In an perfect world, everyone would be as sweet, fun and chill as your bestie from primary school. In reality, your life is full of all sorts of difficult personalities, from the toxic co-worker who keeps eating your lunch to a friend who continues to share inaccurate details of your life and then apologizes for doing it…..every.single.time. But, keeps on doing it (and apologizing). Here are 15 ways to deal with all of them.

  1. Turn off notifications on your phone. Unless the difficult person is your boss or a close family member, there’s no harm in clicking the “mute alerts” button to keep frantic texts and “crisis” calls from interrupting your day. If the salad bar ran out of olives and your sister-in-law is having a panic attack, there’s no reason it should interrupt your work meeting.

2. Take a deep breath. When you’re in the middle of a battle zone, you might find yourself getting tense and internalizing the stressful situation. Even a few seconds of deep breathing can help calm your fight or flight response. Harvard Medical School suggests escaping to a quiet room (hey, a closet will work in a pinch), then breathing in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise. Then, breathe slowly out of your mouth. Repeat for a minute, then calmly return to the conversation. Or, begin drinking….JK!

3. They are NOT going to change. Sure, it would be fabulous if your train-wreck friend from high school suddenly realized she’d been acting selfish and disrespectful for the last ten years. But chances are, unless they have a serious epiphany or get into some intense therapy (or both), things will remain exactly the same. Expect her to be an hour late—and instead of tapping your toes and looking at your watch, take your sweet time getting there and bring a great book to get lost in.

4. Try the “boring” method. This one’s especially good for narcissists and other toxic types. In a nutshell, you do your best to act as boring, uninteresting and unengaged as possible (even going so far as wearing “the boring” clothes). Eventually, they’ll get disinterested and move on.

5. Listen. Whether or not you’re actually listening is up to you. But often, difficult people just want someone to complain to, not an actual solution or feedback.

6. Shorten the visits. In six months, your cranky Aunt Mildred won’t remember if you spent the whole day with her, or just had a 45-minute lunch at her house. Stay present while you’re with her, but protect the rest of your time as much as possible.

7. Don’t get intense. When a difficult person raises his voice, it can be tempting to yell right back at them…and before you know it, you’re in the middle of a screaming match. Instead, maintain your composure and do your best not to react.

8. Back away for a minute. Difficult people love to make their problems your problems, and make you try to feel responsible. “Clearly define and remind yourself what is your concern and what is actually the toxic person’s concern, regardless of what they say to you,” suggests clinical psychologist Damon Ashworth.

9. Reality check here. Every so often (set an alarm on your phone if you need to), take a few moments to step away from the toxic environment and check in. How are you feeling? Do you need to take a deep breath? Is there anything else you could be doing to keep a healthy distance between you and the difficult person? Even a few seconds in your own head can help.

10. Focus on solutions. Your mother-in-law’s pipes froze, her roof is covered with ice and she needs her whole driveway shoveled. She’s capable of doing it herself, but she’d rather spend the rest of the day complaining to you about it. Instead, stick to the positive (without actually solving any of the problems for her)—give her the number for a plumber, get her shovel out of the garage for her and empower her to fix the issue on her own. This is a tough one….be prepared for resistance.

11. Have a stock answer for unsolicited advice. Your toxic friend thinks you should be raising your child vegan, and she brings it up incessantly every time you’re together. Instead of letting the conversation linger on, say, “you may be right,” and leave it at that. Works like a charm. You’re welcome!

12. Reward yourself – Big Time. You know what instantly relieves the stress of hanging out with a toxic person all day? An hour and a half-long massage. Treat yourself.

13. Vent to someone you trust. After spending an extended period of time dealing with a difficult person, it can sometimes be tough to get back to reality. Was it really rude and inappropriate of your sister to ask to borrow your car for two weeks, or are you just being overly sensitive? Confide in someone impartial (and trustworthy) to help set things straight.

14. Stick with vanilla topics and small talk. It’s sad that you can’t tell your cousin all about the weekend you spent wedding dress shopping, but you know she’s going to laugh when you say you picked out a mermaid gown and spend the next 20 minutes making fun of it. “Don’t say anything that will give them the opportunity to dump their negative opinions and judgements on you,” advises Gill Hasson, author of How to Deal with Difficult People. So when she asks you what you did this weekend, talk about something you watched on TV, or how cold the weather was. Boring, but it works.

15. Don’t reveal anything too personal. In a healthy relationship, it might be hilarious to reveal that time you got too drunk in college and ended up dancing on the bar in your bra. In a toxic relationship, however, your friend might use this information against you, telling your work colleagues, parents and friends (anyone who will listen really) in an attempt to embarrass you. Keep your cards close to your chest (and if you’re dating this jerk, get out of the relationship, asap).


xoxo, Rosanna
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