Everyone has different opinions about what should be happening in the world. However, some people make it impossible to have a civil discussion about their opinions. Trying to interact or live with these “difficult” people is often frustrating, but it is possible if you learn to understand what makes them difficult. In the mental health field, we identify them as having a personality disorder. All personality disorders follow an unhealthy pattern of thinking and behaving that causes problems in relationships, work, and school.
Most difficult people don’t realize they are challenging to others. Having a personality disorder suggests your behavior is fixed based on psychological defenses developed during childhood. Difficult people lack self-awareness. When things go wrong, they blame others; they are unable to accept responsibility for their actions. They often leave you feeling anxious, frustrated, and angry.
Politics, family gatherings, and our career may expose us to complicated conversations with difficult people. Below are four suggestions that can help you avoid being enticed into a frustrating and fruitless argument.
1. Never argue with someone who believes their own lies. Difficult people have a personality disorder. This limits their ability to be self-aware or take personal responsibility. Their personal self-talk constantly tells them they are right, and you are wrong. They use insults to maintain their superiority, which is a defense mechanism for feeling vulnerable.
2. Accept the fact that an argument will be pointless and fruitless. Healthy arguments should be productive with both individuals working towards a compromise or mutual understanding. Difficult people seek only to be right and “win” an argument. When one individual is determined to be right no matter the consequences, the outcome will never be constructive.
3. Staying calm works to your advantage. Most difficult people are often unhappy people, and they become less anxious when those around them feel negative and agitated. When you stay calm in a heated discussion, you demonstrate that they have no power or influence over you.
4. Detach emotionally from the difficult person. If you are stuck with a difficult person in your life, quickly learn not to take their words personally. Do what you need to do to stay detached when things get heated, whether it’s recalling grocery lists or listing the states in America. There is nothing you can say that will make it better for them; they live in a self-generated prison and only they hold the key.
Getting in arguments or fights with difficult people over the holidays or at work is a waste of precious time. Part of being a responsible adult is giving yourself permission to not attend every argument you are invited to. It’s an act of courage to dismiss yourself from the argument when the person you’re arguing with believes their own lies.