Writings from Christine

How to Establish Boundaries with Difficult People

by on October 12, 2017

Are your clients struggling with difficult people in their lives? As a clinician, there is a huge temptation to diagnose the difficult person and then dismiss them as unhealthy. But sometimes it is not easy to separate because they may be a spouse, parent, employer, or neighbor.

Developing boundaries with your client is the best alternative. Boundaries help the client feel more in control of the situation while setting limitations for their own reaction. Here are a couple of suggestions for them.

  • Try seeing things from the difficult person’s perspective. Take a few moments to step back and separate the person from the issue at hand.
  • Difficult people tend to react in anger, become defensive or lie when confronted. Their reaction should not dictate the reaction of others.
  • Listen to what the difficult person is saying and pay attention to repeated words and body language. These are clues as to hidden meanings.
  • Identify what makes this person difficult and accept it without trying to change it. Make mental allowances for any known traumas the person may have experienced.
  • Discover the difficult person’s positive traits. Everyone has some positive, focus on that while avoiding the negative.
  • Frequently, a difficult person refuses to acknowledge other’s needs but that doesn’t minimize their importance. Their agenda is avoidance at all costs, don’t succumb.
  • Be firm and yet kind in communication, using as few words as possible. The greater the volume of words, the greater the intensity of the discussion. Answer only the question that is asked.
  • Set realistic expectations about the results of the conversation anticipating the possible outcomes.
  • Know when to walk away and abandon the discussion. Remember, the difficult person does not need to be in charge.
  • Take the initiative. Lead, instead of following the difficult person.
  • The difficult person will try to instigate a defensive response. Avoid this trap.
  • Study the difficult person in a variety of setting to understand their triggers better. This simple tactic can minimize the number of intense conversations.
  • Use humor. Don’t belittle or be sarcastic. Gentle humor in combination with good timing can lighten an atmosphere.

Even after confrontation, most difficult people will not change. After all, a person cannot change what they refuse to acknowledge. And difficult people rarely admit their demanding nature. This is not about trying to influence them; rather it is about assisting your client their approach.

Posted under: Personality Disorders Writings from Christine

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