How can I be less sensitive to being ignored?
May 4, 2011 12:54 PM   Subscribe

How can I be less sensitive to being ignored?

Probably because I was not popular in school, I was ignored a lot as a kid. Couple that with a family who believed kids had nothing valuable to contribute to a conversation, and today as an adult, I really, really hate being ignored.

I know that sometimes people can't always get back to you right away and things like that. I understand and am fine with that. And it's not something like I want them to reply to my every post on Facebook or anything like that. It's not that I want attention all the time. If someone (for example) doesn't want to talk, it's all fine to say "can't talk right now!"

But when someone that I know well is obviously deliberately ignoring me, I get anxiety attacks, especially if I don't know what I did to upset the person. And it makes me angry. Once they find out that ignoring me makes me angry, of course, they use it against me when they are mad at me. Ignoring me also kind of backfires because it makes me want to bug them more to know what I did wrong (but I try my hardest not to contact them). Tell me I pissed you off, I'll go away. But ignore me and it makes me feel crazy. (So yeah, it's kind of a paradox... simply ignoring me does not make me want to go away; directly telling me to go away works.)

I have considered that at least part of the time, someone who doesn't particularly like me might ignore me in hopes that I'll just go away. But it doesn't help me cope with being ignored... yes, I would just rather be told "hey I don't like you, please leave me alone." At this particular moment though, I know someone is ignoring me because she is angry with me, but I have no idea what I did to piss her off. Nope, not even a guess. Sorry if that makes me socially awkward.

How can I get over the anxiety and anger when someone ignores me? I've been to therapy and we never really got around to this as an issue, and I can't afford to go any more right now; perhaps in the future. In the meantime I need some solid coping techniques.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
One thing you need to do is start examining the kind of friends that you have. Why are you giving your time and energy to people who take a weakness and use it against you? That's not really an OK way to act towards someone you ostensibly care about, and it's not how mature people act. It sounds like you may be young, which explains having friends that are sort of vindictive and not very nice. I can't think of a single friend of mine who would use a weakness against me in the way you describe, because any "friend" who has acted that way towards me is no longer someone I communicate with. You deserve to be treated with respect, and it's OK to work towards that in your life.

All of that out of the way, I also hate being ignored. It makes me feel icky and anxious. Here are the two things I do: First, I reframe it for myself. Any time I feel like someone might be ignoring me, I think of all the reasons they could be incommunicado that have absolutely nothing to do with me. Maybe they got really sick or an important deadline came up or another one of their friends needs a lot of attention and they don't have any energy left over. Second, and most important, I get busy and put it out of my mind. I decide they're not ignoring me and I move on.

The thing that I've learned with time is that people usually aren't actually ignoring me. Everyone's life is amazingly full and rich, and I'm just a piece of it. Invariably, it has nothing to do with me even if I'm convinced it does.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:06 PM on May 4, 2011 [16 favorites]

Trick the first: rephrase it in your mind. Your friend isn't ignoring you. She's taking her time getting back to you. She wants some space.

That phases into trick the second: Remember that you can't control other people's actions, and (especially when they're not directly interacting with you) you don't know what's going on inside them. Your friend might not be angry at you at all. Your friend might be dealing with a lot of work stress, super busy, frustrated with someone else, depressed, enthralled with a new lover, lost in a really good book ... anything. And even if her silence right now is something to do with you - it's nothing to do with you. Her emotions are her own. Your friend is off doing her own thing, out of sight. You can't make her talk to you, or know what's going on inside her head and heart.

You know, with your rational brain, that bugging someone when they're upset with you and seeking space isn't likely to have any kind of good result. So, take a single step in that direction by making it clear to your friend, in a non-confrontational way, that you're available whenever she wants, and then keep yourself busy. A simple note like "Hey, I hope I haven't upset you. Let me know what's up with you. I'll be here if and when you want to talk" sums it up nicely, without a lot of pressure. This has the added bonus of giving your friend an opportunity to say "oh hey! No, not upset with you. Just swamped with x and my phone's been wonky lately" or whatever.

Whenever you find yourself getting upset again about what your friend is doing off camera and thinking about what she's thinking and what she's feeling, repeat to yourself that you're not a mind reader. Find something seriously immersive and make that your priority for a while.
posted by lriG rorriM at 1:10 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a sensitive spot for me too. I also often find that thinking about what else they might have going on helps ("they may not be ignoring me on purpose, they may just be tied up at work and keep meaning to respond when they get a minute...")

With my really close friends, I also had a talk with them about how I sometimes "feel like" I'm being ignored. I was really careful about identifying specific behavior that triggered that feeling in me ("I keep on sending out emails asking 'hey, does anyone want to see this movie on this day,' and I'll get one person who says 'I'm busy' but no one else answers and that makes me feel bad") and framing it as more of an informational thing ("I know that you probably don't intend to make me feel like you're ignoring me -- but for some reason this is just how this makes me feel, and it would be helpful if you did X, Y, or Z instead"). That has helped a lot -- a couple of them even explained why they were ignoring my invitations ("among my high school friends, we all just assumed that no response meant 'no, I can't make it,'"), and they all promised to do better. And they did.

For the people that I didn't feel close enough to to talk to them like that, I just decided that if they weren't going to expend the minimal effort required to not ignore me, then...I wasn't going to either, and that was that. I still include them in the occasional "hey I'm having a party" mass email, but I pretty much assume they're not going to show up. There are a few people whom I'm sure occasionally wonder, "Hey, i wonder why EC stopped contacting me?" But...they never pick up the phone and call me to ask, so to hell with 'em.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

The thing that helped for me was the realize that everyone is struggling with their own stuff all day, every day, consumed in their own world... and so when they ignored me, it wasn't about Me, it was about them. I try to be good about getting back to people, but sometimes life and inertia get in the way.

Tell good friends about the way it makes you feel, ask them to just tell you they need space if that's what it is, and then distract yourself with your own awesome life so you're not wondering why they're not getting back to you.
posted by ldthomps at 1:23 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

Okay a few things I'm not clear about.

1. You should not be "friends" with people who "use your weaknesses against you." Unless you're talking about a chess game, that is just really reprehensible behavior. Are you talking about people in general, or friends, or coworkers, family members, or romantic partners?

2. How do you define being ignored? And you say it's "obvious." When you say "ignore" do you mean "avoid," or do you mean "not pay enough attention to you as you'd like"? Like, you are calling them and calling, and they never pick up, so you try calling from a different number and they do pick up -- to me that's pretty clear that they're avoiding you. Or maybe you have third-party confirmation that the person is intentionally avoiding contact with you. Otherwise, maybe you need to examine your expectations about how often people should contact you. There might be several people sitting around thinking that they'd like me to call them right now, but I'm not--not because I am sitting here thinking "Fuck that person," but because I'm thinking of other things right now, or I'm at work, or maybe I'll call them some other day. I don't think people really owe you an explanation about their frequency of contact with you.

3. Are you contacting these people who are ignoring you? You are sure that this girl is pissed off at you. If you have no idea what you did, what makes you think that? Have you called to ask her? Have you called and left a message saying "Hey, haven't heard from you, I hope xyz thing that I did didn't offend you"? You said you stop yourself from contacting people to find out what you did wrong -- aren't you now just ignoring them?
posted by thebazilist at 2:01 PM on May 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

I would also like to suggest that people who ignore you specifically because they know if bothers you are doing so because they like manipulating you into chasing around after them. It is sort of a passive-aggressive power struggle, and by continually asking them what you did wrong, and fretting over it, you are playing into their stupid game. In other words, they are ignoring you not because they want to be left alone, but because they want to toy with you.

I can understand that it is maddening as hell when this happens, especially if it is from someone whom you normally like and care about having a friendship with. But I have also found that the best way to have someone like that quit ignoring you is to stop playing into their game. Distract yourself, and try to do things that might demonstrate to the other person that them ignoring you does not bother you and go about your normal day (even if on the inside you are bothered by it). And if a friend does this to you often, you might consider re-evaluating what kind of friend would do that to you in the first place.
posted by nasayre at 2:07 PM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

Umm. Anxiety sufferer here. When you say "obviously & deliberately ignoring me"...have you gotten outside confirmation that this is what's been going on? I'm only asking because I've gotten stuck, more than a few times, in a place in my head where I truly, to my core, believed people were doing things to hurt me. It's not always true, no matter how convincing & evident & provable it seems at the time.

I find, when I'm in full-on internal rage-state, that it's helpful to ask other people what they see as going on. Sometimes they'll confirm what I'm observing & the empirical evidence I believe I've collected. Other times, what they say reminds me that I have a disorder that can distort my perceptions & reasoning.

It's the old saw: "It's not paranoia if they really are out to get you." IS she deliberately ignoring you? I find establishing an independent baseline is the best way to manage my reaction.
posted by Ys at 2:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [4 favorites]

: "But when someone that I know well is obviously deliberately ignoring me, I get anxiety attacks, especially if I don't know what I did to upset the person. And it makes me angry. Once they find out that ignoring me makes me angry, of course, they use it against me when they are mad at me. "

I ask this non-snarkily: how old are you? Because this is the behaviour of 14 year olds, not of adults. I cannot believe that people who don't like something you've done respond by ignoring you. This leaves, to my mind, four options:

1. You are a teen or in your very early 20s and this actually is taking place. In which case, the people around you should grow the fuck up and quit this very, very soon. Between now and then, get better friends.

2. This is not actually happening and you are over-sensitive. In which case, stop thinking everything is about you. People are busy.

3. This is not actually happening and you are paranoid. In which case, please consult with a mental health professional. No, I am not kidding.

4. This actually is happening, but within a romantic relationship and you don't want to say that because you know everyone will say DTMFA and you don't want to hear DTMFA. In which case, DTMFA - you don't need to get better at being treated like shit.

The only other option is that you reside on a planet of social interaction so different than mine that it actually exists outside this solar system.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:16 PM on May 4, 2011 [11 favorites]

I'm going to pile-on that this shouldn't be happening... I get ignored at work, sometimes, when I'm asking people (outside my department) to do things that they don't really want to do, but ignored by friends? Maliciously, not just cuz they were busy or doing their own thing? Never since I was adult. Not once. If this is happening repeatedly, even often, you need to look at what other dynamics are going on in your friendships, and figure out how to make friends with people who don't treat you like crap.
posted by brainmouse at 3:12 PM on May 4, 2011

Speaking as someone who sometimes ignores people I am pissed off at, let me explain my reasons to maybe help you understand why some people might choose the ignore route rather than the direct/confrontation route.

1. I have learned that many people do not deal well with being told they've done something to make me angry/hurt me, etc. Often the payoff of letting someone know they've somehow done this to me just isn't there -- the other person gets defensive, I get more annoyed, the situation isn't resolved.

2. Often, what I am annoyed about is less about the other person than it is about me. So I ignore the other person until I get over being annoyed because it isn't fair or productive to foist my own shit on them.

3. Sometimes it isn't a single person I am ignoring, but the whole goddamn human race. That doesn't seem to translate well to individuals who think that I am targeting them or singling them out. People often don't see who else is being ignored; they only see that they are being ignored.

What I am trying to explain here is that maybe it isn't you, or isn't always you -- your friends might not be passive-aggressively ignoring you because of something you've done; they may be ignoring you because of how they are feeling and that might be why they aren't just telling you to go away. When I ignore a friend, it doesn't mean I want them to go away. It just means that, for whatever reason, I am not able to deal with them in a mature and respectful manner. And yeah, I know that ignoring someone isn't necessarily a mature or respectful way of handling a situation, but sometimes it's the best you can do in the circumstances.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 3:34 PM on May 4, 2011 [6 favorites]

I just want to chime in to say that I've experienced some of what you described and agree with some of the responses, especially Felicity Rike's. - I do think most times when you're being "ignored" it has more to do with the individual, what is going on with him or her - and its not just 14 year olds who behave this way - it follows you and your relationships all your life. people have problems, people suffer and don't know how to deal with conflict. i have a friend who is very hot and cold with me - when she's warm, she's wonderful, when she's cold, I really have to wonder what I did to piss her off and i've asked her and she says nothing and returns to being cold until her cold spell passes. i've learned to accept this - no we'll never be super duper close, i'll never trust her as much as I'd like to but I recognize she's got some issues she is dealing with, both health and emotional and distances herself from me when things are going particularly poorly for her but well for me. This is kind of immature behavior on her part but noone or relationship is a perfect balance. I've learned the signs when she's pulling back and i rely less on her for emotional support even though when she's present she's great, but when she's not (when she is ignoring my email, not reaching out to me) , i only get offended and frustrated. All my female friends are like this to some degree - its life in the city, we're all so f'n busy, its really hard sometimes to be fully present for friends. The sooner you accept and move on or let it go, the sooner you will feel relief. Also start to really explore spending time alone, once you've really learned to enjoy your company the sting of these friends who ignore you will not hurt as much. If I don't have plans with friends on a weekend, I actually feel relieved at times - some "me" time!

One more thing -- I absolutely hate it when I send an invite to a group of friends to do something and those who can't attend just plain ignore rather than take five seconds to email thanks for the invite -- like you and others, it seems cold and uncaring to me, but people do it - I think its a lack of email etiquette, or maybe I need to be clued in on email etiquette. If others can clue me in to why that is acceptable while were on this topic i'd appreciate that.
posted by dmbfan93 at 7:02 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I absolutely hate it when I send an invite to a group of friends to do something and those who can't attend just plain ignore rather than take five seconds to email thanks for the invite -- like you and others, it seems cold and uncaring to me, but people do it - I think its a lack of email etiquette, or maybe I need to be clued in on email etiquette. If others can clue me in to why that is acceptable while were on this topic i'd appreciate that.

Direct from one of my friends who said this when I called HIM on it...

In some schools of thought, you only respond to an invitation when you ARE coming, and if you don't respond, the host assumes you're not.

In other schools of thought, you only respond to an invitation if you're NOT coming, and if you don't respond, the host assumes you are coming.

In yet other schools of thought, you respond either way so the host knows what's going on no matter what.

What you have here is, you're from one school of thought ("respond either way") and your friends are another ("respond only if you are coming").

I'm the same way and it pissed me off too. What helped, though, was pointing out to my friends that this WAS what I preferred, and many of them got with the program.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:07 PM on May 4, 2011

2. This is not actually happening and you are over-sensitive. In which case, stop thinking everything is about you. People are busy.

This last bit - I am constantly very late about getting back to people on most things - not because I am a bad person or because I want to make a point or because I don't care but because I have about 20 things I am supposed to remember to do at any given point in time. And a lot of the time I'll do the work stuff before I do the personal stuff - mainly because work generally holds you more accountable than your friends and family do. For example, if people want a fastish response they know to email me at work because I'm more likely to read their communication in a timely manner and may even send a one liner back.

So think a bit about how much of this is somebody out to upset you and how much of it is people being busy. And if you can corroborate that it's people being manipulative find new friends. If it's the latter you need to grow up a bit and realise that people have got a million and one things to worry about and will get back to you in their own time. Or not, as the case may be because they may have other communication protocols and etiquettes than you.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:55 PM on May 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I do the ignoring thing sometimes - it means I'm figuring shit out or I can't think of an appropriate way to deal with x issue I have with a person when I've got Lots of Very Important Other Stuff Going On and I don't want to really mess things up with said person.

Basically, I need time to myself to regroup and think because I'm feeling overwhelmed. So it's not me manipulating/using someone's weakness against them and it's not me passive aggressively telling said person to piss off, it's exactly that I don't want said person to piss off, I just want them to back off and give me some space and time to think and breathe. It would probably be healthier for me to articulate that, but sometimes things are just too overwhelming.

From your perspective, you just need to understand that sometimes people have complicated stuff going on that they're trying to sort out while trying to function in a fairly coherent fashion. What they don't need is for you to make your issue (your anxiety about them) their issue, because it's not. If there's any animosity coming from your friend, it could be because she feels you're making your problems hers.

And yes people get busy. I personally hate it when I text someone or email them and I get no acknowledgment at all from them. But I understand it, you know. Different people, different etiquette; people get busy, people forget. I get grumpy for a second and then move on.

Mantras are good in these situations - repeat over and over in your head - "It's not about me."
posted by mleigh at 11:22 PM on May 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

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