Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

May 18, 2013

Mental Wellness: Dealing with difficult people

There was a time when I really enjoyed conflict. I don’t mean between people, but I felt like social change almost always happened when people stood up for their beliefs. This also was during a period in my life when my hair was dyed like a leopard.

Deep inside me, I knew that many things were not right in the world.

I wanted to see change so there were less problems of poverty, injustice and bad haircuts. Yet, I was often a big jerk about it.

Whether it is someone with passionate beliefs or our spouse talking about dishes, we all deal with difficult people.

Here are a few observations that can help.

You always have a choice

In relationships, we choose who we let into our lives and who we do not. When a friend, relative or stranger chooses to create conflict, anxiety or other feelings we don’t want, we can choose to stay or leave.

Boundaries don’t have to be mean

When a parent says to their child, “So that weekends can be better, we need to discuss any requests for friends spending the night by Wednesday,” the parent is creating a boundary. In doing this, there is an expectation. When children know a parent’s boundary, it helps them to move toward it and their anxiety is reduced. The same is true with adults: a boundary is sharing what is already going on inside.

Life is limited

I don’t know about you, but I hear the message “appreciate life” all the time. It comes in cheesy Facebook posts and through sappy TV shows. But it is true. Imagine you knew when each of your friends would die. Wouldn’t that make it easier to spend less time with Drama Queen Dan and more with those who make you feel better about yourself?

It’s not easy to deal with difficult people, but you always have a choice to set boundaries and spend time with the positive people or to be thew jerk with leopard print hair.

Joseph R. Sanok is a licensed counselor at Mental Wellness Counseling. He writes articles about angry kids, frustrated parents and distant couples at

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