Ask Dr. Conte: How Can I Prevent Others’ Actions from Igniting My Temper?

don't let others' actions affect your self-control

Hi Dr. Conte,

I’ve had a bad temper since I was a child, but I feel like as time has gone by and I have experienced trauma, hurt and disappointment, my temper and anger have gotten worse.

I don’t feel I am angry all the time, but I do allow what people do or don’t do to affect me in a negative way – particularly my boyfriend and coworkers. I am always upset with my boyfriend, because I don’t feel he listens to me, etc. And because there is always something he is or isn’t doing, that he should be doing. He says I need to learn to control my emotions – and maybe I do – but how do I not allow what he does to disturb my mental well-being and peace of mind? Do I just ignore him when he says something insensitive or rude?

How do I get to a place where I don’t allow other people’s toxic behaviors and habits affect me?  I want to get to a point where what others do doesn’t cause me to lose control of myself and my emotions.

Please help!!


Hey Nora,

Great question! Letting others determine our energy (even our loved ones) can be awfully draining. The goal of the healthiest relationships is for people to be two individuals who choose to be with one another, as opposed to two individuals who feel like they have to be together. Allowing what your boyfriend “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing to control how you feel is pretty much like handing him the keys to your self-control. Your self-control is yours, and yours alone – so it’s important to not tie yourself to people you know are acting in ways that do not line up with what you want. 

When it comes to those “shoulds,” by the way (i.e., “there is always something he is or isn’t doing, that he should be doing”), it’s so important to align your expectations with reality. In other words, instead of focusing on what he “should” or “shouldn’t” be doing, it’s probably much more effective for you to focus on what he is actually doing. You could face a lot of struggles if you try to turn your boyfriend into something he “was,” or into someone you believe he “can be,” instead of recognizing him for who he actually is right now. The more you want him to be doing something he isn’t doing, the angrier you will likely get. The more you accept that he is doing what he is doing, the sooner you can make an accurate evaluation as to whether or not this is the healthiest relationship for you. 

If you view your boyfriend as toxic to be around, you definitely want to consider moving on. All too often, I hear people say that they’ve invested too much time to leave a relationship, and to me, that answer just doesn’t make a lot of sense. If you’ve suffered for a year, for instance, why would you continue to put yourself in a position to suffer for longer than that? If he’s toxic for you, then it’s wise to consider ways to leave that relationship. 

In short, if you want to not allow others’ behaviors to not affect you, then it’s your responsibility to accept others for who they are and what they do. You don’t have to like what they do, and you don’t have to choose to be around people doing toxic things, but it is very wise to accept the reality that is in front of you, rather than trying to focus on how things “should” be. 

I have a YouTube video entitled, Relationship Help: Letting Go; I think that would be a good place to start for a resource for you. You can see it here: 

I wish you all the best.

Much peace,

Dr. Conte