How to Discourage People from Messing With You
Many people enjoy teasing or messing with others. Being the recipient of such behaviors can be stressful, especially if the behavior verges on bullying or harassment. You can take many preventative measures, like traveling in groups, to discourage such behaviors. If you feel like people are pushing you out of your personal comfort zone, it's appropriate to assert yourself to discourage this behavior. Take efforts to stand up for yourself in the moment. If you feel like you need to explain yourself further, have an in-depth conversation with the person messing with you.
Preventing Unwanted Attention
Travel in groups.If you do not want someone to bother you, try traveling in groups. Someone is unlikely to mess with you if that person sees you're surrounded by friends.
- In general, bigger groups are better. Look for a group of 5 or more people rather than going out in pairs of 2 or 3 only.
- In school, work, or social events, make sure you're surrounded by others. Have a group of friends you walk with between classes and eat lunch with. When going out to a bar, bring a big group of friends with you.
Believe you have rights.Many people do not want to assert themselves when someone is messing with them. You may feel you're being hypersensitive and should just go with it. However, if someone hurt your feelings, even if it was unintentional, you have the right to be upset and to say something. Work on believing in yourself and your rights.
- You may be bombarded with negative thoughts about yourself, which make it difficult for you to ask people to back off. Try to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, you may think, "I'm such a spoilsport to get so up in my head about my co-worker's jokes." Replace that thought with something positive and affirming. Instead, think something like, "I deserve to feel respected in my place of work."
- You can also put yourself in another person's shoes. Imagine a friend was in the same situation as you. Would you tell that friend he or she is wrong to feel bad? You probably would not. In fact, it's more likely you would encourage your friend to stand up for him or herself. Try to give yourself that same respect.
Be standoffish.If you want to discourage people from approaching you, simply appearing standoffish can help. If you look like someone who does not want to be bothered, it's far more likely someone will stay away from you.
- Use your body language to your advantage. Do not smile and keep your arms crossed over your chest. Keep your head bowed down slightly. Many people will interpret this as a message that you want to be left alone.
- Try to avoid small talk. If you suspect someone might mess with you, keep your conversations short. Do not engage in small talk and offer monosyllabic answers to discourage someone from engaging you further.
Consider self-defense lessons.If someone messes with you to the point you fear for your own safety, consider self defense lessons. This way, you'll know you'll be able to protect yourself in a dangerous situation. If other people know you have self-defense training, they may be unlikely to bother you.
- Try enrolling in a self-defense class, such as a karate class, in a local community center. Practice outside of class so you can progress quickly.
- If you are still a student, see if your school or college offers any free or low-cost self-defense training seminars.
Asserting Yourself in the Moment
Practice first, if possible.If possible, you may want to practice asserting yourself ahead of time. If you're a shy person by nature, standing up for yourself can be stressful. If you practice asserting yourself ahead of time, you can work your way up to standing up for yourself in the situation.
- Try asking a friend to role play with you. If you have a co-worker who always makes jokes at your expense, have your friend act as that co-worker. Have your friend make some of the jokes your co-worker makes, and you can practice standing up for yourself.
- Have your friend play out a variety of responses. Even if you express yourself tactfully, people get angry when being called out for their behavior. Have the friend get defensive, angry, or assertive in return. Practice responding to a variety of reactions, practicing keeping your cool and continuing to assert your needs.
Be firm in your conviction.When the moment comes that you need to assert yourself, be firm. You do not have to feel embarrassed or silly for not taking well to teasing. Be firm in your response to let the other person know what they're saying is not okay.
- Tell the person firmly you do not appreciate how they're talking to you. You do not need to be loud or confrontational, but make sure your message is clear and direct.
- Returning to the co-worker example, try saying something like, "I really don't appreciate being teased. I know you don't mean anything by it, but it honestly makes me uncomfortable. Could you please hold back in the future? I would appreciate it."
Start small.It can be stressful asserting yourself, so make an effort to start small. You may not want to confront someone who's notoriously loud and difficult, for example. You may be better off asking someone who seems reasonable and well-intentioned to stop teasing and messing with you. As you get more comfortable asserting yourself and your needs, you'll be able to confront more difficult people.
Take further action if the aggressor is not receptive.In many cases, the person messing with you will back off. He or she may not have realized you were uncomfortable. However, in some cases a person will be unwilling to back off. Messing with someone can verge on harassment or bullying. In these cases, you need to take further action to make sure your rights are respected.
- If someone gets angry, frustrated, loud, or otherwise confrontational, keep your cool. You want to remain the bigger person in the situation. Even if you are getting yelled at or accosted, do not get angry in return. Simply stay calm and slowly back away from the situation. You can use an excuse to back away, saying something like, "This isn't getting us anywhere, and I'm late for a meeting."
- Document what occurred immediately. Write down what was said, where it was said, and the events that led up to the fall out. If there were any witnesses, ask them to write down their own version of events.
- You should report this kind of bullying or harassment to a superior. At work, for example, you can report it to a boss or someone in human resources. At school, you could report it to a teacher, principal, or professor .
Don't be afraid of the fallout.Oftentimes, people end up inadvertently making themselves the subject of teasing as they fear asserting themselves. If you're a people-pleaser by nature, you may avoid standing up for yourself in fear of upsetting those around you. Try to let go of this fear. You have a right to feel safe and happy.
- Most people, even those who enjoy teasing others, genuinely do not want to offend anyone and may simply not realize some people aren't comfortable with light teasing. If you have a relatively solid relationship with someone, they're unlikely to get angry at you if you ask them to change a certain behavior.
- In the event someone does get angry, that person is probably not worth getting upset over. If someone knows you're uncomfortable, but does not care, this person is not worth your time. You should surround yourself with people who respect your feelings and feel genuinely sorry when they offend you.
Confronting Another Person
Figure out what needs to change.If you feel like a more serious conversation with someone is needed, consider what you want to discuss ahead of time. Try to spend some time considering what you want a person to change about his or her behavior. Have some specific ideas for change in mind before confronting that person.
- What do you want to change about your dynamic with this person? How does this person mess with you specifically? Is this a co-worker who makes jokes at your expense too frequently? Is this a family member who always pulls pranks on you, and you feel it's getting old? How, specifically, would you like this person to alter their behavior? Maybe there's a specific topic you're uncomfortable with, and you wish your co-worker would lay off that topic. Maybe you wish your family member would stop prank-calling you in the late evenings.
- Try to be okay with asserting yourself. It's okay to sometimes have a difficult conversation with someone. Even if you are naturally shy or non-confrontational, remember bothersome behavior is unlikely to change unless you push for change. It's okay to ask someone to change their behavior in a respectful manner.
Set clear boundaries.Everyone has emotional limits. Many people mess with others thinking of this as a form of lighthearted fun or affection. However, regardless of intent, this behavior is often inappropriate, especially if it crosses a personal boundary for you. You need to let that person know your boundaries. State your personal boundaries on no uncertain terms.
- Explain to the person where your personal lines are in terms of being messed with. Be as specific as you can. For example, returning to the co-worker example, you can say something like, "I don't mind lighthearted teasing. However, I'm actually dyslexic. It's mostly under control now, but things were really bad early on in school. You can make fun of me for anything else you want, but could you please not call attention to my occasional spelling errors?"
- It's very important you express where your boundaries are to another person. If you do not let someone know what you are and are not comfortable with, that person will keep violating your boundaries. This can lead to pent up anger, which can spill out in negative ways in the future. It's best to be upfront about your boundaries as soon as you can.
Use "I"-statements.When having a difficult confrontation, "I"-statements can help. "I"-statements are statements phrased in a way to emphasize personal feeling over objective fact. They can be particularly useful when asking someone not to mess with you. People often have radically different comfort zones when it comes to teasing. Making it clear you're talking about your personal comfort zone, and not an objective judgment, can help a conversation run smoothly.
- "I"-statements have three parts. They start with "I feel..." after which you immediately state your feeling. From there, you explain the behavior that lead to that feeling. Lastly, you explain why you feel the way you feel.
- Expressing yourself without "I"-statements can come off as judgmental, especially when dealing with a topic that's somewhat subjective. The listener may feel like you're placing an external judgment on the situation, especially when he or she likely did not intend to hurt you. For example, say your father teases you about your career a lot. You may be inclined to say something like, "It's disrespectful for you to make jokes about me being a lawyer. I'm very proud of my career and my choices."
- Your father may respond unfavorably to the above sentiment. Most people who take jabs at people's career choices do not intend them to be taken seriously. Your father may be more receptive if you rephrase the above using an "I"-statement. Try something like, "I feel disrespected when you make jokes about me being a lawyer because I care about what I do and take pride in my work."
Express your own needs and feelings.Needs and feelings are just as important as boundaries when it comes to discouraging people from messing with you. Make sure the other party understands why you feel the way you do. Let them know how you need them to treat you in the future.
- Hopefully, whoever is messing with you is not trying to hurt your feelings. Explaining your feelings were hurt, and why, may help with the problem. You may also want to offer an explanation. For example, say something like, "I just feel like, as a lawyer, I'm the butt of a lot of jokes. I don't mind now and again, but after awhile it feels really old and it starts to grate on me."
- Tell the other person what you need moving forward. Lay out some specific ground works for change. Returning to the lawyer example, you could say something like, "I know now and again you'll take a shot at me, especially in big family events because that's just how our family is. However, can you maybe lay off the jokes when it's just the two of us hanging out? Work can be stressful, and a lot of times I want to get it off my mind completely during my downtime."
Continue to address problem behaviors.Even after a confrontation, it may take a person awhile to change. Some people may be unwilling to change at all. As time goes on, continue to address problem behaviors as they occur. Offer reminders when a person crosses a line.
- Let's return to an above example. Say you're out with your dad and he makes a crack about your career again. You can say something like, "Dad, we talked about this. Can you please lay off that for a bit?" Your dad may simply have forgotten and, hopefully, will apologize and try to do better in the future.
- Unfortunately, in some cases, people may not back off no matter what you do. You may feel like you're being harassed or bullied at work or school. If the problem behavior occurs long after a confrontation, make an appointment to talk to a teacher, professor, or a boss. Explain you do not feel comfortable in your environment due to a classmate or co-worker's behavior and you want this addressed.
Decide when it's worth it to assert yourself.Sometimes, it actually may not be worth it to assert yourself. In some situations, it may be best to let light teasing slide. If you're unlikely to encounter someone again, it may not be worth a serious confrontation. If your uncle who visits once every two years, for example, likes to pull irritating pranks like setting your clocks an hour back, it may be a good idea to just grin and bear it for the time being.
Avoid feeling guilty.You should not feel guilty for requesting someone not mess with you. It's perfectly appropriate to assert yourself if someone is making you uncomfortable. If you find yourself feeling guilty, try to let the feeling pass through you. Do not hold onto feelings of guilt or examine them too deeply. Remember your rights and simply move forward after asking someone to lay off.
QuestionHow do I keep them from hitting me back?Nothanks1Community AnswerYou say, "hitting me back." If that means you are hitting them at all, then the first step would be not to. If people are hitting you, seek help from someone with authority (parents, police, principals, etc.).Thanks!
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