Saturday, November 13, 2010

Dealing With Difficult People

Into each life, it seems, a few difficult people must be sprinkled. Knowing how to spot them, and what to do with people who annoy ,or are toxic to you, is an important skill to develop. Effectively managing your relationship with difficult people can lower your sress level, cut the drama you experience, and keep your expectations in check. As the holiday season approaches, many people prepare to spend time with extended family. Sometimes the coming family togetherness brings warm feelings, but for others it means managing challenging personalities all gathered up at your house!

Here are some of the difficult people, profiled for your convenience. Just to be seasonal, let's picture them all around your Thanksgiving table. Got the picture? There are:

1.Negative Nancy-Everything is horrible. I hate turkey. I'm bored. My nose hurts.

2.The Energy Vampire-What can you do for me next?

3.The Critic-I'd give that pumpkin pie 2 points on a 10 point scale.It's not like Mom's.

4.The Dumper- Shall we sit down and talk some more about my problems?

5.Touchy, Touchy- I am easily hurt by everyone at any moment. Can you all walk on eggshells please?

6.Mr. Perfect- I can never ever apologize, because I have very little insight, a big ego, and I prefer to blame others rather than look at my part in any situation.

7.The Bully- And for my next act, I think I will intimidate everyone else here for the holiday, because I like to run the show.

8.Miss Fussy-Is there butter in that? I can't eat butter! Can't we have some other kind of vegetable? I don't do peas.

9.Scrooge- I can't possibly contribute anything to this gathering. I hate holidays and get-togethers. Bah Humbug. Can't wait until it's over, and I can crawl back in my hole.

10.Misbehaving- Don't mind me, I'll just be here telling inappropriate and off-color jokes.

We could go on and on, but you get the idea. It is helpful to identify the challenging people in your life, and rehearse a strategy for coping with them. First,
anticipate the contact. Make a plan. Can you manage the contact in some way that you keep it light, use humor to diffuse the difficult person, or put space between you? I have often encouraged my patients, over the years, to rechoreograph gatherings with difficult family members in a new way. Can you meet at a restaurant, so noone does dishes, and you can leave and not feel trapped? Can you go for a walk before or after the meal? Can you organize a card game or board game that will redirect the conversation in a lighter direction? Can you organize an activity or outing that gives everyone something else to focus on?

Perhaps your difficult person is at work, or is your spouse. Don't give up your personal power. The size of our character is determined by the size of the things that upset us. See if you can find ways to step away from someone who is frothing at the mouth with toxic content. Keep a sense of humor. Acknowledge their point and change your focus to someone else. Seat yourself next to people you enjoy at get-togethers. Shift the placecards if needed.(I give you permission.) Move about to find someone who makes you laugh or lifts you up! Smile and step away from toxic people, knowing that prolonged exposure will bring you down.

When necessary, set your own boundaries. We are each responsible for training other people how we want to be treated. We are allowed to not answer some questions, not share everything, not feel close or safe with some people. You can be nice and move along. Seek out YOUR people.

Have realistic expectations for the difficult people in your life. Preplan options for handling expected bad behavior, and keeping your own sanity and grace. I always like having choices, because it takes you out of a childlike or helpless role and makes you an active participant about how you wish to deal with toxic people and behaviors. You will feel proud of yourself for not letting the bad guys win.

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