Episode 32

Published on:

10th Feb 2023

Is There Someone You Can't Stand Dealing With? Here are 8 Tips to Make It Easier

Today we're talking not just about difficult people, but the difficulties that they bring out in you. We wanted to talk about how to manage your own anger, anxiety, and frustration when it comes to interactions that you can't quite avoid, but certainly don't relish.

Join us for eight tools you can use to make it just a little bit easier to be the type of person you want to be when dealing with people you can't stand... rather than being the person that goes viral, or curls up in a ball of regret.

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Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Andrea Bonior: Is there someone in your life who just well, what's the opposite of inspires you? Someone who makes your blood boil? Someone who brings out the worst in you and whom you just can't stand? Would you like to be able to be just a smidge more calm and functional when you deal with them? Today we're talking about dealing with people, people you just don't like dealing with. We all may have these people in our lives, and whether it's because we're particularly vulnerable to them or because they are particularly difficult, they often lead us to behave in ways that we regret. If you could use some help in managing difficult situations or difficult people or difficult situations with difficult people. You'll want to join us for today's Baggage Check? Welcome. I am glad you are here. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior and this is Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel. Incidentally. It is also not a show about why your printer won't print in black and white when only the color cyan is low. I hate that cyan. What is cyan again? Okay, on to the show. I wanted to devote today to talking about how to deal with people that you just don't like being around. And I wanted to focus more on what you can do within you to help manage the situation and feel better. I've been really noticing an uptick in demand for me giving my dealing with difficult people talk, and I, uh, think part of that really involves situations where you're hoping to change the dynamic between you and where maybe that's a realistic possibility. But what I'm also hearing more of individually and with clients are situations where people may need more immediate help in just having the interaction itself with somebody that they can't stand. And maybe it's not about troubleshooting or strategizing the overall dynamic. It's about getting through this particular moment because maybe you won't actually interact with this person ever again. Or maybe you will, but you still need help in that actual particular moment. Because the truth is, everyone's life involves interactions with a wide spectrum of people, from our most adored loved ones to others who just make our hair stand on end by their presence. It could be that there are people that we can't stand because of how they make us feel about ourselves. Maybe we become people that we don't want to be. We're more competitive or more petty or more insecure. Other people might just be obnoxious. They're offensive. They're violating social norms in some way. Sometimes it's about what happened in the past. There's history there that we can't forgive or we can't forget. And we know that it's really tough for us to be around those people. Now, ideally, maybe the answer is to not have to interact with these people at all. Maybe that's how best to deal with it. In certain situations. Maybe that's the best advice I can give sometimes. And that would be the shortest episode that we've had so far. Just stay away. Just go home. Watch the last of US instead. But not only is avoidance probably going to lead to increased polarization and the isolation and tribalism that goes on in our culture when we avoid interacting with people that we don't necessarily agree with, but also it's probably a missed opportunity in managing uncomfortable emotions and conflict. And it's also just not practical for most of us. Maybe there's a wedding that you're going to go to and you know, there's a fellow guest that you just don't get along with. Or maybe it's an ongoing custody arrangement with your ex and they have a new partner now, and, uh, there's just a lot of resentment. Or maybe you have a boss who's really toxic, but you can't do anything about it right now and you can't leave your job. So there are some central principles that we can use as tools to go about these interactions in a healthier way, even if we can't necessarily work through the dynamic overall. So let's get to them. Now. Some of these tips are going to be best if you have some preparation time in advance of the interaction so you know it's coming up. Others of them can still be used even if a situation is completely sprung on you without any advanced notice. But let's start with the potential for some prep time. Number one, have a clear plan and mentally rehearse it. We know the data has long shown that predictability and a sense of control can lessen our physical stress response and our associated feelings of upset. Now, we don't want you to be so rigid that you set yourself up for disaster, because now you're thrown off just a little bit if things don't go exactly as planned, and that makes you catastrophize. Instead, you can come up with a basic strategy that outlines what your interaction will be like. How long will it be? What are your escape routes mentally, logistically? What are some brief subject changes or conversation enders that you can use to civilly remove yourself from a bad situation? You can ask yourself, is there something I'm hoping to have as an outcome of this situation? Like working through a certain problem civilly or developing a plan for some tricky situation going forward? You have to work out something with a really difficult colleague and you know you want to get to that end goal. Like any big project that has the potential to go wrong, you will serve yourself really well by being adequately prepared for all the different possibilities. Have a plan B. Have a plan C. Have A, uh, wow, this person is even worse than I thought. Plan X or plan Z. Number two, practice self care beforehand. Any difficult interaction is only made harder to take if your resistance is down you've probably had examples of times in your life where you handled something much worse because of a lack of sleep, for example, or maybe when you haven't been getting enough exercise, you feel antsy with pent up energy that has no place to go. Prep for these difficult can't stand the person interactions, whether they're just a one off or a continuous type of interaction. Like you're a highly skilled athlete going into a sports battle. You are a gladiator, all right, that's probably too violent. You are a finely toned, decathlonner to cathole. Yeah, eat well, practice mindfulness, move your body and watch that you're getting enough sleep. This will only make you stronger and better prepared to tolerate adverse conditions and to keep your resilience intact. If you know that a family gathering is coming up, for instance, where you're going to be having to have a conversation with that cousin that really brings out the worst in you, seriously treat it like something you need to build your stamina for. You might not get a physical medal at the end, but hey, I will give you props. Preparation matters. Number three, be mindful of your physical body in the moment. Okay, so this is one that's about in that moment when you are staring down the dragon or just that coworker Michelle from the second floor who is always so passiveaggressive about what you're wearing. Learning to truly observe what your body is doing in the moment, especially when you are tense or upset. This is key. Practice becoming aware of this, of noticing what's going on in your body non judgmentally. And curiously, remember that's that heart of mindfulness, the people who are most able to keep an even keel when they're in an emotionally difficult situation, those are the people who often know their physical bodies the best. So spend some time really paying attention to your body when you're uncomfortable or when you're an emotional turmoil. How do you really feel your anger coming on? Does it feel like heat in your chest? Tension in your muscles? Maybe a throbbing in your jaw? How do you feel anxiety? Is it fast breathing? Is it a flip flopping? Stomach tingling in your hands or an ache in your neck? How do you experience guilt or shame or regret? Does it feel physically like a pit in your stomach or a heaviness on your shoulders? All of these physical symptoms are examples of common responses to anxiety or anger producing situations. And all of them also have some physical solutions, too. From deep belly breathing or diaphragmatic breathing to neck stretches or neck rolls, from progressive muscle relaxation to just rubbing your temples. Experiment with what works in the moment to lessen these physical signs of agitation, to make you feel less angry and anxious. Because anger and anxiety are the dynamic duo, uh, of dealing with somebody that you can't stand. And in fact, anger and anxiety are very physiologically related to each other. They both involve activation of your sympathetic nervous system. I know sympathetic sounds so cozy. It's cushy and patient. Sympathetic. In reality, your sympathetic nervous system is what makes you tense and ready to pounce. It's what primes you to scream something that you're going to regret later. It's what was useful for us in fight or flight thousands of years ago when we had a bear to protect ourselves against. But now it's making us say something completely out of line to our sister in law or our boss or that customer service agent. And now we're about a hair's breadth away from going viral and filled with regret because we jumped the gun precisely because our sympathetic nervous system was overly aroused. And not just that, but we couldn't pause and notice it and manage the effects of it. Number four don't over personalize. Sometimes we can't stand a person because we can't stand how they make us feel about ourselves. We feel put down by them. Um, or we feel that they're judging the very nature of who we are. They make us feel not good enough, which in turn, hurts us and makes us angry. It's normal to dislike being disliked is that disliked squared. That doesn't quite work since one is the being disliked rather than the actual disliking. Disliking squared, I guess, would be disliking the disliking. Maybe it's the absolute zero of being disliked. I am sorry. I will stop. Anyway, it bothers us if we think that someone has a problem with us. But what would happen if you were able to separate somebody's judgment of you from your judgment of yourself? Like, fully separate those two things? What if you were able to accept that some people are angry and critical for their own reasons? That's the lens that they look through research has actually verified the idea that haters going to hate? I love this research, I have to admit. I mean, I don't love the implications of it, but I love the fact that it exists. A subset of people truly have a problem with most everything and everyone. There is just no pleasing these people. Pretty much. Never try giving yourself the freedom of not always personalizing other people's judgments. Perhaps this person doesn't like you. Yeah, but perhaps it's because of who they are, not who you are. So why even expend any mental energy on them with a reaction? Number five remember that you are loved. Some intriguing lines of research have suggested that when we visualize, even briefly, being cared for and loved, that it helps neutralize and lessen our sensitivity to threat. In other words, just picturing a loving and nurturing scene or someone loving and caring for you, can help you feel less triggered and angered by someone who feels threatening to you. The next time that you have to endure contact with someone whose very presence raises your guard and makes your hair stand on end, why not try to visualize yourself safe in the company of someone you love who's taking care of you. It may just relax you enough to not escalate a conflict or to make a tense situation go from bad to worse. This seems so simple and overly sort of trite like it can't possibly work. But I really do urge you to try it because the research on it is there. Number six try compassion. This is a mental technique that is sometimes used in twelve step programs or in some loving kindness meditations. Instead of letting hurt or angry feelings about someone overcome you, try sending them thoughts of compassion instead. Perhaps they're an obnoxious person because they've had an incredibly painful life. Perhaps your boss has been irritable and impossible to make happy because his or her mother is sick. Perhaps your sister in law has always been cold to you because she's had a lifelong struggle with depression and is jealous of your happy marriage. Perhaps your neighbor's Nitpicking comes from a constant state of anxiety and fear. Stepping into a place of kindness can be as simple as choosing the mantra I am sending them goodwill rather than going immediately to a place of hurt. There is, in fact, solid evidence that sending thoughts of mercy and goodwill can help alleviate angry, hateful feelings, and that it can make you feel less fearful too. Now, this does not have to be about forgiving the person. That could be helpful too, depending on the situation. This is about when you have those raging feelings in the moment, choosing a few moments to send some compassion and kindness, instead warming your own heart in the process. This doesn't mean not acknowledging your anger, but it also means trying something a little bit different to nudge some light in. I know it maybe sounds too Hallmarky, but in moments of anger and fear and threat, honestly, it might be better to have the sense of calm that brings to mind a serene scenario like greeting card rather than to be miserable and escalate to something that you might regret. Number seven keep your boundaries in good working order. Sometimes the worst part of an interaction with somebody that we dislike comes from the fact that we feel steamrolled afterward. We may rehash the conversation over and over again, kick ourselves for not standing up for ourselves. Maybe we agreed to something that we didn't want to do. Why didn't we just say no? We might rehash over and over again. Or, uh, perhaps this person made us join in talking badly about somebody that we know or saying something that we regret and now we feel bad about ourselves. When you can try to be more clear with yourself beforehand about what you do and do not think is acceptable, including in terms of your own behavior. You can't totally control another person's actions, but you can minimize the feeling of being taken advantage of and of having gone on to autopilot of doing something that really isn't in line with the person that you want to be. And you can set the stage for as functional of an interaction as possible and come up with some parameters of how you'll respond to things that are going south. Establish what you do and do not want to happen in the interaction, and stick to your own plan about how you can stay on that path. This is crucial to protect yourself from letting this other person infect your thoughts for hours or even days afterward. This can also be a really good way to keep in touch with your values, to make sure that you're being the type of person that you want to be in these interactions. And if you know your vulnerabilities in advance, like ah, I'm probably going to gossip too much or be really petty because this person makes me insecure or brings out the worst in me, you can make a plan for how to stick to that boundary of whatever it is not talking badly about somebody else, for instance. And finally, number eight enlist a comrade. If you ever took social Psych, you probably learned about Stanley Schachter's classic studies on social affiliation the idea that in anxiety provoking situations it helps to have someone else nearby. So we've known for decades that in a lot of situations, being around someone else can make stress easier to manage. I mean, it definitely depends on who this someone else is. Obviously, we've now spent an entire episode talking about the fact that there are some people who bring out the worst in us. So it makes sense to differentiate here. Not everybody is going to bring out the stress relief in us. But even if the person is just somebody you feel neutral about, it might be helpful to not be alone. It also might make us be on better behavior ourselves. So if you have to be around someone you dislike, it's likely that you might be helped by having a comrade close by. And now if that person is somebody that you trust and who's a particularly comforting presence, all the better. Even if it's not someone with whom you're emotionally close, it can just be a distraction or helps you logistically by aiding in your escape route from the conversation. That can work wonders. And if it is someone to whom you're emotionally close, all the better. Or use that. I know that in our family drama episode we talked about having some sort of person on standby to be able to check in with oh, I can text my friend and I know that she'll make me laugh. Social support is so important here, even just to remind yourself that there are people in the world that are good and that you trust and who don't make you feel like a banshee frothing at the mouth. So hopefully there are some tools here that you can use in order to feel like you're being the kind of person you want to be, even when you're around people that you don't want to spend time with. So, M, if there's anything in particular that works for you or that doesn't work, reach out and let me know. Thanks for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check. With new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram at Baggage Check Podcast. Give us your take and opinions on topics and guests. And you know you've got that friend who listens to, like, 17 podcasts. We'd love it if you told them where to find us. Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, covered by Danielle Merity and my studio security, it's Buster the Dog. Until next time, take good care.

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About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.