On one occasion, chatting with a monk who lived in the city, he told me that there is no reason to admire mystics who retire to the mountains or meditators capable of spending long periods of isolation.
“That’s the easiest thing in the world,” he declared to my surprise. The truly difficult thing is to go down into the world and get along with others. In a subway car full of grumpy people is where you can measure your level of spirituality.
Pema Chödrön, a great figure of Buddhism in the United States, spoke in the same vein when she stated that “difficult people are our great teachers in life.” And, certainly, on a daily basis we do not lack occasions to interact with these teachers who, at the very least, allow us to practice the art of patience.
Everyone has someone at work, in the family or even in the circle of friends who is not easy to get along with. How to do it so as not to lose the papers and gain spiritual points?
Two renowned French psychiatrists, Christophe André and François Lelord, give specific keys to each profile in their essay How to deal with difficult personalities, recently published in Spain.
They start from the assumption that it is impossible for everyone to always be relaxed, in a good mood and in tune with others. Knowing how to relate is learning to live with the most complex aspects of human beings.
Depressed people tend to spread their pessimism to those around them and paranoid people are offended by any trifle, to give just two examples, but at what point can we classify them as “difficult”?
The authors of the book reason about these people like this: “When certain traits of their character are too marked, or are too fixed, they do not adapt to situations and entail suffering for a person and their environment. This suffering is a good criterion to establish the diagnosis of difficult personality”.
Let’s see how we can practically deal with some of the profiles that are often considered that way.
Borderline. This term is sometimes mistakenly used to qualify intellectual capacity. Actually, it encompasses those people who are on the border of mental stability. They are impulsive and have frequent outbursts of anger or dangerous falls into discouragement. How to treat them: Since they tend to be hypersensitive, if they have gone too far, we can censor their behavior, the fact itself, but never the person. And you have to do it from empathy, explaining how we have felt in this situation.
Narcissists. They combine life in the first person and demand to be the center of attention. When they don’t succeed, they become impertinent or try to manipulate others to achieve it. We cannot expect reciprocity from this class of people. How to treat them: In addition to praising them when they deserve it, you have to be restrained when counting your own successes, since they do not take well the merit of others. As far as possible, we will avoid criticizing them and being late for appointments, since they usually experience it as an insult.
anxious. It is a very common profile that includes people with a tendency to worry excessively and with a desire for control that makes them suffer, especially in times of change or instability. How to treat them: Although they tend to harm themselves more than others, they can make us desperate with their fears. Therefore, we should not show them ours, so as not to aggravate their problem, and let them know that they can trust us. Humor can help reduce the tension in which they live.
Avoidant. They are so named because they avoid any situation in which they may feel hurt or uncomfortable. Their fear of ridicule makes it hard for them to take the first step. They tend to have self-esteem problems and adopt a low profile, even when they are more qualified than the others. How to treat them: They need us to listen carefully and let them know that we value their opinion. This is how we will get them empowered. Never get irritated with them or make jokes about their character or behavior.
Passive-aggressive. They are especially conflictive in the workplace, since they hotly discuss any order and reject authority figures. They think they know everything better, while they complain about being misunderstood. They live any trifle as a lack of respect towards them. How to treat them: kindness is the best way to deal with this kind of people, as well as ask their opinion. They do not accept criticism and it is useless to enter into a war of reproaches, since they have little self-criticism.
Difficult does not mean toxic
— The popular psychologist Rafael Santandreu is against labeling anyone as “toxic”. In his opinion, there are no toxic people, but relationships that can be described as such. When two people who don’t like each other or don’t agree stay together, the bond ends up being toxic, but these same people can establish healthy relationships with other profiles or in different situations.
— Cognitive psychology maintains that what is harmful is seeing the world as toxic, drawing a barrier between some people and others. What does happen is that we all sometimes behave in a toxic way or are where we should not be, something that is fixed by becoming aware of it instead of pointing it out to others.
Francesc Miralles is a writer and journalist who is an expert in psychology.
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