Psych-Hack: Solving Difficult People

Barney_SquareOkay, you can’t “solve” people, I’m indulging in a literary framing device, but you CAN make decisions who you keep in your life. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people is easier said than done – but couldn’t be more vital to living the life you want. Managing your emotional ecosystem isn’t just an inner game, you need to stay aware of the inputs too.

To that point, what to do with negative, energy-sucking people who may have already taken up residence in your life? It’s been my experience that excommunicating them is the most effective method, but if you let them stick around at minimum you have to make a decision that their upside is worth their downside – and that you accept all of the downside without question or resistance. It’s the wishing people will change that’ll suck you dry.

One of the worst things about having a bunch of narcissists, misanthropists, downers and knuckleheads in your life is that they take your attention and energy away from the positive relationships you could be nurturing, and let’s face it it’ll dope-slap your self-esteem because, well, who would hang out with these losers?

A couple of important points:

  • This is primarily for adults (in the wildly unlikely event some teenager is reading this), one of the things that separates us from our child selves is the agency to choose who is and is not in our lives. A kid is basically stuck with family and environment, even then they should be encouraged to hang with people who actually like them – but sometimes a bad friend is what we need to recognize them in the future.
  • This exercise is not about hatred, resentment or anger. Making any decisions when you’re in the grips of massive emotion should be avoided – always. No, this is a positive action, for you and for those who shouldn’t be in your life. All you’re asking is that the people in your life be for you, what you want to be for them – a positive force.
  • The degree of difficulty is on a huge spectrum – dissolving familial, employment or marital relationships can (who am I kidding, WILL) require massive effort, where cutting loose toxic acquaintances can be as simple as not talking to them. Make no mistake, negative people can crush your spirit and erode your self-respect possibly keeping you in a kind of limbo where things never get better – so tough as this is you decide if you stay, not them.

1. In or Out? (Upfront assessment)

KissLook, before you expend any energy working to improve relationships, do an honest assessment on whether it’s worth it. Ask yourself questions like “Why do I like this person?” That may sound stupid, but I had a “friend” who was in my life for years – I could see why they liked me, and maybe being needed was my trigger, but in the end I realized they had no interest in me, no curiosity. So I let them go, I wasn’t mad (except with myself for taking so long to identify such an obvious narcissist) just time to move on.

You have the right to choose the life you want to lead, if it’s win/win and possible, people who love you should encourage you (if you’re a crazy person who constantly tries the patience of your loved ones with nutty schemes, that’s another thing, as with all things get your own house in order before you ask things of others).

Once you’ve done an “environmental scan” of your emotional ecosystem, you should have a rough “In, Out, Maybe” list. My recommendation would be to work on excising the “Outs” first, it may be all you need, and I’m a “one-step at a time” type of guy – no reason to make things complicated. Cut ties. Use your discretion on whether its worth telling the other party, often these type of people won’t notice you’re “gone” until they need a favor.

2. Work with your Maybe’s

LiesureI don’t know about you, but communication (particularly with those close to us) can be tough, but if you’ve got somebody in your life who’s being a bad actor and you want to salvage the relationship you need to be able to communicate it positively. If you approach it as an ultimatum, even if it gets results, it’ll be a weak solution. Any relationship HAS to be win/win – martyrdom, passive-aggressive behavior, “my way or the highway” tactics – they’re all for suckers.

No, just figure out what would make the relationship positive for the both of you (the internet is packed with approaches for this – use it) – make sure your value proposition is strong (why are you a good friend to have?), then find a positive way to discuss what kind of change would make for a stronger, more positive relationship.

Be wary of simple solutions like “if my boyfriend just stopped playing Halo everything would be fine” – people tend to spend time with people and activities they like – or hide from those they don’t.

I ain’t no therapist, I’m just a fan of people treating each other with respect, even if that means they never speak. There’s nothing as enriching as the deep, intimate friendship of others, and it’s worth all the effort you can put into it – just make sure it’s reflected back. Live “win/win” all day, understand it, read about it, do everything you can to make it your default position. When you see relationships through the prism of “win/win” it becomes a lot easier to see why there’s conflict – usually there’s a “win/lose” or “lose/lose” happening that nobody’s addressing.

Once you put in all the work you can stand improving a relationship, and you still find it wanting but you’re unwilling to let it go – accept it. Commit to never thinking “if only this were better”, like some kind of permanent injury just accept it as the situation you’ve chosen. I’m not a fan of this, but it’s better than spending a lifetime grinding on something you’ve chosen to stay in.

3. Three-strikes Seems Reasonable

Nobody’s perfect. Everybody deserves a second chance, I’ll give ’em three, but you’ve got to have limits. If somebody is untrustworthy, give them the chance to prove themselves, if they keep being a flake – that’s on you – people can’t betray trust that isn’t given. If somebody apologizes and promises “to never do it again”, take them at their word – let them prove they’re as good as their word, or not.

Okay, enough bloviating, hope you found some nuggets you can use. Get out there and live the life you want – be kind, be excellent.