Whether it’s your hypercritical parent, your hostile roommate, or your controlling sister - it can feel impossible to get along with certain folks! Let’s assume that for now this difficult person is going to be in your life. How might you improve your interactions with this person to stay out of the toxic zone?
An important key to remember is that if you become reactive with a reactive person you are almost guaranteed to make the situation more volatile. You risk the emotions of everyone involved spiraling out of control. And you greatly reduce your chances of getting what you need and want. Of course when your sister is raising her voice and speaking in a mean-spirited way, it’s not easy to remain calm and centered. Reactivity can be contagious! It may feel good in the moment to shout back and say something hurtful, but this rarely contributes to the ongoing relationship and fallout from an escalation may create a large rift that is very hard to recover from.
When you find yourself feeling reactive and on the edge of losing your control- SHAKE UP THE DIRECTION OF THE CONVERSATION. This could be as minor as changing the subject or as large as stating that the conversation is moving into unhealthy territory and it's time to stop for now so you both can calm down.
Model and Stick to Boundaries for Acceptable Behavior
Pick a time when you both are calm and state your intention that you would like to get along and have a positive relationship. Then offer specific suggestions using neutral language that focus on behaviors and not the person. For example, if you wilt when your roommate sends verbal barbs about not cleaning the hair from the bathtub, acknowledge that you sometimes forget and will set a weekly reminder to help you remember. Also state that it is very painful when she shouts insults at you and you need to step away from future conversations that stoop to this level.
Reframe the Disagreement
If the person you are dealing with has a very strong ego or has repeatedly been difficult to reach agreements with, try a different course of action. Enlist a trusted friend or co-worker to help you brainstorm what is most important to your difficult person. It may stretch your sense of justice to cater to the needs of the difficult person but try to focus on the bottom line result- what actions, options, and methods are most likely to help you get your needs met along with this difficult person’s needs?
Set Reasonable Expectations for Results
If you have been on the receiving end of hurtful, selfish demands from your Stepdad over the past 15 years, it is not likely that he will change tomorrow. Trying for the 100th time to get him to empathize with your point of view will only increase your suffering. In such cases it may be best to minimize the length and types of interactions you have with him or only talk with him when others are around so he is less likely to try to manipulate you.
Contact me to get detailed help dealing with the difficult people in your life!
Dianne Fish, LPC 512.636.7500