Coping with nasty, negative, people. How to handle conflict. Stop obsessing over someone's words

How to handle the problem person in your life; whether it be a workmate, friend, family member or associate. Understand why these relationships can be so problematic, and how you can navigate these waters well.

Coping with a Challenging Relationship
© January 2018 Phoebe Hutchison

(Written for Bairnsdale Advertiser, Body and Soul, January, 2018)

A challenging relationship with a workmate, family member, associate, or friend, can be intensely stressful, and even contribute to depression, anxiety or health issues, if prolonged. Some dysfunctional relationships are made worse by many unpleasant exchanges, over many years.

It’s Physical

When someone treats you poorly, you are likely to be emotionally and physically impacted. You may feel sad, helpless, and fatigued or furious and restless. The nervous system, sensing ‘an attack’, may become activated in a ‘fight, flight or freeze response’ increasing adrenalin throughout the body, so you can defend yourself (fight) or ignore and walk away (flight) or you may feel frozen and unable to defend yourself (freeze). As your thoughts continually re-enact the event, you may have trouble sleeping, eating or concentrating, while feeling sick or suffering from gastrointestinal issues.

It’s Subconscious

We seem to re-experience negative communication patterns in life until the original traumas are worked through and resolved. Past unresolved traumas that are similar to the current situation may be ‘triggering’ your nervous system, causing an apparent over-reaction. For example, perhaps your father yelled at you when you spoke up as a child, and now as an adult, you feel unable to defend yourself at work or home. You may feel frozen, and overwhelmed, in many situations.

It’s Chemical

Examine all the factors in the challenging situation, to gain insight. What was happening at the time and during the lead up to the current incident? Were you upset about anything else? How were you physically… tired or hungry? Identify any physiological conditions that may have contributed, such as ill health or hormonal issues. In addition, it’s often not about the words or actions, but the underlying feelings. How did the the words and actions make you feel? Unwelcome, belittled, unheard, or furious? These negative emotions, when dwelled apon for days, are likely to temporarily impact your happiness and brain chemistry (oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin). Exercise is a wonderful way to improve your brain chemistry and mood by increasing endorphins and reducing cortisol... so start walking.


It’s in your hands

After a stressful event, it’s common to continually re-examine all the words and actions in your mind. Why did they yell at me? Do they like me? Why did no-one stick up for me? Avoid trying to psychoanalyze the other person. (Some people simply have nasty intentions). Look at yourself instead. We all have scripts, based on ideas about how we think we should behave. What script allows someone to treat you poorly? Are you saying to yourself: ‘I should never answer back.’ ‘I should always be polite.’ ‘I should always visit my parents, even if they abuse me?’ In all abusive relationships, from the bully at work, to the emotional abuser in a marriage, it takes two people: One to be the abuser, and the other to tolerate the abuse. We are always teaching others how to treat us. If we tolerate poor treatment, we will continue to receive poor treatment… sometimes for years!

Two Choices:

1. Confront: If someone treats you poorly, confront them, using assertiveness, such as ‘I statements’, such as: “I feel…”, “I need…”, or “I want…”. If someone is yelling at you, you may say, ‘I feel upset as I feel like you are attacking me,’ in a calm and polite way. Avoid ‘you statements’. Saying, ‘You can’t control your anger!’, would inflame the situation.

2. Be A Victim: Avoid being a victim by allowing poor treatment to continue. A victim is someone who blames others, feels powerless, and bitches and complains to others. They may get sympathy from listeners, but are likely to remain saddened, and feeling powerless, while the role of victim may become further ingrained in their consciousness.


If you are in a workplace or school, bring up bullying with management. If the challenging relationship is with ‘an associate’, be polite, then run away to the other side of the room fast, before they can be negative!

Getting back to peace

So, how do you stop your normally positive thoughts from being ‘hijacked’ by negativity? It’s been said we have approximately 70,000 thoughts per day, so we need to work hard to reduce negative thinking following a stressful encounter. Thoughts continually ‘pop into your mind’, called automatic thoughts. However, you have a choice about what to ‘dwell on’, so keep redirecting your mind from negative, to positive thoughts. Work on mindfulness, focus on nature, think about what you’re doing right now, avoid obsessing over the past or thinking fear based thoughts about the future (catastrophizing). Use distraction, such as reading a magazine or book, getting involved at work, watching a movie, talking about other things. Avoid bitching about the other ‘problem person’ as bitching will put you back in victim mode, and keep you on the ‘negative thoughts channel’.

If continual negative thoughts is leaving you feeling stressed or unhappy, seek help from a psychologist, or counsellor such as myself for help with CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) for thought management or Brainspotting Therapy to help heal past traumas. You deserve to be happy :)


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