Nothing in my up-bringing or education taught me how to deal with a difficult person (AKA narcissistic or toxic). The kind of person you’d have to meet in person to really believe there is such a person.
Subconsciously I think, I thought I could control how others treated me by being assertive but nice. If they knew I couldn’t be pushed around, I would “teach them a lesson” and they would treat the next person better. How naïve I was.
So then how do you deal with this kind of person? Stick around for a few things I’ve learned about that.
Don’t take it personally.
This hasn’t been a recent discovery but it has been a recent application. It’s not my fault if another person resorts to name-calling and yelling. Not saying I’m perfect, but I try to treat others the way I want to be treated and all that. Yes, I make mistakes. No, the way to deal with those mistakes is not to yell at me or call me names.
I’ve noticed that many times I didn’t really do anything to prompt such ridicule. I’m dealing with a person who wants to be angry, and I just happen to be the target at the moment.
These kinds of responses say more about the other person than about me. This revelation has been one of the most helpful for me: I didn’t do anything to provoke the inappropriate behavior. They would have done that with or without me.
It’s not my place to put them in theirs, and it doesn’t do any good to try.
In the times that I’ve fought back, I’ve only made matters worse. What starts as defending myself or a loved one against an insult or lie becomes all-out war with no resemblance to the original point. I believe this is because I’m taking over what God has says is His, and the only way for that to go is badly.
I do have power.
Interacting with a difficult person can be draining and can feel hopeless. I don’t know what it is about them, but they have a knack for making others feel less. For getting a rise out of us and then blaming us for it.
The truth is I have the power to not respond the way they want. I have all the power to smile and act respectfully. It takes much more strength to respond this way, but it’s so worth it.
How do I react to a difficult person?
I think this is a better question to ask than how to deal with them. “Dealing” with a person implies to me that I’m expecting my actions to change them somehow. As we’ve discussed, it’s not my place to do that. I can’t.
I have to focus on myself, which probably seems a bit counterintuitive for a Christian to say. After all, shouldn’t our focus be on the Lord and not ourselves? Well, yes. But what I mean is focusing on assessing and cleansing my own heart (through God, of course) and praying that God softens the other person’s heart, for their good and not my convenience.
I struggle with putting these things into practice, which will continue I’m sure. However, the biggest thing I’ve learned is really about myself and my motivations. It’s not about teaching another person a lesson. It’s about showing love to someone who needs Jesus, and it’s easier to do that when I remember all these points.
What about you? Have you dealt with a person like I’ve described here? What did you learn in the process?