Wellness Matters NewsletterAn Experience in Creative Journaling

Courtesy of Life Esteem, Published by Simmonds Publications

Dealing with Difficult People

      Some people are easy to be around and some are not. All of us seem to have at least a few difficult people in our lives. Difficult people can range from those who are a mild annoyance to those who can make life seem nearly intolerable at times. Those at this negative end of the continuum, especially if we have contact with them on a daily basis, can jeopardize our mental and emotional wellness over time - particularly if we lack the tools for responding to them in an adaptive way.

     There is no single, easily described category of difficult people. A person who presents difficulty for one person may not be at all difficult for someone else. We all know friends who get along well with our "enemies" and we may not understand how this can be. Indeed, we may feel betrayed by our friends who are able to tolerate someone who makes us feel uncomfortable. Our perception of who is difficult may reflect more about ourselves - our own needs and tolerances - than about the other person. Dealing with those we find difficult can present a personal challenge which invites us to look within and to develop more positive coping responses.

     What contributes to smooth interactions between people? When we come into contact with another person, we engage in a process known as role-taking. That is, we look for cues from the other person (their way of dressing, their nonverbal cues, the way they talk, what they talk about, etc.). We put ourselves into their shoes, so to speak. And, using these cues as our guide, we try to respond to them in a way which will yield a productive, harmonious, conflict-free social exchange.


Depending on the cues we perceive from the other person, we act just a little different around each person with whom we have contact - and this is adaptive. Our behaviors in the presence of our primary partner are different from our behaviors at work. Similarly, we wouldn't talk to strangers in the same way that we talk to our closest friends. (Some would pose the question: "But aren't we then playing games around different people?" Not at all. The adaptive person can draw on a repertoire of different sorts of behaviors, depending on the circumstances, without compromising his or her authenticity. People who act the same in all situations may have trouble reading appropriate cues or may lack a varied set of behavioral responses. If conscious games are being played, of course, then a serious problem exists in the interaction.)

     Sometimes, however, the role-taking process breaks down - and this may be due to a number of reasons.

  • In the first place, the other person may give conflicting cues so that it is difficult to know just how to respond appropriately. For example, one would hardly know how to respond to a person who seems friendly and approachable, but who then proceeds to insult you.

  • Or, we may not be able to read cues accurately from the other person. Does this person remind you of a childhood friend who caused you unbearable anguish years ago? If so, our responses toward this person may be colored by our own hurt feelings, and this may sabotage an adaptive interaction.

  • Similarly, sometimes there is simply an inexplicable conflict between personalities. Just as we use the notion of "chemistry" to explain why two people are attracted to each other, we can use the same idea to explain why some people are unable to tolerate each other. The "chemistry" is just not right.



This newsletter is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems.

La Jolla, CA 92037

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