Most people know someone who seems to make every situation toxic and impossible. Pointing out that these people are difficult and demanding won’t get you anywhere, they don’t even see a problem. Whether the issue is caused by a personality disorder or some other underlying issue, you can learn how to deal with impossible people and preserve your own sanity.
How to Handle Conflicts
Resist the urge to be defensive. Understand very clearly that you cannot beat these kinds of people; they’re called “impossible” for a reason. In their minds, you are the source of all wrongdoing, and nothing you can say is going to make them consider your side of the story. Your opinion is of no consequence, because you are already guilty, no matter what.
Do not call out the other person. Bluntly stating the problem will not improve your relationship with someone who is impossible. Instead of reaching a reconciliation, he or she will likely just become more difficult. Recognize that you can’t handle this like you would any other personal conflict — it’s a special situation.
- In some ways, they need to be treated like children. Give up all hope of engaging these folks in any kind of reasonable conversation. It will never happen, at least with you. Remember what happened in the course of the last fifty times you tried to have a civilized discussion about the status of your relationship with this person. Chances are, every such attempt ended in you being blamed for everything. Decide now to quit banging your head against a brick wall.
Accept the situation. Impossible people exist; there isn’t a thing you can do about it. The first step is all about facing reality: if you think you might be dealing with an impossible person, you’re probably right. When in doubt, proceed as instructed below. The headaches you save will be your own.
Remember to “detach, disassociate and diffuse.“ When you’re in the middle of a conflict with an impossible person, use this strategy:
- Detach: Staying calm in the heat of the moment is paramount to your personal preservation. Spitting angry words, reacting with extreme emotions such as crying, will only stimulate them to do more of the difficult behavior.
- Disassociate: Remove yourself from the situation and treat it with indifference. Do not, under any circumstances bad talk to their face or to anyone else because then you are sinking down to their level. Add something positive by redirection such as by focusing on something, anything, positive in the situation or in the conversation. Whatever you do just stay calm!
- Diffuse: It can help to realize that the side of a conversation that contains the most truth will always win out, and it’s best to “name the game” that an impossible person is playing, usually by asking them or the group a question that starts “Why…,” (rephrasing their “impossible” position to illuminate the consequences). You will move the conversation to a higher level, and the group, or even just the impossible individual, in a one-on-one, will respond to this “higher truth,” although the individual will usually respond by (more) obfuscating.
Understand that it’s not you, it’s them. This can be surprisingly difficult, considering that impossible people have complete mastery of shifting the blame. Chances are, the more often they blame you, the more they themselves are actually at fault.
- Keep in mind that this is not to be used as a way to blame them. Blaming is what impossible people do, and they do it well. Instead, you are only facing the facts, for your own sake.
- That being said, here’s a simple way to tell: if you accept responsibility for your own faults and resolve to improve yourself, it’s probably not you. Remember, impossible people “can do no wrong.”
Prepare for projection. Understand that you are going to be accused of much (or all) of this behavior yourself. If your impossible person gets a look at this text, to them it will look like a page about you. Prepare yourself for the fact that the impossible person’s flaws and failings will always be attributed to you.
- Remember, in their minds, you are at fault for everything! They will have an endless supply of arguments to support this, and if you make the mistake of encouraging them, they will be more than happy to tell you why you are the impossible person, and how ironic it is that you are under the mistaken impression that it is them.
Guard against anger. If it helps, consider the fact that your anger is actually aprecious gift to the impossible person. Anything you do or say while angry will be used against you over and over again. Impossible people tend to have amazing memories, and they will not hesitate to use a nearly endless laundry list of complaints from the past against you. Five years from now, you could be hearing about the angry remark you made today (which you didn’t even mean in the first place). Impossible people will seize anything that provides them the opportunity to lay blame like it was gold.
Be a manager. Until it is over, your task in the relationship is to manage the impossible person, so that he or she deals less damage to you.
- As a manager, your best resources are silence (it really is golden in some cases such as this), humoring the other, and abandoning all hope of “fixing” the impossible person. Impossible people do not listen to reason. They can’t (and even if they could, they wouldn’t).
- Recognize that you can’t convince them that they have any responsibility for the problems between you. They don’t recognize (or if they did, wouldn’t try to improve) their flaws for a very logical reason; they don’t have any flaws. You must understand and manage this mindset without casting blame and without giving in to anger. It’s far easier said than done, and you will slip from time to time, but as time goes on, you’ll become a better manager.
Don’t get cornered. Avoid one-on-ones with this type of person, actively; in other words, when you see them coming to corner you, suggest, and then demand that at least a third party be brought in. This will often thwart the impossible person’s plans, and a typical response from them will be to unilaterally decide that “we don’t need anyone else.” You are perfectly free to claim your need for a third party to help your understanding, and insist upon it. Bullies never stand up to a crowd.
Consider that it might be a question of compatibility. Sometimes, a person who gets along with everybody else quite well is an impossible person for you personally. Most relationships between people contain many shades of gray, but some people simply mix as well as oil and water.
- It is common to hear your impossible person proclaim “Everyone else likes me.” This is an attempt to shift the blame to you, so don’t buy it. It doesn’t matter how this person interacts with others. The fact is, the way the two of you interact together is terrible. Remember that blame never changes the facts.
Prepare to part ways. Understand that eventually, you’ll have to create a separation between yourself and an impossible person. Whether they are a friend, a family member, a parent, even a spouse, the time to leave will eventually manifest. Maintaining a relationship with an impossible person is, literally, impossible.
- If you can’t (or won’t) make a physical departure immediately, make a mental one. In your mind, you’ve already left the relationship. The only thing left to do is wait for physical reality to reflect that fact.
- If this person is a spouse, and you plan to stay with them, try to recognize the places you cannot tread (i.e. The subjects that make the person impossible). Avoid, as completely as possible, bringing up these subjects. Keep to yourself. Find a truly wonderful hobby, and focus on it. If you are religious, focus on your religion. Read about Narcissistic Personality Disorder — this is a definite possibility. Even if it seems to you that they do not have NPD, read the articles about how to deal with them, because following the advice in the articles you find may help you.
Protect your self-esteem. If you have regular dealings with someone who tries to portray you as the source of all evil, you need to take active steps to maintain a positive self-image. Focus on the people who validate you. Realize that this person is hurting you on purpose to improve his or her self-image. When he or she comes out with a statement that is designed to hurt you, realize this; realize why he saying that — to get people to tell him that he’s awesome. You are bigger and better than this person if you’re not lowering yourself to this level.
- Remind yourself that this person’s opinion is not necessarily the truth. Understand that oftentimes, impossible people are particularly “fact-challenged.”
- If the attacks have little basis in raw fact, dismiss them. You can’t possibly be as bad as this person would like you to believe you are. Do not defend yourself out loud, however. It will only provoke the impossible person into another tirade.
Avoid picking up impossible traits. If you aren’t careful, you could find yourself adopting much of the offender’s own behavior, even if you aren’t voluntarily trying. Issue blame entirely by understanding that this is just the way the other person is. These things define the impossible person’s actions, and nothing you do can change any part of their past.
Be the opposite of them: a possible person. Live as an example of tolerance, patience, humility, and kindness.
- We are all influenced by the people in our environment — they don’t have to be perfect all the time and neither do you. Give respect because you are human. If you don’t receive respect, that’s -sadly- their problem. Give understanding, and you get understanding. Ultimately this sort of behavior is probably the only thing that might get through to them. They may not change in everything, but you can safely expect a change.
Protect your privacy. Impossible people will use any information on your personal life however small as a trump card against you. They can spin stories about you to other people (especially those close to you both) on a simple comment you made over lunch. Since they are specialists in manipulation, they are very good at making you talk.
- Impossible people are good at seeming normal, and unless you are very convinced of who you are and where you stand in relation to the slight madness of this person, there will be times where you think “Hey, she’s not so bad after all. I guess I could tell her what I am going through these days….” Big mistake! It will come back to you when you least expect it, in the most dirty and manipulative way. Things shared in confidence late night at the office between the two of you can be used in an ice cold analysis in front of the whole company in a moment where the impossible person needs to get on top of you. He/she will spare no information to prove to others how well they know you, and such know what the best way to “handle” you is.
- When you make your escape from the impossible person stay away. Don’t ever go back once you break away — no matter how much you love them or they say they’ve changed.
- When the impossible person is abusing or slandering you, other people will start to show sympathy towards you. You don’t need to do anything to make them look bad; she/he just digs his/her grave with no help from you. If s/he is angering you, others are also likely to be annoyed.
- Be detached from anything they say whether it’s a compliment or criticism. If you give them power to build you up, then you also give them power to knock you down. Learn to develop a sense of self worth from within.
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