Guilt Trippers…Control Freaks…Anger Addicts…more
When faced with difficult behavior at work or with family and friends, most people tend to revert to automatic reactions. They cave in…get defensive or aggressive…or dig in their heels and refuse to budge.
None of these reactions produces satisfying results, but they are the only alternatives most of us are aware of.
A more effective way to deal with difficult people is to surrender—to let go of the need to control a situation and let go of the illusion that you can compel someone to change. Surrendering means accepting a person or situation as is—if you have done everything possible to create change and nothing is budging. This is very different from caving in, which means giving up your needs simply to make peace without any effort to try to create positive change.
This may sound surprising. Many people equate surrender with defeat or weakness. However, surrender is not the same as failure or defeat. It takes great strength of character.
Surrender is an active choice to accept what life brings you, to be flexible rather than rigid and to see past a momentary block to a greater breakthrough beyond. Surrendering allows you to let go of overthinking and second-guessing.
Surrender doesn’t come naturally to most people. It needs to be learned and practiced.
Surrendering is easier to do when you are only mildly stressed. With practice, you can learn to let go even in more challenging encounters. Simple ways to practice…
Drink a glass of water or juice—slowly. Savor the sensation of quenching your thirst. Enjoy the fact that there is nothing you have to do but sip and be refreshed.
Take a deep breath. Inhale deeply, and then release your breath fully. This counteracts the stress-induced impulse to clench muscles and breathe shallowly, both of which increase resistance and tension.
Change what you say to yourself. Any time you notice yourself dwelling on regrets about the past or fears about the future, bring yourself back to the present. Say, I can handle the here and now. I don’t have to worry about three weeks ago or 10 years from now.
Observe water. Watch the water in a fountain or creek. Notice how water doesn’t keep bumping into the same boulder over and over again—it flows around the obstacle. Water can teach you how to flow.
Appreciate your body’s natural joyful responses. Let out a hearty laugh. Put on your favorite music, and dance around the living room. Don’t choke off those urges—enjoy them.
Let yourself feel awe. Look up at the night sky, and notice the vastness of the galaxy and universe around you. Like a child, allow yourself to surrender to this mystery and awe.
In most cases, difficult people aren’t trying to make your life miserable—they are just preoccupied with their own frustrations and needs. Guidelines for dealing with difficult behavior…
Pause. If you feel yourself getting angry or tense, don’t say anything. Let go of the urge to express your immediate reaction. Instead, take a few slow breaths to calm your stress. Count to 10 or 20 if it helps you postpone action.
Listen without interrupting. When we are upset about what someone is saying, we typically want to cut the person off in order to stop our discomfort and express our disagreement or anger. However, interruption just escalates hostility. Let go of the need to direct the discussion. Hear the other person out.
Exception: If the person is being verbally abusive, cut off the abuse at once. Verbal abuse includes personal attacks that target your worth—such asYou’re a terrible mother or You can’t do anything right. In cases like these, break in and set boundaries in a calm voice. Example: “That kind of statement is unacceptable. If you continue like this, I will leave the room.”
Don’t argue. You may have the strong desire to state all the evidence that shows you are right, but defensiveness in charged situations doesn’t change anyone’s mind—it just fuels the conflict.
Empathize. Make a genuine effort to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. People who behave badly are suffering in some way. This doesn’t excuse their behavior, but once you recognize that they are trying to avoid pain or anxiety, letting go becomes easier.
Be willing to concede a point. Even if you agree with only 1% of what the person is saying, acknowledge that point of agreement. You can say, “That’s a good point, and I’m going to think about it.”
Also be willing to apologize for your own difficult behavior. Example: “I’m sorry I snapped at you. I didn’t act with love.” Too many relationships disintegrate because no one will give ground. Let go of the need to protect your turf. Look at the larger picture—which is more important, this battle or the relationship?
Use a pleasant, neutral tone. No matter how carefully you choose your words, they will get you nowhere if your voice has an edge of irritation, condescension or sarcasm. Practice a neutral tone by role-playing with a friend until you are able to keep the edge out of your voice.
Three Difficult Types
Here’s how to deal with three common types of difficult people…
- The Guilt Tripper: Blamers and martyrs activate your insecurity to get what they want. Their sentences often start with, “If it weren’t for you…”or “I’m the only one…” What to do…
Be compassionate with yourself. When you feel bad about any area of your life, work on being compassionate with yourself. By understanding your own guilt triggers, you will be better able to keep your balance when someone tries to activate them.
Make a matter-of-fact statement. Tell guilt trippers that those comments hurt your feelings and that you would be grateful if they would stop making them. If you don’t get emotional, most guilt trippers will lose interest in baiting you.
- The Control Freak: Control freaks micromanage, give unsolicited advice, voice strong opinions relentlessly and are rarely satisfied. What to do…
Let go of needing the controller to see things your way. Don’t try to control a controller or win over the person to your way of thinking—it’s a waste of time. Say, “Thank you for your input. I’ll take it into consideration” or “I value your advice, but I want to work through this myself.”
Be patient. Control freaks don’t give up easily, so repetition is key. Continue to be calm and pleasant even when you have to repeat the aforementioned statements many times.
- The Anger Addict: Rage-aholics intimidate by accusing, yelling or cursing. What to do…
Let go of the impulse to cower or to lash out in return. The more impulsively you react to someone else’s rage, the more you reinforce the anger addict’s aggressive behavior. Even if you are upset, stay as neutral as you can. Get centered before you respond.
Use imagery. Picture a martial artist who finds a balanced, grounded stance and then transforms the opponent’s energy by flowing with the person’s movements instead of resisting them. Imagine that the person’s anger can flow right through you and that you are breathing the anger out with every breath.
If the anger addict is your boss, acknowledge the person’s point of view. Say, “I can see why you would feel that way.” Then bring the discussion back to a solution focus. Say in a calm tone, “I have a different take that I’d like to share” or “That’s fine—tell me what you need, and I’ll do it.”
Look for another job if you can, because being the recipient of chronic anger takes a physical and mental toll. In the meantime—or if changing jobs is not possible—remind yourself that the rage is about the other person, not you.
If the anger addict is a spouse or family member, set limits. Say, “Your anger is hurting me. We have to find a better way to communicate” or “I care about you, but I shut down when you raise your voice. Let’s talk about this when we can hear each other better.” Later, when you are both calm, request a small, doable change.
Example of a small, doable change: “When we are in the midst of a disagreement, I propose that we each wait five seconds before saying anything. Would you be willing to try that?”
If the person doesn’t try to change, observe how your health is affected. You may need to let go of the relationship to protect your well-being.