Need help dealing with difficult people? Tips and advice on how change our relating patterns.
We all have that one person or personality type that fills us with anxiety or with anger.
“That one boss just fills me with “dread”. If they say anything to me again I’m going to burst into tears. That type of domineering person just makes me feel that small.”
“I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t stand them, the way they say things, how they go on! I don’t know why but it hurts to be around them”.
Sometimes in the heat of the moment it can feel like other people have power over how we feel. They either fill us with an intense fear, or we dislike them so much it’s hard to handle.
The Magic of Two!:
The dynamics between any two people are so fascinating to watch and observe because that interaction is unique in all the interactions that any humans have had in history.
Let me explain. We are all unique beings. Our biology, our upbringings, our individual minds all make it so that each of us in the only version of us that exists in this reality.
That goes for other people too. Therefore, adding two unique elements together we create something entirely new that can’t exist without those exact two elements. The same in groups of people.
Now we may say oh, but that couple is just like say Sonny and Cher, is like Brad and J-Lo or is like Laurel and Hardy, but they may only appear that way on a superficial level. If we scratch deeper then we will see that they may have 10% obvious similarity, yet 90% difference. Different internal worlds, different interactions and different patterns.
Nemesis or Frenemy:
But sometimes in interactions we find ourselves responding to people in a very negative way. We might be from one part of town and find people from the other part of town annoying.
But when it becomes that another person has a high level of power to unsettle us we may need to ask what is going on within us dealing with difficult people?
I say within us because everything that we experience, every emotion, thoughts, sensation and premonition we feel is within our uniqueness. I could show the same movie to a room of 10 people and get 10 completely different experiences/reactions from the same event.
What is happening in us that this one person or certain type of people would cause us such difficulty?
Transference – Anxious, deferential, fearful of people:
Human’s base a lot of their personalities and relating style on foundational experiences and relationships. We also inform our styles based on experiences in childhood, mostly from when we are young.
The raw experiences that we have endured become encoded into us and we learn behaviour and coping mechanisms from these experiences.
These unconscious defence mechanisms that we employ lie in wait long after we have need for them. They lie waiting for someone to come and trip over them. This can take place when someone unconsciously reminds us of someone from the past.
At an unconscious level we can be triggered to treating them as if they were that original relationship. The classic example of this might be the mother like boss whose criticism cuts us like a knife. This cuts us so deeply because of the unconscious mechanism being triggered.
Transference tends to take place in relationships like ones in which some important need was not met. If our father never gave us enough attention perhaps now we seek it from older men. If a confident big sister never had any time for us, perhaps women like that make us feel needy and attention seeking.
A bad experience of being given out to as a child can make us over sensitive to criticism in general. It is all transferencial and comes from our original experience shaping the lenses through which we view things. This makes thing that may be benign to others seem very scary and threatening to us.
Transference can also be positive too remember. Anyone who’s ever been treated like son or daughter, or like a wise sage figure by someone, but not known exactly why may have experienced this positive transference.
Disliking people – Orphans:
Transference as above can make us angry. But another sub type of transference that I love to talk about in sessions is that of “orphans”. When we carry an intense dislike or suspicion of someone, but don’t exactly have the best reasons for that then we might be dealing with someone who demonstrates one or more of our “orphans”.
An orphan is any part of ourselves that we have disavowed, disowned or cut off. To see those traits in others can drive us crazy. But a cut off what now?
All through life many of us will have needed to discipline ourselves and sometimes curve parts of ourselves to get what we want. What we want might be success, love from our parents or even just to stay alive!
To be a success for example we might have had to cut the part of ourselves that just wanted to relax, travel or be free spirited. To make it easier to reject these things we cut of these urges and supress them. Then though what often happens is that if we see them in others they bug the hell out of us!
In the example of getting love from our parents maybe we learn that we must be unemotional, well behaved or silent to be loved. Maybe when were small to be anything but meant getting no love or support? In that case we might have cut off our emotions, but then! When we see someone looking for attention, getting emotional or being needy it might make us angry.
For the example of just staying alive we must remember that in some places people can’t be who they are for fear of imprisonment and death. I think of those around the world who must supress their sexuality for fear of what it might bring.
The utter rejection of a part of ourselves in that case might mean repugnance at seeing that in others. The self-hating Jew, Muslim, Christian also springs to mind.
The thing is though that no matter how much we disgrace and divide ourselves, our true self is always there. The other person is just a reminder of that split and so it is little wonder that our unconscious reacts with hostility towards them.
Us or them:
In these unconscious scenarios it might be easy to even adopt the fallacy of change for dealing with difficult people that I spoke about a few weeks ago and think that well if only these people change then my life will be easier.
Sorry, but think again! If this we think this person or these people are causing the problems, then we better be prepared because 1. They are not doing it on purpose 2. we are far from innocent here and play a part and 3. if we don’t change the next somewhat similar person in our life is going to come along and the cycle starts again.
Every combination of people is different, but if we haven’t changed then we will seek out, find and transfer our stuff onto the next “perp” who vaguely fits transference or orphan the description.
Believe me I’ve done it too. For years women over the age of 40 used to send me crawling back into myself. I link it now to my mothers’ friends who used to be around at church services I was obliged to attend.
Older women gave me problems. I had no confidence, I had no assertiveness. Not great when I might be working with them or even trying to help them. It took a long hard look in therapy to change myself so that now they hold no difficulties for me.
It takes work on ourselves, not on others to overcome these issues.
A curse or a guide?:
As hard as this is in the moment, I try now to remember that those who come to challenge me now are sent to help me in the future. By getting under my skin they are teaching me about myself and giving me a golden opportunity to change who I am for the better. To become whole again.
Emotions and anger also were a challenge for me! Thankfully no longer, or I’d be leaving the therapy profession soon! But confronting these cut off parts and finding them again, nothing can be more liberating.
Finding out that we are the boss of our own happiness and that we meet our own needs for approval. What could be more exhilarating than being self-sufficient in this way!
It means that nobody from our past, present or future can control us emotionally! Wouldn’t that be nice? Resolving the struggles of the past so that they don’t repeat in the future and present in relationships isn’t easy.
But what thing worth doing is supposed to be? All I can say is that it does get easier and then those people who used to terrify or enrage us they start getting a better deal too.
We see them for who they really are. Just another human like us. It doesn’t mean they become our best friend! But it does mean they lose that negative influence that we bestowed them with in the first place!
Therapy is a great way to get to the bottom of these questions and at Anxiety Ireland, we have a team of accredited psychotherapists who work helping thousands of people with anxiety every year.
If curious about anxiety please feel free to visit our website, take our anxiety quiz or get anxiety help. On this page we will continue to write about Anxiety and related topics. We are always happy to answer messages to our page or I am happy to take calls/text to see how I can help: 087 063 0948.
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Team Anxiety Ireland
Anxiety is a merry-go-round, going nowhere fast, it’s ok to step off.