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Healthy Living - Dealing with Difficult People

We all have some people in our lives that we can get along with very well and easily. And, likewise, we all have some people in our lives that are considerably more challenging and difficult to deal with. Today we will explore some of the symptoms and traits of difficult people and also learn some effective ways to handle these types of people in our lives.

First of all, make a list of 4 or 5 people who have made your life difficult throughout the years and reflect on why you do not care for these people.

Here are a few symptoms to help you to determine if you are dealing with a difficult person:

Emotional Symptoms:

  1. Are you in a bad mood after being around the person?
  2. Do you feel tense or nervous around this person?
  3. Do you feel that this person constantly puts you down or belittles you?
  4. Do you feel emotional relief when you are away from this person?

Behavioral Symptoms:

  1. Do you drink more than usual or take drugs after being around this person?
  2. Do you find yourself overeating or not eating at all when you are or have been around this person?
  3. Do you plan ways to avoid this person?
  4. Do you have the urge to punch or do bodily harm to the person at times?

Physical Symptoms:

  1. Does the person give you a headache?
  2. Do you feel nauseous when you are with the person or afterwards?
  3. Do you cringe whenever you are around the person?
  4. Do you develop skin blotches or hives from being around the person?

Communication Symptoms:

  1. Is the person condescending to you?
  2. Does the sound of his/her voice repel you?
  3. Do you use foul language around this person?
  4. Do you find yourself taking issue with everything the person says?

Next, make a list of 3 or 4 negative characteristics that your difficult people possess. For instance, they may be overbearing, condescending, abusive, aggressive, etc. Then, compare your lists for each of your difficult people and see how many negative traits each of these people have in common.

Once you have a good idea about the traits that the difficult people in your life display towards you, then the next thing to do is to learn some effective techniques to better handle these people. Here are a few approaches that you can use to help you to deal with the toxic people in your life:

1) The Tension-Blowout Technique:

This technique enables you to return to a peaceful state and maintain your calm when under attack from a toxic person. It is accomplished through measured breathing and visualization. Simply follow the instructions below:

  1. Breathe in through your mouth for 2 seconds
  2. Hold onto that breath for 3 seconds, as you think of the toxic person.
  3. Keep thinking of the person as you literally blow him/her out of your system with all of your might, until you have run out of air.
  4. Then stop for 2 seconds and do not breathe.
  5. Repeat steps 1 through 4 until, by recalling the toxic actions and words and blowing out, you completely eject this person and their negativity from your system.
  6. Finally, take a big breath in through your mouth, filling up your lungs and exhale normally.

2) The Direct Confrontation Technique:

This technique prevents you from becoming a victim and let others know that you are on to their games. In directly confronting someone, it is essential that you project your voice so that you can be heard and speak in a well-modulated tone. You can use emotion in your voice to make an impression of conviction and confidence.

3) Give Them Love and Kindness Technique:

This technique is designed to help the toxic persons low self-esteem. It enables them to feel important and valued which is what most toxic individuals really want. In using this technique, it is important to keep in mind that no matter how ugly, nasty, or hateful-sounding a person is toward you, you must never lose your cool. You must be calm, use soothing and friendly tones, and you must smile. When the going gets rough, try to remember how much pain that person must be inhow empty and unloved they must be feeling inside and how much self-loathing underlies such actions. You need to let toxic people know that you are not an enemythat you are on their side. You could remind them about their positive qualities and some of the successful contributions they have made to the office.

4) The Vicarious-Fantasy Technique:

This technique can help you to release tension by giving you a giggle or a laugh as you use your imagination. It can involve drawing ugly pictures of toxic people and mutilating them on paper. You can take their photo and draw horns or vampire teeth on them, or make them cross-eyed. You can rip up the drawing or photo, burn it, spit on it, stamp on it, all the time fantasizing what you would like to do to the person in the picture. However, you must never physically harm another person. The sheer fantasy should be enough to satisfy your revenge.

5) The Unplug Technique:

This technique should be reserved for the most severely toxic people, those with whom you can no longer deal. When you have tried every other technique to no avail, there is nothing you can do but let them go. Visualize yourself unplugging from them, as if from an electric socket. You need to become devoid of emotion regarding them. You completely let go and no longer care what happens to them. You dont wish them evil, and you dont wish them well either. You just let them out of your life for good and never look back. Ironically, you often have to unplug not because you dont like the person, but because you do. You may need to unplug as a form of tough love, where you set limits and let the person handle the situation. Then you wont end up becoming a co-dependent and contributing to toxic behavior.

Some of these techniques may be used more effectively with certain types of difficult people moreso than others. For instance, if you have a person that you simply cannot see eye-to-eye with at all, then you may want to try the Unplug technique to limit your exposure and subsequent frustration with that person. However, if your difficult person is one who suffers from a sense of very low self-esteem and looks to you for constant support and comfort, then you may want to try the Give Them Love and Kindness technique. It will be up to you to determine which of these approaches may be best to try for the most difficult people in your life.

Suggested References:
Bell amp; Smith (2004). Difficult People at Work. MJF Books: New York.
Crowley amp; Elster (2009). Working for You Isnt Working For Me. Penguin Group: New York.
Glass (1995). Toxic People. St. Martins Press: New York.

Questions or Comments? Please contact:

Sabra Jacobs
Professor of Psychology
sabra.jacobs@kctcs.edu
(606) 889-4778
Pike Building, room 209f
Prestonsburg Campus.