Managing interpersonal triggers

September 02, 2023

How do you stand up for yourself? You are surrounded by people who have their own eating and activity habits and opinions. Family and friends may criticize your efforts or tell you that what you are doing isn’t working. To stay on track with your plan, you may need to learn how to stand up for yourself - and do it while preventing both your relationships and your self-respect from suffering.

Who is in the way:

Can you tell right away who is standing in your way? The things that they say and do make it difficult for you to follow your plan. Have you noticed that interactions with certain people in your life seem to derail you? Can you make a list of such people?

Types of interpersonal obstacles:

Interference and sabotage: when people close to you test your ability to follow your lifestyle plan. For example, your partner eats chips while watching TV, or gives you a gift of chocolate. When your partner puts their priorities ahead of yours - like picking up fast food, for convenience, even though you are trying to make healthier food choices.

What are the different scenarios you may be facing:

  • Prepares or serves large portions, regardless of what you ask for.
  • Encourages seconds, regardless of your preferences.
  • Prepares rich food frequently, regardless of your preferences.
  • Gives you rich or high-calorie food as a gift.
  • Schedules other events during the time you usually work out.

Using the list above and your experience, identify those who are interfering with your plan. Are you ready to talk to them?

Attacking your self-esteem:

People can attack your self-esteem by saying or doing certain things. People who are overweight or obese are likely to have high self-esteem when they take a certain view of weight and body image.

Five factors that appear to protect the self-esteem of a larger person:

  1. People who are larger and have good self-esteem do not view other overweight people with dislike, disapproval, or disgust.
  2. People who are larger and who have good self-esteem do not see everything, including their weight, as being under their personal control or as something deserved.
  3. People who are larger and who have good self-esteem do not base their opinion of themselves on what other people think.
  4. People who are larger and who have good self-esteem are able to see negative weight-related comments and behaviors as a form of prejudice, rather than believe that the problem lies with themselves.
  5. People who are larger and have good self-esteem are able to challenge society’s view of an attractive body type.

Getting your needs met:

There are a number of ways you might respond to feeling that your needs are being ignored or stepped on. If you have let your resentment build up long enough, you might explode in anger, saying or doing things you regret. Or you may respond through silence. Ideally, however, you find a way to effectively communicate your needs in a manner that is respectful towards the other person and leaves you feeling good about yourself. We call this assertiveness; it’s not aggressive, demanding, overbearing, or disrespectful towards other people. Nor is it passive.

Three basic goals of assertiveness:

  1. To communicate your needs clearly, so that you are understood.
  2. To communicate your need respectfully, without any sting, so the relationship is protected.
  3. To communicate your needs with self-respect and dignity, so that you leave the interaction with respect and self-respect.

How do you assert your needs: Direct and indirect communication.


There are three approaches to hinting. For example, your partner bringing snacks home for nighttime eating.

  • Tell a positive story about another person and suggest that this might work well for you.
  • Set up a situation so that the behavior you desire is more likely to occur.
  • Complement the behavior you desire.


Step #1: Start by trying to understand the other person’s perspective. Why might the person behave this way? The key is not to get angry. Do your best to think about where the other person is coming from and express this in as neutral a manner as possible.

STEP #2: Describe what the other person is doing that is causing you a problem. You must do this in neutral, factual terms.

STEP #3: Now describe how the behavior in step 2 makes you feel and why. Keep it personal, start with ‘I feel’.

STEP #4: Now ask for what you want. Keep it simple. If you don’t have a particular suggestion in mind, suggest that both of you try to solve the problem together.

What if the other person becomes defensive?

Sometimes, no matter how tactful and gentle your attempts to communicate are, the other person will respond defensively to the suggestion that they have done anything wrong. So, be patient and appreciative. Sometimes the person communicates his defensiveness through their manner and not their words. In such cases, it may be helpful to give the person time needed to get over shame and anger.

Actively listen and repeat the request:

Sometimes, however, the person reacts defensively by fighting back and accusing you. This is much better to deal with. Keep your cool and acknowledge what the other person is saying. You don’t need to agree, you just need to make it clear that you are trying to understand the other person’s perspective. Active listening is especially helpful when the person you are listening to feels upset at you or someone else.

Choosing the right time to speak your mind:

  • Don’t wait until you feel angry.
  • If you feel angry or upset, it may be difficult for you to manage your tone of voice or to respond effectively if the other person becomes defensive.
  • You don’t have a chance to gauge the other person's mood. Choose a time when the other person is likely to be assertive.
  • You won’t have much control over the timing of your talk.
  • You won’t have control over the location of your talk.

For these reasons, you take the initiative and choose an advantageous time and location.