Difficult people are energy consumers, hence the title “difficult”. When you spend time with them, and sometimes just when you are in their presence, you feel exhausted. Most people, after trying to handle difficult people a few times without success, label them as “difficult” and after a while, they give up trying.
I was a difficult child for my parents and they gave up on me. My teachers gave up on me and even my friends gave up on me. I needed lots of courage to go through self-reflection and recognize I was not an easy child, not an easy student and not an easy friend. Lucky me, I was only 16 years old when I realized that difficult people are very lonely, they are in lots of pain and no one around helps them, because they cannot take the risk of associating with them.
Difficult people do not have many friends because they are hard work. They usually stick to the group of people that have no choice but suffer their presence, like family, old friends and work colleagues. These people tolerate their presence, but start to resent them if they have to be with them for a long time. They will never initiate an interaction outside what they have to.
Every difficult adult was once a difficult child
At least, they had some difficulties that have made them develop those “difficulties” as a defense mechanism. Difficult children usually say, “No one wants to be my friend”. Grownups change it to, “I don’t need (many) friends”, or, “They’re stupid, anyway”, because their social difficulty is already part of their identity and they cannot see themselves without it. If someone told them they were difficult, they truly would not understand what it made them say it. They do not recognize their difficulty as a problem, usually because it is not a problem for them but for others.
I believe that difficult people struggle to recognize and manage their own feelings. Much like a person with a learning difficulty, difficult people have an emotional or social disability. It is a cycle. Their challenges make them difficult, so others avoid their company, which makes their disability even worse. Their need for company and external sources makes them more difficult, so they get less help and support. It never ends.
It gets complicated in some situations, such as when there is more than one difficulty, when there is a clash between two difficult people and when the difficulties increase in frequency or intensity.
When I studied special education, one of my very inspiring teachers showed us that we all have some difficulties, although not all of them were “learning difficulties”, because they did not apply in a school setting (like fear of heights). Nevertheless, they limited out abilities and made us struggle sometimes. I suspect that in some way, we all have emotional difficulties and maybe more than one, although I think many of them are connected. Grouping our challenges can help us greatly in finding solutions. Often, finding a solution to one problem helps us solve others.
When we are difficult and we communicate with difficult people, the conflict increases and the tendency to behave in a difficult way increases. Again, no one is difficult to annoy others, they are trying to achieve something for themselves and, they just do it in a way that is not useful or beneficial to the interaction, because they do not know any other way. In these situations, it is important to understand that throwing the responsibility on the other person is not a solution and only makes it worse, no matter who the “difficult” person is.
How to deal with social difficulties
There are some ways for difficult people to improve and learn to manage their emotions.
- They can see someone that will help them manage their emotions, an “emotional tutor”. This usually requires them to recognize they have a problem and pay a professional who is a total stranger (at first) that will not give up on them due to exhaustion. Professionals charge for their service, so this method can be expensive.
- They can get help from someone who loves them dearly, who is dedicated and willing to stick with them until they learn to manage their emotions. This is not an easy request when we are talking about a partner or a friend and works much better in a parent-child relationship. A parent will stick with a difficult child the more than any other person.
- They can get a mentor that will help overcome the challenges of communication and of relating to others. Again, like going to a professional, the person must first recognize that they have a problem and that other people stay away from them not because the other people have a problem but because he or she is making it hard to associate with them. Usually, the mentor is someone they admire and appreciate and they will follow their instructions more readily. It is not easy to find a mentor who will to give their time freely, but sometimes, a distant family member, a family friend, a teacher or a community leader can do it with grace and kindness.
- They can immerse themselves in personal development, meditate, think, reflect, read and do the hard work on their own. This requires lots of determination and ability to be honest with yourself. I believe this is the longest and hardest method, but it is the best one, because every realization in this method is strong and can give the “difficult” person power to control his or her own life.
This series is for everyone who thinks he or she may be considered “difficult” by others, as well as for those who must be around “difficult” people and look for ways to manage their relationship (usually, those who do not have to be will not bother). Teachers will benefit from this series, because they deal with difficult children every day. Parents will benefit from this series, because they have the strongest incentive to help their own children (remember, kids do not become difficult for the fun of it – they develop this behavior as a way to manage their emotions and if you do not help them change this pattern as the only person in the world who will stand by them for a long time, they might grow up to be difficult and miserable grownups).
So first, I want to recommend you do some self-reflection. If you find some of your difficulties below, seek help, as that will change your life forever. Even if you are convinced you are an easy person to deal with and the problem is with other people, working on yourself, on your emotional intelligence and your confidence, will help you help others.
In the coming weeks, I will talk about what difficult people are not, the types of difficult people, why people give up on them, what makes them difficult and how to manage your own difficulties and those of the difficult people around you.
This post is part of the series How to Manage Difficult People:
- How to manage difficult people: Energy Consumers
- How to manage difficult people: Types of difficulties
- How to Manage Difficult People: More Difficult People
- How to Manage Difficult People: Who is Not Difficult
- How to Manage Difficult People: What are They Missing?
- How to Manage Difficult People: What They Really Need
- How to Manage Difficult People: Helping a Difficult Person
- How to Manage Difficult People Using "Why?" and "What?"
- How to Manage Difficult People: A Holistic Approach