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Confrontations with people who attack you emotionally can leave you feeling drained, hurt, upset, and confused.  You may wonder afterwards what it was you did to them and why you made them so angry. Instead of “taking on their stuff” and taking it personally, realize that more often than not, the attack wasn’t about you at all.

emotional attacksMany people feel uncomfortable with handling their emotions–especially intense ones like anger, grief, and frustration.  When someone attacks you, they are looking for a way to deflect and distract themselves from feeling intense emotions.  Instead of dealing with their emotions in an appropriate way, they instead redirect them onto you.  Unconsciously.  They don’t mean to do it, but lucky you, you are the recipient of their pain and anguish.  Instead of dealing with their real issues, they’ll create other issues to distract and deflect.  It’s an ineffective way of stalling emotional and psychological healing.  They don’t have to step into their deep pain if they create dramas by way of attacking other people.  They vent on you as a way to release some of the intensity.

Emotional attacks remind me of highly conflictual divorces where the ex-couple cannot seem to get along.  One or both of the pair provoke the other (often using their children as weapons).  The best thing for this is to detach.  Like a tug-of-war competition, it’s only effortful until one person lets go of the rope and chooses not to engage the other (I tell my clients to “let go of the rope” if they are having a hard time with conflict.  Sometimes people think if they could only explain…if they could only get them to see…It’s really just a waste of time and effort).  When there is no conflict, the pair is left with the pain of the break-up, not the distractions of the pain in the moment that is falsely created as a distraction to stall the processing and healing of the deeper pain.

Detachment helps to handle emotional attacks.

I think of detachment as a therapist–calm, neutral, curious, non-reactive.  You can choose not to react to them.  It is only a conflict if you both engage in it.  Realize it isn’t about you, but about their need to vent.  You shouldn’t take their behavior personally and you also do not need to take it.  You can calmly ask them what is really going on for them (if they are close to you), you can tell them to not treat you that way, or you can walk away. If you become engaged with their negativity you are adding fuel to their fire.  You do not have to “buy into it.”  You cannot control other people’s actions, behaviors, thoughts, or emotions–you can only control your own.  Focus on what you have control over–that’s where the real power is.

How do you handle people who vent on you?  Why do you think people do this?