Maintain Your Sanity: Learn How to Deal With Difficult People
When caring for a sick loved one, difficult people can make life, well, more difficult!
We all wish to be surrounded by positive people, especially when we are going through a difficult time. But, inevitably we will run into difficult people who are unlike us in temperament, beliefs, and rationality.
Psychological research shows that positive and mutually supportive relationships between people are good for our mental and physical health. And, dealing with difficult people and maintaining ongoing negative relationships can be detrimental or stressful to our health. It is always a good idea to diminish or eliminate relationships that are filled with conflict and strife whenever possible, but this is not always an accomplishable task. While one person can transfer out of a class or wait out a transient relationship to avoid a personality clash, what do you do if the person in question is a family member, co-worker, or someone you otherwise can’t easily eliminate from your life? There are times when one must learn to cope with difficult people.
How to Deal with Difficult People
The first step is to take personal responsibility. Very often we cannot change others, but we can alter how we react or respond to them on an ongoing basis. We can perfect our communication skills; we can improve our personal de-stressing skills via meditation, deep breathing, or counseling.
But changing your response does not – and should not – include accepting or turning to abusive behaviors. You should not tolerate cruel words or mental or physical abuse. Some difficult people use words as weapons. In response, don’t become defensive. Rather, try to gain perspective, set boundaries, and build your self-esteem – understand that you are dealing with a difficult person who is using you as a punching bag. If the relationship is too toxic, remove yourself. Literally, leave the room or hang up the phone. If you can separate enough to function apart from the words or insinuations, then do so from an empowered place within yourself.
In dealing with difficult people, try to accept the reality of who they are – don’t try to change the other person. If you try to change the other person, you will likely get caught in power struggles, cause defensiveness, invite criticism, or otherwise make things worse. Additionally, trying to change someone makes you seem to be a more difficult person to deal with. Resist the urge to ‘win’ the conversation or ‘war’ – ask yourself at what cost? Letting them ‘win’ means you win some peace, very often.
Communicate in “I statements” – for instance, “I feel ___ when you say…”. And try to see the best in the difficult person while creating healthy boundaries. It can also help to keep conversations neutral and avoide topics that tend to spark tension or disagreement.
Remember to get your real human intimacy needs met from others who are able to meet your needs, not from the difficult person in your life. Tell your secrets to a trustworthy friend who’s a good listener, or process your feelings through journaling, for example. Rely on people who have proven themselves to be trustworthy and supportive, or find a good therapist if you need one. This will help you and the other person by taking pressure off the relationship and removing a source of conflict.
It is critical to know when it’s time to distance yourself. And when it is time, do so. If the other person can’t be around you without antagonizing you, minimizing contact may be key to your sanity. If they’re continually abusive, it’s best to cut ties and let them know why. Explain what needs to happen if there ever is to be a relationship, and let it go. But beware there are difficult people wherever you go.
Special Instructions for Dealing with Difficult People
- Watch out for placing blame on yourself or the other person for the negative interactions. It may just be a case of your two personalities fitting poorly. Remember to work on your own communications skills.
- Remember that you don’t have to be close with everyone; just being polite goes a long way toward getting along and appropriately dealing with difficult people.
- Be sure to cultivate other more positive relationships in your life to offset the negativity of dealing with difficult people. Cultivate a circle of mutually supportive friends.
- Work on an appropriate sense of humor to help you in dealing with difficult people throughout life.
Everyone has episodes of ‘difficult people’ to handle through special projects, family situations, work episodes, awkward visitors, crisis situations, and so forth. It is important to have the character to face these situations and difficult people with as much empathy and grace as you can muster, for the temporary. For the long term, these strategies will help you overcome and maintain your mental health.
This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Gail-Elaine Tinker, M.S., a psychotherapist in general private practice in Lehigh Valley, PA specializing in grief, trauma, chronic pain, and adult autism. If you would like to know more about her practice, please review her website www.tinkerpsychotherapy.com or contact her directly at 610-216-4319. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.