Therapists learn that some people are very difficult to help. Often they are the patients who most need to gain insight and adapt their behavior to overcome the struggles they are having. They can keep repeating the cycles of failure to succeed in their personal or vocational relationships. Here are some clues to recognize these behavior types:

Difficult people insist on their way of handling a problem. Even when that requirement is the cause of conflicts with family or work colleagues, it becomes increasingly difficult to help them understand the issue. When the difficult person engages in an argument, he or she may demand agreement rather than exploring the differences in the position of the person who is disagreeing with them. Even the most gentle approach to feedback can be seen as further disagreement. Reflecting the illogical part of their argument can also be seen as more argumentativeness. Patient empathy often creates a breakthrough when the difficult person is convinced that his point of view is valued, even though one may disagree with the conclusion.

Difficult people can be identified with their demand for power they have not earned. Their manipulative efforts to become a leader of an organization or a social group may prove dominating or eventually agitating toward other members of the group. Less dominant members may become alienated or uncomfortable when their opinions are silenced or not valued. Eventually the group may find fewer members participating and some resigning and failing to attend. The conflict which results may require removing the difficult leader from the position of authority in order to save the organization.

Difficult people also want to control the circumstances around them, even when they are creating the conflict they condemn. Social movements or protest groups can easily be manipulated by these behavior types.

If you encounter such a person, he or she may be a dominant difficult type or a dependent difficult type. The dominant type is more easily identified as irritating. However, the dependent difficult type can absorb time and occasionally blame you for not solving their problems.

To identify the difficult person requires careful listening not to become the victim of the manipulative style. Trust your feelings when the difficult person is trying to dominate you or a group in which you may participate.

The most important insights for helping a difficult person are these:

1. You can only change yourself.

2. You cannot change him/her.

3. If you change, he/she must change in relationship to you. Your understanding will free you from the perceptions and accusations which are not true. An accusation does not make the content true.

Free yourself from defensiveness and you will be able to deal more effectively with the difficult person in your life. When Jesus dealt with the extremely difficult people in his life, he replied, “You shall know then truth, and the truth will set you free.” No advice is better than that!

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Dr. James E. Kilgore retired as President of the International Family Foundation and lives in Canton. His most recent book, “Living Without Limits,” was published in late 2019 and is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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