How to deal with difficult people

No matter how wonderful your life is, it's impossible to avoid difficult people. These unpleasant folks may be your neighbors, coworkers, family, clients, boss or even your partner. Regardless of who they are, how are you going to get along with them? You can't just blow them off and run away (they have a way of finding you). You need to find ways to make peace with them, no matter how stupid, obnoxious or unpleasant they are. Here are some ways to start:

Know Yourself: Take some time and figure out what kind of people drive you "crazy", e.g., who in your life can really push your buttons? These Pain-In-The-Ass people (I call them "PITAs") are your triggers. When you notice one of your PITAs is triggering you, what can you do? How can you avoid being a "victim" of someone else's lousy unhappiness?

Watch Your Body: Most of us feel stress/tension/worry when we're around our PITAs. Notice what happens to your body when you're around them. Where does the stress and tension show up? Imagine that you're talking with your least favorite person in the world: notice what's going on in your body. Where do you feel physical sensations? Many of us, when we're around difficult people, feel our shoulders and necks get rigid. Often we "stuff" our anger/frustration in our stomach. Some of us lock our jaws or tighten up our eyes. We all have our own ways of how our bodies react to the PITAs in our life. We can use this to change how we habitually respond to them.

PITAs at Work: Our private lives are usually easier to control, but what about our work life? At work, we're often stuck dealing with difficult people, whether they're customers, coworkers or supervisors. While you're at work, what can you do to help yourself handle your PITAs more easily? Get some physical exercise before you come to work, during breaks or at lunch. Hit the gym on the way to work, take a walk around the building during a break or go for a brisk stroll at lunch. After a challenging day at work, when you get home, do something fun and/or relaxing, e.g., play with your pets or your kids, do a little yoga, meditation, prayer, hang out in nature, listen to music you like, enjoy some gardening or reading. While at work, limit your caffeine and sugar intake and you'll have fewer emotional ups and downs. When not at work, limit alcohol: it messes up deep sleep patterns so that - the next day - your PITAs can easily irritate you. At lunchtime, notice what foods make you sleepy or groggy and which ones leave you alert and energized when you're back at your desk. Before you leave for work, eat something for breakfast. It's not good to go to work on an empty stomach: you're more likely to be moody and let a difficult person get to you. All day long: drink lots of water: it gets electrolytes to your brain and helps you think more clearly: a good skill to have when dealing with your PITAs.

Watch your Self-Talk: What do you tell yourself when someone obnoxious starts to piss you off? Imagine a situation where you've been insulted by a difficult client. Got it? Now try these 3 steps to change your self-talk: • Notice what you're thinking ("All my clients are morons".) • Stop thinking that thought (think "Delete" or "Erase") • Substitute another thought in the same vein that is positive or at least neutral ("I can handle a few difficult clients". Or "Most of my clients are good people. This too will pass.")

Your Ideal Relaxation Place (IRP): Here's a secret weapon in the war against the PITAs: Close your eyes and visualize the most peaceful place you've ever been. What it was like? Really experience it with all your senses; feel as if you're really there. This place - your Ideal Relaxation Place (IRP) - is your secret weapon against difficult people. Your IRP is always there when you need it, because it's all in your mind. You can go there any time you need to escape from those evil PITAs. If you have 10 seconds, you can go there quickly. If you have 20-30 seconds, even better. Problems with sleeping: If you don't sleep well, you're more vulnerable to people pushing your buttons. Here are some suggestions for getting a good night's sleep: Avoid intense exercise or eating within 3 hours of sleep time. Don't watch the news or read newspapers at this time either: you don't want to take those "death, doom & disaster" thoughts to sleep with you.

If you're physically tense, a hot bath with Epson salts helps your muscles relax. Take good care of yourself: We really do have a choice in how we respond to difficult people; we're not helpless little victims. Knowing yourself and taking good care of yourself minimizes how much your PITAs will be able to push your buttons and piss you off. By watching how your body reacts to difficult people and being aware of the food and drink you put in it, you'll have more control over what you used to think were "automatic" or "gut" reactions to all those annoying people in your life. Try the IRP visualization when someone annoys you and do your best to minimize negative self-talk. Aim for improvement, not perfection: No one's perfect: we all lose it now and then. Don't beat yourself up if you get irritated at one of your PITAs. Instead, forgive yourself, apologize (if necessary) and get back on track. Eventually, fewer and fewer people will be able to drive you "crazy" and those pain-in-the-ass people will start to leave you alone because they'll no longer get a reaction out of you. They'll start to bother other people instead, and you'll no longer feel like a "victim" of anyone else's lousy mood/day/life. Some people call this "happiness." Check it out.

Michael Kimmel is a psychotherapist in San Diego, Calif. His website Life Beyond Therapy assists individuals and couples in their continued growth and development.

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