Dear Therapist,

I feel tempted to tell people how irritating they are, constantly. I get annoyed by my boss, my colleagues, friends and obviously family. I feel so frustrated by various things at the moment and it makes me want to criticise people more. Should I speak my mind or hold back? This may sound like a ridiculous question, but I sometimes don't know which is best, and if I should express how I really feel or let things go.

Frustrated and conflicted

Dear frustrated and conflicted,

It’s so hard when you feel bothered by people, and as Sartre said, 'Hell is other people'. That said, going around as The Truth Crusader tends to backfire. People don’t want to hear negative, unflattering feedback about themselves, at least most of the time.

You’ve said you’re frustrated by various things these days. It might be helpful to look at the bigger sources of your frustration, rather than just reacting to irritations in the moment. Do you have an idea of what is really bothering you?

When you do address people’s behaviour, timing and dosage are hugely important. Pick your words thoughtfully, and deliver your message calmly. But think about what it is you’re trying to achieve — are you hoping to edify? Tell off? Correct? Punish? Explain? Persuade? Resolve? Repair? If you understand your intentions, you’ll have a better chance of conveying your criticisms in an optimal way. This doesn’t mean that people will respond perfectly. Of course not! But when you know that you’ve spoken up in a healthy and thoughtful way, it can feel worthwhile, whatever the reaction.

As for colleagues, well, it depends on what the problem is, but as Irvin D. Yalom puts it, you have some choice in what takes up residence in your mind. You don’t have to let every irritation take up residence. Pick your battles. Select your words. Choose what grabs you and see when you can let go.

Perspective matters so much! Whatever the problem, aim to be responsive, not reactive, and always breathe.


Do you have a question for Charlotte? Send it to [email protected]!

Further reading

This might be why that person gets under your skin

5 ways to resolve conflict in your relationships

Can you choose whether you get angry?

Mental flexibility and resilience to change

How to avoid conflict and get what you need