How to Cope with Difficult People

Are there people who emotionally impinge on you and push your buttons? What they say or do is only their own opinion or intention, yet somehow you can buy into their projected notion and even take ownership of it to the point of reacting as if actually does define you. 

These reactions can vary from simply internalising what has been said or implied through to projecting outwards on to others and other situations. Both arise out of taking on the projected translations. The former category of people supress the impact and endure the uncomfortable emotions along with the self-defining and self-limiting labels they apply to themselves as a result. Generally these are in line with the same labels put out during criticism. The latter try to silence the effects of the disparagement using external assault that can be verbal or physical, often with great hostility and invariably heaping the same type of blame on others that they received themselves.

It is a subject close to my heart, having endured constant criticism from a family member throughout my life, which can still continue to this day. This is irrespective of the number of times I have confronted them on the unacceptability of it. Yet despite this, I have learnt to distance from it and so can you.

Why do people have such a need to deliver overt criticism and behave like this towards others? Invariably they have experienced this type of behaviour from others or undergone a good share of unfairness. Yet even though they don’t like it and do not feel it is right to be treated this way, they have somehow become so accustomed and hardwired to the behavioural algorithm that they have internalised it into their own default pattern. Not everybody does this though. There are many who focus constructively on received negativity and offset it with extreme effort to adopt a counter-approach that is positive.

Also, it appears some people, however hard they may try (or perhaps they don’t!), seem unable to change their behaviour, even when it is made all too clear that what they are doing is totally inappropriate. You can witness this on many occasions, particularly in the media. Such instances can be people who have had injunctions taken out on them, with the threat of criminal repercussions should they break that injunction, yet some compelling force seems to totally prevent them from meeting that requirement. 

Once a pattern is established it gets installed and, as you well know, anything done habitually is hard to change. If what you are doing serves an inner purpose, you will generally only look to change once the pain arising from the problem of your actions is greater than pain arising out of the effort of change.

So it’s no good waiting around for the person who is pushing your buttons to change. You can ask them or attempt to compel them. You can even get others to try and do the same. They may or may not change as a result but whatever their decision, ultimately it will be down to them. Therefore if your efforts don’t bring about a resolution, you will need to take other steps to eliminate the power of these people.

There are many of you currently living with the fallout from those with whom you associate regularly. What can you do about it?

At this point it’s important to consider whether what has been said is hurtful or helpful. Some criticism is constructive and designed to support you, however this is done in a different tone and looks to offer solutions. What is being focused on in this blog does not belong in this genre.

Firstly, understand that even if there is an element of truth in it, and often there isn’t, negative criticism points out what you can’t do; it never focuses on what you can do or on providing an alternative as to how to do it. Therefore don’t let destructive comments define you. Appreciate you are so much more than what has been levelled at you and you have many capabilities, perhaps even more than the accuser! 

Often denigration of this nature does erode you and, without realising it, you begin to define yourself by it, sometimes subtly and only at an unconscious level – you consciously do not accept it as the truth, yet when your buttons are pushed your subconscious acknowledgement of the negative labels creates a reaction. If there were absolutely no absorption of the critical statements at any level of conscious, they would not have the ability to personally dent you in this way.

Consequently it is vital to recognise you are not your thoughts; nor your feelings; nor your behaviour. You may even manage to grasp this, yet still notice your thoughts, feelings or behaviours are not in line with whom you truly are. If so, change them and model them on the person you want and believe yourself to be. 

Additionally, with all unjustified criticism, appreciate the problem lies with the critic. Don’t take ownership of their problem to let it become yours as well. This means seeing the full picture clearly, which cannot be done if your mind becomes fogged through absorbing someone putting you down. Thus you need to learn how to step out of the situation and not react. Buy yourself some time to bring back clarity of thought and maintain your self-worth.

Another key point is to understand that the critic has a debility concerning this part of their personality that compels them to project in this way. If you had just walked into a room and were immediately told by a blind person that your hairstyle looked terrible, how much truth and value would you lend to that opinion? Yet you give power to someone who's logic is obscured.

It is really important to focus on generating the right perspective. Don’t get embroiled in defending yourself to your protagonist, it only gives them more fuel to continue attacking you. Consider how you can best extract yourself from the situation to diffuse its impact? If you were your best friend, what support and advice would you give yourself? Take yourself more lightly. Learn to reflect on all the numerous positive qualities you possess. 

While it’s often easy to comprehend advice as detailed above and even to acknowledge the solutions and commit to carrying them out, often it can be hard to actually do so. This is where professional personal development and therapy such as that offered by can reduce the impact of anxiety and low self-esteem, as well as providing you with the catalyst to make that effective change.


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