8 signs someone is taking their unhappiness out on you (without realizing it)

Nasty comments said fleetingly mid-argument.

Dirty digs made in the heat of the moment.

We don’t tend to take our emotions out on others consciously, but it still happens – whether we realize it or not.

And if you’ve been on the receiving end of someone else’s unhappiness, you’ll know how painful this is.

Particularly as they don’t even seem to be aware of how they’re being or how they’re taking their feelings of doom and gloom out on you.

Their complete lack of awareness makes it even harder to let them know when this is taking place, as they’ll likely deny, deny, deny.

However, recognizing signs that indicate when someone is unfairly taking their own unhappiness out on you is crucial so you can step back and not take their emotional baggage personally.

So without further ado, let’s explore the 8 giveaway signs that suggest someone might be projecting their unhappiness onto you without even realizing it:

1) Passive aggression

One of the most common ways someone’s unhappiness can manifest is through passive aggression.

If you find yourself facing snide remarks, backhanded compliments, or a sudden cold shoulder without an apparent reason, it might not be about you at all.

Often, when people are unhappy but haven’t recognized or addressed it, they express it in indirect ways

Rather than being cold and aggressive outright, they’ll make little jabs. Maybe about your intelligence. Your timeliness. Your cooking skills. 

You’ll be left wondering whether your friend is being outright mean or has said these things without really thinking.

And regardless of what you establish to be their reason, their comments will still sting like hell.

2) Exceptionally critical

A friend who suddenly seems keen on pulling you apart might well be going through a rough patch themselves.

And this is no excuse, but being aware of what circumstances might be causing unnecessary criticism and can help mediate such a situation.

We’ve all been there: a close friend going through a breakup or being let go at work, who suddenly seems prickly and mean towards everyone and everything within close proximity to them.

At first, you think maybe you’re the one doing something wrong. But as their criticisms become more frequent and even less relevant, you realize there is something else going on…

You dig a little deeper and find out about all the other baggage they’re struggling to cope with, and see how all that unhappiness is spilling out onto you.

Being able to understand when someone is going through a rough patch allows you to not take their words to heart quite as much, and to try sift through their struggles to help them out. 

Someone else’s struggles should never be your punishment, but a little sympathy and understanding can go a long way in helping pull someone out of darkness.

3) Grumpy, grumpy, grumpy

Irritability and grumpiness can often be a symptom of deeper emotional issues. 

When someone’s unhappy, they might have a lower tolerance for things they’d usually shrug off. And yes, unfortunately some of this irritability ends up being directed at you…

They snap at you for handing a cold coffee to them.

A light shower of rain on a hike you suggested causes them to simmer and grumble.

Having to repeat themselves because you didn’t hear the first time causes a wave of anger.

If someone you know is suddenly quick to anger or seems overly sensitive, it could be that they’re grappling with their own unhappiness. 

Their patience is likely a great deal shorter than normal, and is a reflection of their current internal struggles.

4) Overly defensive about everything

Someone who is struggling with monumental unhappiness elsewhere will be quick to temper.

When people are unhappy, they tend to feel insecure or vulnerable.  As a result, they react defensively to protect themselves from perceived criticism or judgment, even when there’s none intended.

Say you lightly tease their bright orange skin color (they’ve recently gotten into experimenting with fake tan). Instead of laughing with you, they’re straight at your throat. 

Little jokes that would otherwise have been part of your shared friendship language are met with instant defensiveness.

And whilst being on the receiving end of such defensiveness is little fun, understanding the why behind it can help prevent you from getting drawn into unnecessary conflicts. 

yawning while in conversation 8 signs someone is taking their unhappiness out on you (without realizing it)

5) Constantly yawning

Someone whose unhappiness is spilling out into all areas of life is likely exhausted by all that emotion.

Unhappiness can be absolutely draining. 

Like carrying a heavy, invisible weight around all the time, this emotional burden can take a toll on their energy levels – making them feel perpetually tired

And whilst they might not be actively aware of how they’re taking their sadness out on you in all the ways listed above, some part of their subconscious knows and carries extra guilt for how it is behaving.

Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about them and what they’re going through. Your understanding and support can make all the difference in helping them carry this weight.

6) Attention span of a goldfish

An additional sign that indicates someone who is channeling their unhappiness onto you is if they’re frequently distracted – unable to focus on conversations or tasks at hand.

It’s disheartening to be on the receiving end of a friend who seems constantly unable to listen to what you have to say.

They have one eye on their phone screen, the other in the clouds. All in all, this leaves you feeling totally unvalued and unwanted.

Unfortunately, a sea of sadness in a person’s life can leave them feeling washed up and unable to cope with other people’s problems.

They likely care – a lot – but are just barely able to cope with their own issues at present, let alone yours too.

7) Flakey and constantly canceling plans

You’re just about to leave your house to go to the cinema and meet them, when they hit you up with a “sorry, not feeling well. Rain check? xx”

When people are unhappy, they may find it hard to muster the energy or enthusiasm to engage in social activities. Canceling plans can be an easy escape for them, a way to avoid facing their feelings or the risk of their unhappiness affecting others. 

The fact that they do it so last minute is unbelievably frustrating, but unfortunately their sadness tends only to catch up to them when they go to leave their own house.

So try and remember that it’s not about you or your relationship with them. It’s about the struggles they are dealing with. 

Offering understanding and flexibility can make a world of difference to someone grappling with their own unhappiness.

8) Drowning in negativity 

The most telling sign is when their negativity seems to seep into every aspect of their life, affecting their outlook and interactions.

Like Eeyore, they tumble around with a dark cloud over their heads. Negativity follows them wherever they go, seeping into their world and their interactions.

What starts out as one bad event turns every day gray, and you start leaving interactions feeling a little grayer yourself.

But try to remind yourself that this isn’t all about you. 

The pain they’re experiencing is so great, they’re struggling to contain it. 

And your role isn’t to absorb their negativity, but to offer a space of understanding and kindness and to gradually help rid them of those blues.

Final words

Empathy plays an essential role in almost all human interactions.

And when it comes to supporting friends who are themselves dealing with a lot, empathy can be the make-it-or-break-it between feeling like their unhappiness is flooding your life, versus being able to support them whilst also protecting yourself.

Because at the end of the day, no one wants to be on the receiving end of snarky criticism, clapbacks, or negativity.

Nor should you – drawing boundaries when it comes to how much leniency you will give friends who are prone to taking their feelings out on you is important to protect your own peace.

However, with the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, you’ll find that you can reach through someone else’s darkness and pull them back out far quicker.

Picture of Liv Walde

Liv Walde

London-based writer with big thoughts, big dreams, and a passion for helping others.

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