Five reasons why people are prickly
Photo by flickr user SearchNetMedia
This is the second in a four-part series on prickly people.
Did you ever have an interaction with someone and walk away going - WT?? Do you have relationships where you walk away with that feeling all time? And the bigger question: Do people experience you that way?
Most of us slip occasionally, becoming prickly toward the people around us and could benefit from asking ourselves how we are coming across. But if you really want to understand and do connection better it helps to consider WHY you or someone in your life may be prickly in the first place.
Consider these 5 reasons:
1. Temporary issues Sometimes it's timing - we are in a hurry or in a funky mood that isn't easy to shake. Sometimes it's momentary crankiness, illness, lack of sleep or even hormonal fluctuation. All of us are capable of being prickly temporarily. It's called living with people. Advice? Work to limit how often, recognize it quickly, tone it down, deal with the issues that caused it, kindly apologize if necessary.
2. Temperament As generous as Rodney King's sentiment - "Can't we all just get along" was, the answer is "no."
Not everybody clicks. Sometimes our temperaments, styles, even cultural norms are so far apart and the distance makes connection a challenge. Now we can, and should, do what we can to bridge the gap - especially if we are in a situation where we rely on each other - but appreciating that sometimes those bridges just aren't that easily accessible is part of life.
Of course appreciating this does not let us off the hook for how we manage NOT getting along - ranging from respectfully disagreeing to attacking each other brutally - these choices are still up to us.
3. Trust and control issues While temporary and temperamental causes of prickliness account for some of the reasons we struggle to get along, when prickliness is your standard M.O. for interacting it's likely because connecting to other people is triggers deeper issues.
Not to get all psychobabble about it but it might help to take a peek at Attachment Theory. This theory is essentially about how babies learn to bond with (and trust) their caregivers. During this time we get better and worse answers to questions like: Do you see me and my needs? Do you take care of me with kindness and consistency? Do I feel safe with you? A baby version of "Do you have my back?"
Consistent, nurturing, attentive caregivers help children feel secure. Erratic, abusive, neglectful parenting does the opposite. (Fortunately most children get enough of the right stuff but there are always puncture wounds because all parents were once children attaching to their imperfect parents as well.)
Depending on what we got as children, whatever attachment issues we develop will come up again and again. We are always evaluating our attachments and either appreciating them (we feel safe, are getting what we need and trust that the other person has our back) or resenting for the opposite reasons.
The challenge for prickly people is that they often don't have great histories when it comes to attaching to others. They've learned to protect themselves in ways that can get in the way.
Sometimes they become TOO attached to people, which makes them much more vulnerable and reactive to how others treat them.
Other times they try to control their environments by being standoffish or becoming attached to their power, rules, structure, opinions, perspective and rightness. Attaching to these makes attaching to people more difficult and whether they intended it or not pushes people away. Fortunately it's often that it just takes a while for this type of prickly person to learn that you are someone they can trust.
4. Entitlement and resentment Sometimes we admit our prickliness but feel entitled to it either because of our egos (we are better than others so we don't have to play by the same rules) or because we have rationalized that we are really the victims of others' issues so it's justified. We shut down our empathy and blame others for getting what they deserve.
It is easy to become resentful when the people you are attached to make your life harder by lacking skills or being inconsiderate or even oblivious to your needs. But often this is the dance of two porcupines. As one gets their back up, the other joins in, escalating the damage and often causing permanent scars.
If not addressed positively this level of prickliness usually leads to contempt, abusive words and deeds, and disintegration of the relationship to the point of no return. Altering this course takes courage and the ability to be big enough (and smart enough and empathetic enough) to change the direction.
Remembering that the other person is more than just this mistake, this missed consideration, this pet peeve, this weak spot can help. Also acknowledging that they are dealing with YOUR imperfections as well might be useful, too.
Owning your own stuff, stepping back, and getting outside help may all be needed to resuscitate this relationship.
5. Bizarro World Of course there is one more twist to this story. Sometimes people can be thorns in your side, constantly challenging you to hold it together and not fall for their power plays, baiting, insensitivity, rudeness, crudeness, crassness, brashness, elitism, entitlement or ego. (Imagine the attachment issues going on here!)
In this Bizarro World the reasonable response of protecting yourself is twisted into YOU being overly sensitive and lacking in humor. Not always easy to know which world you are in. In fact the only way to know sometimes is to get outside it long enough for some perspective.
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So consider this: When everything feels threatening either you are having a bad day, are dealing with style differences, in a Bizarro World or you are working on old stuff.
But in the end, whether we've had all the breaks or very few, being in a relationship means being responsible for what we put out there. Owning this is the first step. Or course, putting it into practice comes next. But it has to start by looking in the mirror.
Coming next Monday: Part 3: Becoming Less Prickly
Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor and knows a lot of really awesome thorny people. You can contact her at email@example.com.