You’re involved in a “conversation” with a family member and you haven’t had the chance to say one word. The barrage of complaints and negativity from your coworker leaves you feeling drained. Whenever something goes wrong in coparenting with your ex, you’re the one who gets blamed. There’s no point bringing honest concerns to your supervisor because her ego is so fragile that it isn’t worth dealing with the hostility that comes back at you. How does it happen that you walk out of every conversation with your mother feeling guilty?
We all have difficult people in our lives. Most of the time we can simply choose not to deal with them and walk away. But then there are those people in our lives who we must have a relationship with or we choose to have them in our lives. These might be supervisors or coworkers, family members, lifelong friends, co-parents, parents of your children’s friends.
Do any of these types of difficult people get under your skin?
Unreasonably aggressive or controlling types
People who compete with you at every turn
Clingy types who pull on you to take care of them
People who have to be right no matter what
Dramatic people who suck up all the air in the room
Self-involved types who have no ability to acknowledge anyone else
How you can approach difficult personalities while not losing your sanity?
Let’s look at some ways to orient yourself.
- Use your self-authority. It’s understandable that it can feel like these interactions are happening to you and you can lose your sense of authority. But can you orient yourself to the idea that even in relationships of inherent power difference like with a supervisor, you still have self-authority to make decisions about how you will think, feel and conduct yourself? No one can take that away from you
- Maintain emotional distance though detachment. Even if you may have to interact with a particularly difficult person, can you set an internal boundary so that you are not becoming emotionally entangled with them? Sometimes this is easier said than done and takes some awareness and work. But finding ways to be emotionally disentangled allows difficult people to have less of an effect upon you.
- Don’t look for your needs to be met through these kinds of relationships. There are people in your life who are safe and much more capable of providing for your emotional and relational needs. There is a low potential that your needs will be met through people who do not have that capacity. This may be difficult to accept when the difficult person in your life is a parent or someone who desire something from.
- Okay, a more challenging step: Can you take responsibility for your part in the dynamic? If you find yourself with self-important people over and over again, it might be time to explore what draws these types of people to you. What in your past do you need to resolve to put this dynamic to rest and invite a new and healthier type of relationship into your life? The more you let go of your emotional investment in these relationships, the less difficult people will have a hold on you.
- Limit the amount of time you spend around these people by setting external boundaries around your time and energy. Or at least don’t spend more time than is necessary. Conversely, spend more time with the people who inspire you and give you life. Nourish yourself with relationships that feed you.
- Once you leave the interaction with the difficult person in your life, recognize that you might need to detoxify from any residual negative effects you are still carrying. Let it go and come back to yourself and your reality. Don’t inadvertently stay in their psyche and worldview.