Trying to Change Other People's Behaviour So You Can Be Rescued From Uncomfortable Thoughts


I’m going to give a relatively specific example and then explain a much broader general principle.

Someone asks you to do something that you think is a thoughtless request.

You feel uncomfortable and anxious.

– You want the person not to make thoughtless requests of you in the future.
– You want other people in general to not make thoughtless requests of you.

– Most times other people will keep doing what they want to do rather than what you wish they would do.

You continue to feel uncomfortable and anxious.

Here’s an alternative the person in the above situation could try

– They could examine the extent to which their reaction is a reaction to the thoughts the event has triggered for them rather than a reaction to the specific event per se (whatever request has been made).

In the example above, their thoughts might be something along the lines of

– “other people are excessively demanding”
– “other people should care about my needs and don’t”
– “other people are preventing me meeting my own needs”
– “the current event suggests that future catastrophes are going to happen to me”

The cognitive shift: You might not need other people to change their behaviour to get relief from your thoughts. (which is lucky given the limited control anyone has over other people’s behaviour)

A. Your thoughts aren’t something you need to be rescued from. Thoughts are just thoughts. (As nice as it would be to have an off switch for difficult thoughts and emotions sometimes)


B. If you want rescuing from your thoughts, you can rescue yourself
(For example, by coming up with new, balanced thoughts to replace unbalanced/exaggerated thoughts).


C. Continuing to try to control other people so that they don’t do things that trigger you experiencing difficult thoughts and emotions might be making you more fearful and frustrated rather than less.

Other examples

Versions of this problem show up often.

Another common example is when people want other people to stop bringing up topics they find upsetting and anxiety provoking.

If you notice yourself feeling high frustration and anxiety because other people aren’t behaving how you would prefer them to behave, try to figure out the specific thoughts you are reacting to, and the extent to which you are reacting to your thoughts and beliefs (e.g. about what other people “should” do) rather than the particular event.