseas.com

  • I have been practicing showing up unconditionally in the moment. That means I allow others to be exactly how they show up, without placing conditions on how I think they should show up. I allow all the feeling to arise with in me. These feeling have been such a gift in showing me more about myself. The other person is only there to further my awaking.
    I am practicing loving reality as it shows up in the moment without placing conditions on how I think it should be. Loving what is!
    This doesn’t mean I don’t set a boundary or walk away when I feel reactive. I also think deep breathing really helps when you feel reactive!

  • Sara

    Very useful tips for the season and year round ;-). I like to use the acromim THINK
    Is it Thoughtful
    Is ts Honest
    Is it Intelligent
    Is it Necessary
    Is it Kind

    If the answer is yes to all, then I can say it, if not, I’ll have to think some more
    Happy Holidays to all

  • Kate –
    I am sharing this with my 2 older sisters and hope that we follow this advice with all our interactions.

    Thanks for this gift!

  • There is always a time and a place for saying things. And a good and bad way of saying it!

    These tips are useful for any connections with others, but particularly at stressful times like Christmas!

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