In this podcast (episode #300) and blog, I talk about how to manage your anxiety when people don’t respond to you, or when you don’t get the response that you expected, and how to navigate the assumptions we all tend to make in our head when someone reacts in a way we perceive as negative.
When someone doesn’t respond to a text or email, or if they respond in a way we think is bad, it’s easy to overthink the situation and go down that rabbit hole of imagined and assumed scenarios, which can lead to a lot of toxic stress and anxiety. You literally feel like you are going around and around in your head, like a hamster on a wheel, and you can lose your sense of peace and wellbeing. We have all been there!
However, we need to remember that in these situations, especially with modern technology like email and text messaging, there is so much we don’t know and so much we don’t see. We need to be so careful about just making assumptions, which can become actual thoughts in our brains that affect our mindset and behavior if we believe them as though they are “the truth”.
We are not experts on anyone else’s mind. We only know our own mind, and even then we can struggle to get to the root of our thinking, so we need to be careful of the narratives we build into our brains! Is how we are thinking good for us, or possibly causing brain damage? How will the way we are thinking impact our relationships?
One of the best ways I have found to manage this toxic spiral is using self-regulation in the moment. To this end, I recommend doing a Neurocycle, which is the 5-step mind-management system I have developed over the past 38 years, and is based on my research and practice. (I discuss this in detail in my latest book Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess, my app Neurocycle and in my recent clinical trials.) The 5 steps are:
1. Gather awareness:
Gather awareness of the exact scenarios going through your mind. As you identify these, in as much detail as possible, you will literally “see” the memories you are actually building onto a thought tree in your brain!
Now, gather awareness of the emotions you are experiencing as you examine these “thought tree” scenarios. These are also memory branches on the thought tree, and this process will let you see how your assumptions are affecting your feelings. Be as specific as you can.
Next, gather awareness of how you feel in your body as you are becoming aware of these scenarios and emotions. Are you feeling achy all over? Is your heart palpitating? Do you feel that panicky shock of adrenaline coursing through you?
Now, gather awareness of your behaviors in response to the scenario. Are you withdrawing? Are you irritable and snappy? Do you keep talking about this to people in your life you trust? Are they telling you to stop making assumptions?
Lastly, gather awareness of the perspective/mindset this has generated in you. Do you feel you are always ignored or there is something wrong with you? Do you feel the person is just mean or rude? Do you feel you are being “ghosted”? Do you feel this is the story of your life? Are you getting paranoid and spiraling every time something like this happens?
Now, reflect on what you have gathered in step #1 above. There is a reason for every response you gathered and reflected on. As you find these, you can reconceptualize them, so you can make them work for you and not against you. We will do this in the next step.
In this step, just ask, answer, and discuss with yourself why you thought up the scenario you did. Has this happened before with this person? Or another person? Do you always react this way? How did this kind of situation previously resolve itself?
Can you see how this scenario is affecting your emotions negatively and how it's making you feel physically? Can you see this isn’t healthy for your mind, body or brain and is in fact blocking your thinking clearly and perhaps affecting your work? Your relationships? Your peace of mind?
As you are reflecting on your behaviors, are you withdrawing or behaving in a certain way because you are feeling like you are being ignored? Are you increasingly irritable and snappy because you feel like you have done something wrong? Do you keep talking to people about this to try to make sense of it, or to reduce the hurt?
Reflect on why this is having such an impact on your mindset/perspective. Why are you getting paranoid and spiraling every time this happens? Is this related to a wound or a trauma from childhood making you think you are hated, weird, not good enough, or, in some distorted way, that you deserve this? Is this a common response pattern to a trauma being activated?
Now, write down everything you gathered awareness of and reflected on. This will bring more clarity and perspective to this issue.
Looking at everything you have written and the insight you have gained in steps 1-3, let’s now look at some likely reasons they haven’t responded, which will help you reconceptualize the situation— in essence, as you do this you are creating an “antidote” to the toxic thinking pattern.
Reconceptualize thought patterns like “they are ignoring me” or “I have done something wrong” into thoughts like:
- Maybe they plan to respond later
- Maybe they have just forgotten to respond
- Maybe they don’t know what to say yet
- Perhaps they are going through something and they don’t feel like talking right now
- Maybe I need to accept that I am not the person they need to talk to in this particular moment because of whatever they are going though
- Maybe they are busy or traveling and just haven’t seen the message/email/call yet
- Are they perhaps enjoying some much-needed alone time?
- Perhaps they are on a social media/technology fast
- Maybe they are moving on from the relationship and are trying to find words to explain what they want to do
- Maybe I need to just accept that the person is moving on and develop a sense of peace around never knowing exactly why
- Not everyone is going to apologize for not responding or even respond, so I shouldn’t just expect it or I may be disappointed
- Perhaps they are bullying me or trying to control or manipulate me with a non-response, in which case I need to protect myself by accepting this is happening as sad and wrong, but also recognize that I cannot control the other person
- Sometimes it’s not always about me, but about them and they need grace, just like I need grace sometimes!
- Perhaps it may simply be time for me to move on from this relationship, which may be toxic or not the “right” one for me where I am right now in life
- Maybe I need to ask for clarification and be honest in my communication
5. Active reach:
Of course, it’s very hard to deal with someone who is not responding, and it’s not always the best or kindest way to communicate. Indeed, we should not just normalize noncommittal behaviors, because all relationships require healthy communication to thrive.
However, we need to understand and manage the impact these situations have on us to move forward and find closure or healing. We also need to remember that the way a person shows up (in this case, by not responding or responding negatively) has a root, which is something they are going through, which you cannot fix or change unless they invite you in to help them do so.
The only way to move forward without damaging our psychoneurobiology (the mind-brain-body connection) is through processing the impact and reconceptualizing how we view what has happened, which is what you have been doing in these four steps so far. This simple progression through the four steps above actually increases the resiliency of your mind-brain-body response and brain health. In this way, you are empowering yourself to take control of the situation, rather than letting the situation control you. As unpleasant as a nonresponse or negative response can be is, coming to terms with it is where you will find peace again. Of course, it’s okay (and very human!) to experience all the emotions and scenarios you have, as long as you reconceptualize them!
So, in this final step, visualize your reaction as a weed that you are pulling up by the root and removing. There is a gap in the ground where the weed was, now you can grow something new there...what will it be? What word, statement or action will you use to remind yourself of and practice your newly reconceptualized thought pattern and behavior?
But remember to give yourself grace! Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it will take time to develop this newly reconceptualized way of responding, so keep on keeping on.
For more on dealing with negative responses using mind management, listen to my podcast (episode #300) and check out my latest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
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2:50 How the negative assumptions we make about people can affect our wellbeing
4:30 How assumptions can lead to toxic rumination, which can cause brain damage
7:00 We are not experts on other’s people’s behavior!
7:20 The dangers of overthinking
10:30 How to use mind-management to manage our assumptions & control overthinking
13:12 How to be more in control of your thinking
14:00 The 5 steps of the Neurocycle mind-management system
15:50 How to rewrite the toxic narratives we have built into our brain
22:00 Why reconceptualization is so powerful
26:20 It is okay to experience negative emotions, but we shouldn’t let them control us!
This podcast and blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional.