Capital Region Living Magazine


By Diane E. Lykes, LCSW

Transcending difficult people

Chances are you have encountered some pretty difficult people in your life. Whether it's your in-laws, your boss or your neighbor, you have probably been challenged to keep your cool in some emotionally intense situations.

Perhaps there were times when you took the bait and lost your cool with someone else. The truth is, we are all human and we all have emotions and egos to keep in check. Sometimes we become defensive, attack or even withdraw rather than using our gift of higher intelligence.

Unfortunately, when you allow the negativity of others to affect your own well-being, you have essentially handed your power over to them and allowed them too much control over your life.

Let's take a look at some of the ways you can begin transcending the moods and behavior of even the most difficult people in your life. 

It's not about you 

Some people never seem to grow up. When they are angry or frustrated, they have temper tantrums that would impress a two-year old. If you know someone who acts this way, it's really a reflection of his or her inner emotional state and has nothing to do with you. The person may blame you for their behavior, but ultimately we are all responsible for our own actions. 

It's very important to remind yourself that you may not have control over a person's mood or behavior, but you do have control over your reaction to them. When someone is ranting and raving, try your best not to take it personally. It's best to say, "I can see this isn't a good time to talk." As you walk away imagine all that negativity rolling off of you, leaving it where it belongs - with the other person.

Think twice before reacting

When we react strongly to a hurtful or sarcastic comment it is usually just our own ego coming out. Our egos thrive on conflict and our emotional health counts on us to keep our egos in check. When someone confronts or attacks us, initially it may feel satisfying to fight back. The problem is, it doesn't feel good in the long run. The deeper and more honorable part in all of us suffers and we become negative too. This feeling can spread to other areas of our lives as we carry negative energy with us throughout our day. Having an argument with your boss, for example, may impact how you relate to your partner or child at the end of the day. Practice the old adage: "Think before you speak". Allow yourself time to cool down before responding to a toxic email. When you feel a surge of anger come over you, wait until these feelings have passed before communicating with someone. When we behave in ways we can feel good about, we create a snowball affect. Our self-respect grows and so does our positive mood.

Stop talking about it

Although many people believe venting is helpful, it actually just adds fuel to the fire. If you have a contentious relationship with your ex, for example, spending your days talking about all the terrible things he/she did only hurts you more. The more we talk about how much we dislike someone, the more we will notice things about them that drive us crazy. The truth is, we are driving ourselves crazy by spending all this time thinking about them. If you find yourself complaining constantly about your boss, your ex or your children, STOP. It won't be easy at first and it takes practice, but each time you think about the ways in which you were "wronged" ask yourself, "Is it more important to be right or is it more important to have peace?"

Put yourself in their shoes

It certainly doesn't feel very good when you are feeling angry or frustrated Yet, when someone is angry or upset, they often get met with disdain from others. Often times, the angriest person is the most depressed or anxious person. For example, some forms of depression manifest in irritability versus sadness. Yet, it's difficult to get compassion from others when you are acting like a porcupine with sharp quills. Consider giving someone compassion or support when they have lost their temper. You may be very surprised how much they will appreciate this. In addition, your friends, co-workers and boss will respect your great diplomacy skills.

The 3 big questions to ask yourself

In her article on "Dealing with Difficult People" author Tina Su proposes asking yourself these questions before you react to a difficult person:

  1. "If I do not respond what is the worst thing that can result from it?"
  2. "If I do respond what is the worst thing that can result from it?"
  3. "Will a reaction to this person contribute to the things that matter most to me?"

When you are dealing with difficult people, your goal should always be to use your intellect over your emotions. In doing this, you will develop a response that represents your true self. Always ask yourself if having a conflict with this person is worth the potential risks/losses. It's important to be assertive and stand up for yourself, but it's also important to know when walking away is actually the wisest thing to do. 

Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation. She can be reached at 466.3100 or 






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