6 Ways to Maintain Your Integrity When Dealing with Difficult People

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“Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours.”

Dave Willis

Sometimes it can seem like there are difficult people everywhere—especially in your own family. When dealing with difficult or stubborn people, it’s easy to feel powerless, not knowing how to handle yourself around them. It might seem easier to just avoid talking to them or try cutting them out of your life completely, especially if being around them creates anxiety in you. However, as you may know by now, it’s not that easy. Many times, we come into contact with people in situations we don’t have control over, like when dealing with co-workers, family members, classmates, etc.

If you think about it, family members are often the hardest to deal with, because they’re connected to us in a different way than anyone else. With difficult colleagues, neighbors, or friends, you may have to deal with them for a shorter period of time; it might be easier to take things less personally or remove yourself from the situation. With family, however, it’s common to feel pressured to connect or get along. Your relationships with individual family members affect other family members and your family system as a whole. So when you don’t like being around a certain difficult family member, it inevitably puts stress not only on you, but on other family relationships as well.

So what do you do when you have to interact with people who seem impossible to get along with? People you prefer not to interact with, but are kind of pushed to deal with because they’re family?

1. Accept them as they are.

You might be thinking, “What??! How do I accept this rude and annoying person as they are?” Listen, I understand how tempting it is to try to help someone you want to like. It makes sense to want to change them so that you can feel better around them. However, our efforts to change other people often go unappreciated and unrewarded. Trying to fix someone or make their life better may become a burden, because the more you do for them, the more they end up wanting from you. If you accept them as they are, you’ll save yourself wasted time and energy fighting a battle that isn’t yours. Unless they ask you, and you see real change taking place, you can bet on the fact that their behavior is what it always will be. It’s important for you, not them, to accept things as they are.

2. Stay in the moment.

Okay, so this person makes your blood boil. You can feel it physically before you even pick up the phone. This person is always followed by drama, and nothing is ever their fault. Try to prevent getting pulled into the theatrics; or you’ll end up getting just as worked up as they are. You won’t get anywhere with someone who never sees how they contribute to their own issues. Stay true to yourself, grounded in your own integrity, while understanding that they have the right to their opinions, too. Be objective and present. Stay focused on responding instead of reacting. If you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, know your limits and end the conversation.

3. Allow people to speak, even if you don’t agree.

Allow your opinionated cousins to speak their mind. Get curious about why they believe what they do. Why do they feel so justified in their anger or victimhood? The idea is to practice managing yourself around these people by remaining as neutral as possible. Just hearing them out—instead of trying to ignore them or argue back—may be enough to allow them to feel like they’re truly being heard. Become an objective reporter. Showing respect for another’s differences is one of the most mature things you can do. Plus, you can learn how to engage with people even if you don’t agree with them—and that’s real freedom.

4. Pay attention to topics that trigger you.

Listen, we all have topics we’re passionate about, and it can be hard to hear someone speak about something they know nothing about. Know your trigger topics, and become aware of yourself when something brings them up in conversation. I personally get especially triggered when people who aren’t mental health professionals go around labeling and diagnosing people. You’ll be surprised how many people think they know more about human behavior than I do, just because they read an article online. When confronted with this topic, I become triggered almost instantly. But knowing this, I can prepare myself to either address the issue directly, without getting angry, or change the subject if I can’t manage my stress level.

5. Know that it’s more about them than it is about you.

It can be hard not to take things personally, especially when you feel attacked or misunderstood. However, if someone is being confrontational, it’s usually in reaction to their own issues, biases, or triggers. Some people have a tough time seeing others’ points of view; they have a need to always be right and can seem arrogant at times. It’s important for you to know that those behaviors usually stem from their own insecurities. You aren’t responsible for how others interpret your actions; you’re only responsible for how you treat people.

6. Put yourself first.

While you want to be mindful of others as much as you can, you don’t want to lose yourself just to make someone else happy or satisfied. You especially don’t want to ignore your needs to keep the peace. When it gets to the point that you always have to put others first, your own wellbeing starts to suffer. Think about your boundaries, and be firm with the territory between you and difficult people. If anyone violates your space, continue to express your boundaries, even if they get upset with you about it.

I understand how hard it is to be around people who seem to be very difficult. You might not like yourself when you’re around them. You might find yourself feeling snappy, on edge, and annoyed. That’s not a comfortable place to be. As much as possible, surround yourself with people you get along with—people who care about you and make time together a peaceful experience. Then, whenever you find yourself in those challenging moments with difficult people, remember that you’re only responsible for your maintaining your integrity and managing yourself. Accept those people as the beautifully difficult individuals they are, and understand that they might be fighting their own battles.

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Talk soon,

Dr. Ilene

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