Feelings Getting Out of Hand? 4 Tips on How Not to Sweat the Small Stuff

young man and woman angry and...
young man and woman angry and...

How many times has someone in your life -- an in-law, spouse, co-worker, friend, or whoeve r-- done something or said something that just makes your blood boil and you can't seem to let it go? You keep replaying it over and over in your head, and the more you think about it the angrier or more hurt you feel. In fact, you find you can't stop thinking about it. We all have experienced this at one time or another. Even if you don't say anything to the other person at the time, his or her actions affect your relationship because the bad feelings you think you are covering up end up coming out through your behavior. Trust me, even if you are sure this isn't true of you, it probably is (unless you're a modern-day Gandhi). As much as you want to believe you can hide those bad feelings, you can't.

Let me give you an example. Let's say your spouse or in-law says something to you that really hurts your feelings. You don't want to say anything because you don't want to make waves and you don't think it is worth the time to talk about it. You think to yourself, Wow, that stung, but I'm just going to let it go, even though you're really hurt by what was said. So what do you do? The typical reaction is to withdraw emotionally. You get quiet, a bit reserved. Pulling back feels natural because if you don't, you're afraid you might say something, which is what you're trying to avoid -- not to mention the fact that you feel the need to protect yourself from being hurt again. The other person, sensing a change in your actions and feeling a tension that didn't exist before, may ask you if something is wrong. You may answer, "No, nothing is wrong." But your jaw is tight, you don't make eye contact, and your tone of voice is abrupt. Regardless of what you actually say, the other person can feel that something is up because of the way you say it (including not just your tone but also your body language). And of course, this then affects the relationship.

Hanging on to those feelings and stewing about them also affects you. After all, you're the one who keeps the anger, frustration and hurt (or whatever you're feeling) alive, churning away. You're the one who gets stuck in these negative feelings -- not the other person, whether or not they meant to be hurtful.

You may think I'm going to encourage you to speak your peace, but realistically speaking, that isn't always the answer. Sometimes that can make the situation worse. So when you decide saying something isn't going to help, how can you stop sweating the small stuff for the sake of the relationship? Here are some tips that will help:

1. Take an emotional step backward. Create some distance for yourself so you can look at the situation more objectively.

2. Don't assume what this person said or did was a personal attack against you. It is very possible that it has nothing to do with you at all -- maybe you just happened to be in the line of fire at the time.

3. Look at the feelings you are having and ask yourself how they are serving you. For example, does having bad feelings about this other person make you feel better about yourself, feel that you are right (and so the other person is wrong), or feel justified in some way? If so, it may be time to let go of having to be right or having to defend yourself -- how exhausting! If these feelings instead leave you feeling bad about yourself, does that particular feeling feel familiar in some way -- have you felt this way with other people? If that's the case, you may have a broader issue to address.

4. What is one thing you can do for yourself that can shift your painful feelings? You only have to do one thing to get your feelings to start shifting in a new direction -- just one thing! Take that first step, even if it's a small one, and then you'll feel better able to take another step. And on it goes. But you have to start somewhere.

So the next time you are in an awkward or unpleasant situation with someone who matters, don't stew about it. If you decide it's best to deal with the situation yourself by moving beyond your feelings, use these four tips and stop sweating the small stuff!