How To Stop Letting People Get Under Your Skin

how to stop being triggered man reflecting

People Getting Under Your Skin?


Hello and welcome to episode 42 of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast. I’m your host – Dr. John Moore and I’m a licensed psychotherapist out of Chicago and I teach college courses in psychology and in business.

If you haven’t already done so, please hit that subscribe button, so you never miss another episode. OK quick disclaimer – this podcast isn’t designed to act as a substitute for mental health counseling and I’m not your personal therapist.

Alrighty, let’s get right into today pod – which is being sponsored by Better Help. Are you ready? Here is it:

How Stop Letting People Get Under Your Skin

So, are there people in your life who say hurtful things to you? Have you found yourself in situations where a friend, a co-worker or someone else shares their unsolicited opinions – and do it un an unsolicited or ugly kind of way?

If the answer is yes, welcome to the club. One of the reasons I decided to do this podcast today is because I regularly get messages from listeners through my website and on social about this very topic.

In fact, it was just the other day a young man sent me a note was really hurt because of something nasty a friend sent to him and he wanted some guidance on how to deal with it.

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So today, we’re going to talk about how to not let other people get under your skin in practical, real-world ways.

And I guess now would be a good time to mention that if you aren’t already following me on Instagram, please do so now because that’s how I stay in touch with listeners and generate show ideas. Just go to Guy Counseling on Instagram and you’ll find me.

OK, so as we dive into this topic, there are a couple of touch points I want to hit on when we’re talking about other people’s opinions.

Right off the bat, the first one I’m going to say and needs to be BADLY said is stop hanging out with crappy people. Yep, you heard me right – stop hanging out with jerks who don’t care about you, who don’t support you and don’t have your best interest in mind.

I’m being serious folks.

Stop hanging out with energy vampires who live a miserable existence and go out of their way to find something negative about you, who go out of their way to cut you down or have a knack for creating doubt around something you want for yourself in the future.

And guys it doesn’t matter if this is a casual acquaintance or someone you’ve known for decades. If they aren’t in your corner and aren’t showing you the same respect that you show them, get them out of your life.

They’re caustic and frankly, who needs that? You certainly don’t – so that’s why I’m making this the first step.

Ok, the second one is to remember is that nobody can hurt you with something that you don’t already believe. I’m going to repeat that – nobody can hurt you with something that you don’t already believe.

Make sense?

And think about it. Imagine some stranger in an elevator saying a whole bunch of offensive things to you like:

I don’t like your shoes, or I don’t like the color of your shirt or man do you look like you could lose a few pounds.

And this same person could hurl insult after insult at you and most of it you’d probably ignore – until they say the one thing that hits its target with military precision.

Like: Man, are you incredibly dumb!

And because there is a part of you who has questioned your intelligence since childhood – because kids would call you stupid when you were in school, you’ve developed a sensitivity around this topic in adulthood.

And I would argue that on some level, probably at the subconscious level, there may be a part of you who bought into that ugly thing that was said about you in the past, rather its true or not, because it was repeated to you over and over again.

So, you know what? I’m going to tell you a story that I think will help drive home what I am talking about.

OK, so a few years ago, I worked with a client named Austin. He was a younger guy, maybe 25 – something like that – and he worked as a Human Resources Specialist for a well-known company in Chicago’s Loop – and for those of you who don’t know, that’s the city’s business district.

Now I’m telling you this because once a week, Austin would get out of work around 5pm and take a CTA Redline train to my office in Uptown, which was just a few miles away.

And I’ll never forget that that on one particular summer night, Austin showed up for appointment looking really upset. His face was bright pink, he was clenching his jaw and he was even shaking a little bit.

When I saw him in the waiting room and waived him into my office, I could just feel the rage as he passed me by. And so, after he took a seat on the couch, I asked his straight out what happened.

And that’s when Austin told me the whole shebang. Apparently, he had boarded the train on Lake Steet and at some point, there was some guy on it who was harassing people – and Austin was one of them.

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This yahoo made fun of Austin’s shoes, ridiculed him about his hair and even found something ugly to say about his jacket. And it sounded like Austin was able to ignore all of that and keep his cool.

But then at some point, this troublemaker said to, “Dude, you ain’t fooling anyone in that shirt and tie because everyone on this train knows you are a stupid.”

And I guess that’s when Austin turned around and popped this dude in the face. Hard. Yep, he punched him right in the mouth. I wasn’t there and can only tell you what I know, but apparently after this guy got bopped, he scurried away and into another car.

Not a pretty story and let me say right now that I am not condoning violence. But again, the idea behind this story is to make a point.

At any rate, when I asked Austin what was it that put him over the edge, he told me, “It’s when he called me stupid. I don’t know why but that’s when I lost it.”.

And you see that’s when I knew something from Austin’s past had reared its head in the here and now.

So, think about this for a minute. This jerk on the train had made fun of Austin’s hair, his shoes, his clothing, and probably other things and none of caused a reaction. But the moment he called him stupid, that’s when he got super pissed.

And this goes back to what I mentioned earlier. Nobody can hurt you with something that you don’t already believe.

In Austin’s case, there was a part of him who had been triggered from his childhood. When he was in grade school, there were bullies at his school who regularly called him dumb because he had a speech impediment.

And as time went on and the harassment continued, he started to question his own intelligence and his own abilities. That can happen when you are put down like that over and over again.

Does that make sense?

But here’s the thing. While it didn’t seem like it on that day he was in my office, the incident itself was kind of a Karmic gift. I know that may sound a bit out there but honestly, it really was.

And that’s because the train incident exposed some past trauma that Austin hadn’t dealt with. In other words, it shed light on something caustic he was holding about himself, deep inside.

And that’s when we began doing EMDR – or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is a type of therapy designed to address traumatic things from the past.

I won’t go into how EMDR works right now because I don’t want us to lose sight of the big picture. But I will put a link in Show Notes that gives you more information.

But as I said, if you are holding trauma-induced beliefs, knowing what they are can be a gift because it gives you the opportunity to work through them and heal.

Back in episode 38 of this podcast, I did a whole show on how the universe is working to make you a better person. And in many ways, when someone says something ugly to you and it cuts – meaning it causes a reaction, it’s the universes way of shining light on an issue that needs to be worked through.

So, as angry and pissed off as you might get when someone directly or indirectly uses words to hurt you, that person is actually giving you a gift. I recognize that may sound weird and may sound ridiculous – but if you shift your mindset from a place of reacting to a place of observing, you can choose right now to experience the entire thing as a gift.

Now that doesn’t mean you are awarding someone a permission slip to walk all over you or put you down. In fact, the gift itself might be the realization that you need to cut that person out of your life.

But an additional benefit can be a spotlight on something you need to work through.

So, if somebody says something to me and I don’t have a reaction, that means I’m not triggered. But if someone were to come up to me and make a comment that gets under my skin, that’s a red flag that I’m still needing to work on something deep inside.

Look, I know there are a lot of you listening right now who struggle with things like anger – struggle with specific emotions and even more of you who get activated by certain topics, like your parents or finances or body image. I don’t want to minimize any of that.

All I am suggesting here is that whatever emotional reaction that gets triggered as a result of someone else’s words, think of it is an indication that you still have work to do.

And that’s how you can see this as a gift. Make sense?

If someone were to walk up to me – let’s say many years ago and say something crappy to me about my being adopted, because back in the day I was really triggered by that, I probably would have gone off on them. In fact, depending on what was said, I might have even gotten into a fight with them.

Why? Because there was so much unfinished business around issue that I hadn’t looked at.

And the truth is I didn’t know where to look. I was too ashamed. Worse yet, nobody told me I needed to focus on that issue. But at some point, I did get a counselor to help me process it all, which allowed me to be in a different place. So, if some jerk were to come up to me and make a snide remark about me being adopted, I’d be like – yeah – uh huh – whatever dude. Adios.

Now hey – I’m not saying this as a badge of honor or to give myself a pat on the back. Instead, I am sharing that with you because I’ve done a lot of personal work around this issue. I went through therapy, I’ve meditated and even experienced hypnotic healing. And all of this work ultimately got me to a place of inner peace.

But I’ll tell you now there are other issues in my life that still trigger me – random things that can sometimes come out of the blue.

And when that happens, I can still have an initial reaction of anger. But that’s when I take a step back and do some deep breathing and say to myself: John, this is an issue you need to work on. It’s just another area that you need to focus on. And when that happens, I consider it a gift.

So, guys, what triggers you? I’m serious – what gets under your skin? What do you need to work through to get to the other side? Do you get pissed quickly? Do you easily go into shutdown mode and close out the world? Do you hold negative thoughts about yourself, based on some crap someone else said?

Whatever your answer, think of that as the universe handing you a gift about something you need to work on.

Now hang tight, because we’re going to get into things more in just a moment. Stick around.

So, as I was saying – when people get under your skin, when they trigger you, it’s Karma showing you that you’ve got something to work on.

And speaking for myself, I can’t wait to move through my own issues and I’m hoping this same mindset develops for you.

Notice I said MOVE THROUGH and not get over it. Here’s the deal. We never really get over anything. I’ve always hated that term because it has this vibe like we’re big babies that need to handle things better.

grit and resilience - meditation river stonesGRIT and Resilience

But the reality is you can’t grow as a person unless you move through the pain and learn from it. Do you follow me? But when we try to “get over” something, all we’re really doing is pushing the monster back into the basement until he comes out again.

And folks that’s where Grit comes from. I’m talking about real grit and not that stereotypical stuff that says, “Just Do It”.

GRIT, in the context we’re talking about, is all about holding steadfast and looking inward, even when we fall down. And it’s that same grit that gives birth to another personal development term – resilience.

I’m sharing this with you because there is a false belief out there that suggests all of us can somehow overcome a particular issue and magically be done with it. But the hard truth is there are some things in life we’re never going to be done with.

If you’ve ever experienced a major trauma, you know exactly what I mean. But if you keep holding yourself to some nonsense that suggests you should “man up” and get over it, all you’re doing is giving it more power.

Imagine what it would be like if instead, you released that need to “get over” a trigger – to get over an issue. In the metaphorical sense, by releasing that need, you are letting the air out of the balloon. You are removing all that pressure so that you can make room for growth and change.

Now in my experience, what happens when people are able to identify the source of a trigger, they hit a major milestone because it allows them to stand back and look at things objectively.

But this is the tricky part because what often happens is once you step back and pinpoint the source of the pain, whatever it might be, there can be feelings of shame or guilt for holding it in the first place.

Parts Therapy

I’m not going to get into all of the ins and outs of it right now but there is a form of therapy called parts therapy or more formally, Internal Family Systems and that is designed for this kind of thing.

Developed by Richard C. Schwartz, offers a mirror into the different parts of yourself.

Now I’m telling you this because when those feelings of shame and guilt come up about a trigger, it is most often a part of you called a protector. And it is that protector’s job to keep you away from focusing on the source of your trigger.

The way I explain it to my clients, imagine being in a committed relationship with someone. And then one day, you see an attractive girl and you get super aroused and excited. You might even fantasize her. But in the immediate aftermath of that attraction, you feel guilt and shame for having those feelings in the first place.

Folks, that’s the protector part of you talking. And its job is to keep you away from dealing with something. But its other job is to protect what’s really going on underneath – an attraction that – if we are really honest about it – is not something to be ashamed about.

I mean when we see someone attractive, we can acknowledge that right? That’s not a bad thing or a terrible thing. Acting on that attraction is a different story. And if your dad cheated on your mom when you were a kid, it makes sense that your protector part might start to vibrate shame because it’s an issue from your past that you’ve purposely neglected.

Make sense?

And that’s why it is far better to simply acknowledge what you are feeling, rather than get caught up in the protector’s game of guilt and shame. Ultimately, this allows you to get to the root of the trigger.

All of this relates to the idea of working through rather than denying it – rather than getting over it. I’ll put a link in Show Notes to the web site Good Therapy that explains Internal Family Systems – or parts therapy – more.

So, what else can you do to work through the unresolved stuff from your life? How can you figure out what the source of that trigger is?

Well, one way to go about it is to grab a pen and paper and start writing it down. Don’t try to figure it all out in your head because those protectors are floating around. Instead, get a pen and paper and start jotting it all out.

And when you do this, throw out anything that begins with the word why. Here’s an example. Let’s say you are triggered by some issue around your self-esteem.

Instead of writing down why am I triggered by this, swap out the WHY and replace it with what. WHAT is triggering this issue with self-esteem? What happened in my life that made me sensitive to this issue? What is causing me to feel so angry, sad, mad or embarrassed? What do I need to look at that I’ve been avoiding?

If you are able to get to the source of that trigger, now you know what you need to work through. And if you are struggling to identify the source or if that source is too painful, that’s when you need to reach out to a professional, like a counselor, to help you work through the pain – to move through the trauma.

Some people think by merely repressing the pain, they can make it magically go away. But if you take that approach, all you are really doing is creating a pressure cooker that’s eventually going to explode – know what I mean?

The process of personal development is an ongoing experience. None of us, including me, are ever going to be perfect. You’re never going to get to the point in your life where all of your personal baggage is gone – but you can make your load lighter.

I mean let’s be real about it. Unless you are an android, like the character Data from Star Trek, you’re never going to get to be calm and cool in every single situation. And shoot, even Data struggled with that when his emotion chip flipped on.

And who wants to be a robot anyway, right? I mean part of being human means having feelings and reactions. It’s part of who we are.

So, it’s not about being done with something. It’s about looking at things through the lens of progress. When you are driving your car on the Interstate and you pass the different mile markers, it’s about looking at how far you’ve come as opposed to being stuck. Movement creates momentum – and that’s the stuff of change.

I really hope what I’m saying here clicks.

Now let’s move on to another way of stopping people from getting under your skin and I’m just going to come right out and say it.

Be super careful about who you get your advice from.

I’m serious, be careful about the people in your life you get advice from. So, for example, let’s say you want to make a financial investment, let’s say in a specific stock, and your mom tells you, “Hey honey, that’s a really bad idea” and she starts dumping all of her negativity on you, that’s not going to be helpful to you, right?

But here’s a question: Why are you asking your mom about financial investments when she’s never purchased a stock in her life?

Like if your mom doesn’t know the difference between an exchange traded fund and a mutual fund, why on earth are you going to her for advice?

Let me give you an example. I love my friend Gina who is also a therapist. But I would never go to her to ask how to grow a podcast. I’d never go to her and say, “Hey Gina, do you have some tips on how to get more listeners? Can you give me some pointers?” Nope – I wouldn’t ask her and the reason for that is because she doesn’t have any experience with it. So, why would I go ask someone for advice about something they’ve never been involved with?

Why would you take advice from your buddies about a business you want to launch when they’ve never run a business? Know what I mean? Why would you go to your parents, brothers, sisters or whomever about changing careers when they don’t have the first clue about the area you are trying to break into?

I can’t tell you how many people I know who have denied themselves a new opportunity, a new beginning or a new start in life because they got caught up in someone’s negative, narrow-minded advice. And it always blows my mind when I find out that they got that advice from someone who wouldn’t know how to shut a cabinet unless it came with directions.

Know what I mean? So, how many of you listening had a great idea for a business or a product, but decided not to act on it because you parents, friends or even your partner decided to dump on it – even though these same people don’t have any life experience with that issue?

Would you take advice from someone who is rich about how to get rich? Or to put it another way, would you take advice from someone about how to build wealth from someone who isn’t wealthy?

My goodness I hope not. But I’ll tell you this. There’s a lot of broke-ass people out there who love to make themselves out as financial experts, even though they couldn’t rub two pennies together if their life depended on it. There’s a lot of folks out there who can’t help but give business advice, even though they’ve never actually run a business – or managed anyone for that matter.

And that’s the thing. Everyone loves to share their opinion, but that doesn’t mean they know what the hell they are talking about. And that’s why you have to be careful about who you seek guidance from.

Alright let’s wind this up and recap the three main points about how to not let people get under your skin.

The first is stop hanging out with crappy people.

The second is to recognize that nobody can hurt you with something unless you already believe it.

And the third is to be wise about who you get advice from.

So, that’s what I’ve got for you today. If you loved this episode or any of my other pods, please be sure to share it with your your circle of friends and most importantly, leave a review on whatever platform you are listening.

Just recently a guy who goes by JGB1979 left a review on Apple Podcasts and he said that this podcast has been helping him with managing anxiety.

So, thank you JGB for that.

And please – feel free to follow me on social media. You can find me on Instagram at Guy Counseling or on Facebook and Twitter at the same handle.

As I close this pod out, I have just one more request. Make it your goal today to put a smile on someone else’s face. Thanks for listening to the Men’s Self Help Podcast and I hope you have an AMAZING day!

About John D. Moore 390 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast