1. You have a choice.
You may not have power over whether or not this person is in your life, but you do have power over how you let them affect you. Challenging though it may be to navigate the land mine of a volatile personality, you don’t have to let them make you miserable. How you react to another person’s energy is your choice – just as how they treat you is theirs.
It’s an unfortunate fact that at some point in our lives we’re all going to come into contact with particularly difficult personalities. Whether it’s the colleague who cannot stop criticizing, the consistently negative friend or the family member who’s getting a little bit senile in their old age, we are not always able to cut these people cleanly out of our lives. Here’s what we all need to keep in mind as we struggle to strike a balance in supporting these characters.
2. People will take as much from you as they can get.
Difficult people do not understand boundaries – or at the least they choose not to abide by them. In either case, they will take as much from you as you are willing to give them. Which means you cannot let them decide what amount is reasonable to take. It’s an unfortunate truth that many people will simply bleed you dry for as long as you enable them to do so. You have to be the one to draw the line.
3. Showing works better than telling.
Regardless of how articulate you are, some demands are always going to fall on deaf ears. And this is often the case with difficult people: Respect is not a language that they intuitively understand. You have to illustrate what respect means to you by refusing to engage in situations where you are not given it. Regardless of how inconvenient this makes things for a while, it yields results. Direct action-and-consequence responses serve as unmistakable communication tools when basic social etiquettes are being ignored.
4. You are not the problem.
Difficult people have an uncanny knack for making others feel as though they are the cause of their misery. It is vital to keep in mind that no one person is entirely responsible for anyone else’s pain, nor are they accountable for relieving it. When we take steps to support someone else we are always only adding to their lives. Another person’s suffering should never feel like a debt that you’re responsible for paying down.
5. You only have power over yourself.
There is nothing you can do to change a difficult person – regardless of how patient, helpful or strict you are with them. Their worldview has been shaping for years before you ever walked into their lives, and the intricacies of that perspective are not easily undone. The only person you have power over is yourself – your own reactions, your own motivations and your own resilience. How you react to difficult people is an expression of your own character – just as how they treat you is an unmistakable expression of theirs.