People who are energy consumers do not have an easy life, not only because others keep away from them or that they do not get what they want, but because it is a cycle. A never-ending cycle. What they are missing is a feeling.
While they behave in a way that aims to achieve this feeling, others feel uncomfortable and awkward around them, stay away from them or react in an aggressive way towards them, so they feel bad and miss that feeling even more. The problem is not with them missing a feeling but that they try to get that feeling in a way that others do not like. Sometimes, their behavior seems like they are unable to read social cues or they do not follow the unwritten rules of normality.
Rules of normality
Personally, I have an allergy to the concept of normality. I believe it is overrated and sometimes confused with majority or average. However, I still think there are socially acceptable rules in every group and that following them will give you an advantage, while not following them will make you a social outcast.
As a special education professional who works with lots of social outcasts that are not normal/average/the majority, I wish our society would be more tolerant towards different people. Yet, while helping them, I spend most of my energy teaching them the “rules of the game”, instead of protesting the closed mindedness of society.
Yes, we need to create a more accepting society, but when we need to face the day-to-day challenges of living with a difficult loved one, changing a whole society is way more challenging than changing one person.
The missing feeling
The most effective way to help someone who is behaving in a difficult way is to search for the missing feeling. Ask yourself, “What is he or she trying to get?”
It is very important to understand that we all do things that we believe will give us something. Even if a difficult person does something that is unkind to others, their aim is not to be unkind, but to get some emotional benefit for themselves. So do not be tempted to say, “He wanted to be rude”, “She wanted to show off “, “He just doesn’t like people” or “She likes to gossip”.
Instead, try to guess what he or she was trying to gain. Ask yourself, “How would being rude make him feel better?” or “How would showing off make her feel better?” Remember, our behavior is never against others but always to our own advantage or at least perceived advantage. Although what they do is unpleasant for others, we need to focus on what the difficult person is trying to gain.
It is very natural that people cannot fulfill their own needs. Sometimes, we do not have the knowledge, the skills or the emotional capacity to do it. It does not mean we did not try, it only means we were not successful.
Difficult people give up trying to satisfy their own needs after a while and start putting pressure on others to give them what they are missing. Just like you would not be angry with someone in a wheelchair for being unable to walk, try to accept difficult behavior as a form of social or emotional disability.
Difficult people cannot behave differently. If they could give themselves the missing feeling, they would have done it long ago. I believe that those who are close to them can help them a lot and this can only be done with patience, confidence and grace.
I can understand when people say to me, “I don’t have any more patience”. I feel the same sometimes, but there is lots of power in consistency. Their awkward behavior is a way for them to beg you to prove to them they are OK, loved, appreciated, respected, accepted… Being angry with difficult people, avoiding them or telling them off will not give them what they want. It will only remind them how much they are missing.
Think about it this way: if they are missing a feeling of achievement, it is better to give them what they need and the need will decrease. It is like a tank in a car that needs fuel. Each tank has a gauging buoy and just like different cars have different size fuel tanks, people have different size needs and their buoys are in different places. When the tank is full, there is no problem and the car can keep going for a long time. When the tank is empty, the car will start to beep and flash lights to tell you to fill up the tank.
Difficult people are the same. They have an “empty tank” of the feeling they are missing and they are desperately signaling for you to fill up their tank. For some reason, they cannot see what they can do to fill up their own tanks, so they need an external person to do it for them.
The most common expression about difficult people is that they have a bottomless tank. “It does not matter what I do, he/she is still difficult”. Yes, I know it may feel that way, but it is only because you do not know how much they need to fill up.
Another common expression is, “How can I tell what they need?” True, if you do not know what they need, it will be hard for you to guess.
To get the guesswork out of the equation, join us next week for the basic human needs. With them, you will be able to map out every behavior into simple categories and narrow down the overwhelming feeling you have when trying to manage difficult people.
Have an easy day,
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