Managing Toxic Personalities
Maintaining Your Sanity
Not everyone has a pleasant, easy-going personality. Some people mean no harm, yet they drain your energy away. Others are more malignant, creating a great deal of upheaval where ever they travel. Both types are very difficult to deal with.
So what do you do when a tough-to-handle person lands in your life? In many instances, it's not possible to stop interacting with them, although with the highly destructive types the usual recommendation is to go "no contact." Unfortunately, this isn't practical when you're dealing with a boss, a coworker, your next door neighbor or a relative.
So the trick is learning how to manage a difficult individual by setting better boundaries, according to most mental health experts familiar with various personality disorders. I believe this is excellent advice, if you are in a position to do that.
However, if the atmosphere surrounding you has turned totally toxic, and you are a target, chances are you are too beaten down to stand your ground. This is all-but-impossible in the case of a workplace mobbing, when the odds are greatly stacked against you, and you are virtually defenseless against a bully and his or her proxies.
But, if you can, setting limits in a kind manner, while remaining firm in your resolve, can help you deal with tricky personalities you may encounter.
Although your boundaries may not always make the other person happy, they are oftentimes necessary. Say, for instance, someone has a habit of stirring up discord. You're choosing not to participate. Quickly changing the subject is your only way out. Or, if that fails, you may need to excuse yourself from the conversation.
Difficult people are found everywhere, so the trick is learning how to sidestep the obvious pitfalls. Here is some advice compiled by the experts. (I am not a licensed mental health professional, but, from personal experience, I've had to learn about malignant narcissism and borderline personality disorder.)
You Can't Avoid Difficult People
Dealing with Controllers
I think we all know this type of person. They like to micro-manage. We often find controlling people at work, but they gravitate toward volunteer groups as well. Actually, the love volunteer organizations because they can easily rise to the top, where they can run things. They like to get things done their way. They stand by us and watch us complete a designated task, with their critical eye trained to catch any "mistakes."
"No you're doing it wrong," they insist. "You need to do it this way."
You realize it would be much easier if they just did it themselves, but, for some reason, they want you to do it instead.
One way, if you have the leverage to do this, is to smile at the controlling personality, look them in the eye and say, "Thanks, I'll think about that." Of course, you are under no obligation to do anything exactly as they demand. You can do it your way or not at all. This would be a good way to handle the micro-managers you find in church groups or in volunteer organizations. However, this probably isn't a good strategy if the controller is your boss.
Don't get bogged down with trivial issues, according to one expert. Instead, stick to the most important points of what you're trying to accomplish.
Working with controllers will never be pleasant. Especially if they have strong narcissistic tendencies, they will minimize and invalidate your feelings. They may also engage in "gaslighting," in which they deny certain things that actually happened. This is done to keep you off balance and to get you to doubt your perceptions.
How Will it Benefit Them?
Difficult people, some of whom are malignant narcissists, are usually very self absorbed. If they weren't, they'd be a lot more fun. They generally aren't concerned with your wants and needs, since they're so focused on their own.
Present things in a way in which they realize they'll obtain a benefit. This will make your suggestions much more attractive. By the same token, don't assume something that benefits you will interest them. Narcissists are extremely limited in their capacity to care about others.
It's All About Me
Don't Give Advice
People with controlling personalities like to take advice, but they don't like to hear it. If you think back, any advice given in the past is usually met with a forceful excuse of why it won't work. Actually, you are wasting your breath trying to help a narcissist solve a problem of his or her creation.
The best strategy is to withhold your advice. If you engage with them, expect to hear chronic complaints. Maybe politely listen for awhile. But you are not obligated to listen for hours on end, especially if you've heard it all before.
Difficult People Don't Want Advice
Don't Deviate from Your Limits
Always be kind and loving, but stick to your principles. With highly toxic people, whom like to sow discord, create a space around yourself to protect your emotions.
If a conversation is headed in the wrong direction, it's alright to change the subject, even if you need to do it abruptly. I imagine you'd have no choice of the topic is off limits, and the other person knows it. Another situation where you'd have to do a quick switch is if it spirals down into gossip and backbiting.
Although the person who wants to talk may not be happy they're not allowed to finish their conversation, this is sometimes unavoidable, because we need our limits to be respected, and we don't want to get pulled into their inappropriate drama. It also sends the message that you don't listen to gossip.
Silencing the Gossiper
Narcissists, as well as people who suffer from borderline personality disorder, are easily offended. Difficulty maintaining relationships is part of both conditions.
Even though you are their friend, or even "best friend," one minute, you can quickly become the enemy. Or, someone else may be the enemy and the person with the difficult personality wants you as their ally.
This is when you have to firmly refuse to be drawn into the conflict. Agreeing with them, and adding to the conversation, often means they will repeat what you said to the person they were just talking about. (They'll leave out the part about how they initiated this discussion.)
Also, remember, if someone is talking badly about someone else, you can be quite confident they'll do the same to you, when you're out of earshot.
Lower Your Expectations
Narcissists are unable to have a reciprocal relationships, which means they do a lot more taking than giving. Or, if they do give, it's typically with strings attached.
The saying, "It is what it is," really applies here. Someone with a limited capacity to experience normal human emotions, such as empathy or remorse, is not likely to become sentimental when you tell them your problems, if you can even get them to listen.
People with borderline personality disorder can reciprocate. Actually, they may go overboard with trying to meet your needs, until something flips and you become their enemy. 4
Knowing that troubled people with personality disorders are very limited in their capacity to maintain healthy relationships is what you need to remember. This way you can greatly lower your expectations to avoid disappointment.
For Additional Reading
- Why Women Can Be So Mean to Each Other and How to Protect Yourself
Women bullies use what's known as relational aggression. Learn how to spot this and what to do when it happens.
- Why Are Women So Mean to One Another?
A discussion of female malignant narcissists.
- How to Handle Church Bullies
A look at malignant narcissism from a spiritual perspective.
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