Why You Assume You’re Annoying Everyone
How to worry less about what people think of you
Humans spend a great deal of energy trying not to annoy each other. Maybe you don’t ask the boss an important question when she’s grumpy. Or you wait to text a date back so you don’t seem desperate.
And yes, we’ve all deleted those extra exclamation marks from an email lest we terrify people with our zeal.
Detecting distress in others is our evolutionary heritage. If our ancestors upset people, they might be cast out of the social group, which jeopardized their ability to survive. While the stakes might not be as high in modern times, our brains and bodies still sound the alarm if someone may not like us.
As individuals we vary in how “other-focused” we are. The more sensitive you are to the emotional reactivity of others, the more you may assume you are the cause of this disturbance. Maybe you know your mother is frowning by the sound of her voice, or you start sweating when a colleague is even slightly peeved in a meeting.
Avoiding could look like:
- Not inviting friends to do things.
- Not initiating conversations.
- Not asking questions when you need help.
- Not sharing things about yourself.
Overfunctioning could look like:
- Apologizing when you haven’t done anything wrong.
- Peppering language with phrases like “Is that okay?” or “No Worries.”
- Anxiously focusing on whether people are having a good time.
- Saying yes to things you don’t actually want or need to do.
These responses can temporarily calm anxiety, but they do not give your ancient brain an opportunity to learn that disappointment, rejection, and other people’s negative emotions are survivable. Nor do they give people an opportunity to speak for themselves. To temper your sensitivity, you must shift your focus back to yourself.
If you use others’ reactions to evaluate yourself, chances are you lack a good…