Expert Blog Compelling advice, stories, and thought-provoking perspectives straight from YourTango's lineup of Experts to you

6 Steps To Keep You Safe Around Difficult People

Fighting couple
Heartbreak, Love

Difficult, defensive & destructive behaviors can turn into dangerous ones. Take these 6 steps now.

When you hear about violence perpetrated in so many ways in the world—shootings, wars, subway "pushers", rape, beatings, it's a wake-up call. Now is the best time to have a look around your own life, at your circlefamily, friends, spouse, partner, child, or co-workers. The point at which "difficult" turns to dangerous is often not apparent, especially when you are close to someone. 

"Dangerous", as I am defining it here, is dangerous to your well-being in all ways. Whether or not they are dangerous to society is something only a psychologist or therapist can determine on an individual basis. 

For your emotional, mental and physical safety, ask yourself these questions:

• Are you in denial about someone's potential for violence because you don't know what to do about it?
• Have you tried to talk to a person close to you about the startling or inappropriate ways they react to life and  treat no avail? 
• If you did try to talk with them, were you met with anger, defenses, excuses and rationales?
• Did they immediately point the finger back at you rather than accept the invitation to look at themselves?
• Do you feel you have to be nice to someone who scares you, just to keep the peace and not be victimized by them?
• Are you in an abusive relationship, and you need help to stand up, speak up, and do something to keep yourself and your children safe?

If any of these things are present in your relationship, it's time to take action.

It's not time to start blaming, getting angry, criticizing, lecturing or threatening to leave them. That doesn't work. O.K., yes, threatening to leave them does seem to straighten them out for a little while. But, be honest. There is no real change over time. 

Many people who behave these ways are not driven by logic. Those are the very difficult ones, the ones crossing the border between difficult and dangerous. You might have noticed.

Not driven by logic? That's a game-changer, isn't it? If they are not driven by logic and your attempt to reason with them is all you've got, you're not going to get very far. Repeated attempts at reasoning just makes you frustrated and furious, wasting your time, energy and goodwill. In fact, these folks are so resistant to your logical approach that they may even behave in more entrenched, frustrating and violent ways just to prove to you that you have no power over them! You need insights and skills.

Here is where we all have to become more realistic. If you see patterns of behavior that are ones intended to dominate, control or alienate others, these are signs of potential trouble. That trouble will seldom be the huge, violently overt acts of a killing spree. It is more likely to be repeated acts to show other people how little they care about them. In so many cases, these behaviors that push people away are based in a deep belief that they themselves are unlovable. "I'll show you. You won't ignore me!" That can be their motivation for verbal or physical violence. It is a search for significance gone terribly wrong.

So, if someone you live, love or work with is habitually difficult, defensive or destructive, take note now. They likely won't grow out of it, nor will they likely change unless they are open to positive, immediate and effective help, and, maybe not even then. You have to do things differently.

  1.  Because they think everyone is a potential danger to them emotionally, recognize that their pain is within themselves. Yelling, belittling or abusing others is their pro-active attempt to get some respect and release the pain that they feel. That pain was likely inflicted in childhood, emotional, physical, verbal or sexual pain. It has nothing to do with you, so don't take it on as your fault, no matter what they say.
  2. Because you likely make excuses to avoid confronting the behaviors of these folks, you need to do your own internal work. If you think or feel that the poor ways someone treats you is  because you deserve it, you've got work to do! No one is allowed to treat you badly. So, get yourself some relationship help—work on the relationship with yourself—and work on your self-esteem and self-confidence. Get some good communication, conflict management and negotiation skills, too.
  3. Because you are not a doormat, you have to set boundaries and maintain them (if, by chance, you have been a doormat, it's time to stand up, brush yourself off and never place yourself in that position again!) Do this in a positive way, demonstrating love, concern and empathy for them, but clearly explaining the specific behaviors that have to stop. Note: You want to talk about the behavior that has to stop, not about the person. You want them to know that changing that behavior will get them more of what they want and less of what they don't want. Set clear boundaries and limits, along with their consequences. Then, maintain them no matter how difficult that is. When you don't maintain your boundaries, they do not believe they can trust you.
  4. Because these behaviors can be episodic, you need to be consistent. Being with these folks can resemble a roller coaster ride. They can be lovable and sorry when they are threatened by potential loss, and equally mean and belligerent when they feel they are not getting the respect and attention they deserve. You have to be you, living by your values, beliefs and purpose all the time, not changing who you are to accommodate them, make them happy (nothing does.) or make them like you more. (Only going along with what they want does.)
  5. Because we often think that offering negative feedback helps, you have to change this belief when dealing with these folks. Negative feedback  confirms how they feel about themselves, and externalized by your comments, it can scare and enrage them. Reduce and remove emotional threats. Deal with specific behaviors and what could replace them that would help you feel more engaged and positively responsive.
  6. Because we get caught in patterns of interaction, we need to be vigilant about curtailing our own enabling behaviors. What are those? Doing what someone else wants us to do to keep them happy, keep the peace, or join them in pretending there is no problem, which is just denial of the situation. It means making or accepting excuses for poor behavior, or, accepting that it is someone else's fault that they behave the way they do. Enablers have poor boundaries, trust too easily, have a poor sense of their own value, and, more importantly, they seek validation of themselves through actions. They think the dysfunctional person will like them better if they join them in their denial!

That is where "difficult" turns dangerous. If you don't do something, you are part of the problem.

Potential for violence sounds harsh, however, that's what it is. Say the wrong word. Look at them sideways. Question their behavior. Suggest they may have a fault. Be late with their dinner. Talk back to them. Want equality. All of these can unleash the potential for violence that pours out in torrents of accusations, demeaning comments, withholding affection, or, physical or sexual abuse.

Step up and be part of the solution. Remember, sometimes it is only possible to love these folks from a safe distance...and that is wise! See how your relationship is doing, by taking my free Relationship Checklist here.



This article was originally published at Reprinted with permission from the author.

Explore YourTango