It’s Rarely About Us

20140309-134341.jpg

In life, we have enough to deal with with our own personal battles, the up and downs of everyday life and our own junk from our past and worries about our future. Still, most of us allow other people to dump on us, to put some of their battles, junk and worries into our already cluttered lives.

Most of the time we don’t even know this is happening and the people doing it to us are usually unaware as well. This all happens in our unconscious for the most part and is what is called displacement in psychology.

Displacement is an unconscious defense mechanism where someone transfers feelings of emotions, ideas or even desires unto other people or even objects. This usually happens in an effort to relieve anxiety, especially when it comes to things like aggression and sexual impulses.

Take for example, a wife who is sexually attracted to her boss and feels extreme guilt about it. She may come home and accuse her husband of being unfaithful, wanting to be with other women or even not finding her sexually desirable any more.

The wife will do this with so much emotional energy, that the husband will have no idea where these thoughts and feelings are coming from and will most likely do everything he can to assuage his wife and may even find himself stressed out although in all actuality, the situation has nothing to do with him.

The issue is not his, but he will make it is. He will take on all the emotional energy although it is not his in an effort to allay his wives feelings.

He may lose sleep about it and wonder what it is he is doing wrong.

We’ve all been in situations, arguments even where we knew on some level that it was not about us. I’ve been in situations where someone made me feel like I did something wrong and I did everything I could to rectify the situation, only to eventually find out it had nothing to do with me, meaning that although I was stressing and doing everything I could to make the person happy, there was really nothing I could do because it wasn’t really about me.

A good clue that it isn’t about you is when the level of emotion is out of proportion to the situation.

Lets say you accidentally drop and break a dish, but your partner goes berserk about it or you come home five minutes late and your spouse is raging out of control over your tardiness. Chances are, they are displacing their feelings, be it anger, anxiety or whatever.

Emotions can be considered energy in motion. When people have a build up of energy, they have to find a way of getting rid of it or it will affect them in other harmful ways (depression, self-harm through drugs, alcohol, reckless behavior).

Often the easiest and even safest way to get rid of that pent up energy is to direct it at the people they love simply because they know that chances are you aren’t going anywhere.

Your husband can curse you out and you may fight, but chances are you will still be there tomorrow. If he curses the person he really wants to curse out, for example, his boss, chances are he will not have a job tomorrow.

In psychology we are used to this and call it transference. Most clients eventually will transfer or displace feelings unto us, rather its issues they had with their mother, their father, their ex-husband, or whomever we start to “remind” them of.

As a male therapist, when I worked in a high school, I used to get a lot of teenage girls who would displace their anger and fear about their absent fathers towards me and in therapy, we work through this. It is part of my job, but in the real world, it is usually much more difficult and frustrating to deal with.

In some of the worst cases of displacement, it can become abuses. Lets say a husband is angry with his boss, but he can’t hit him, so he comes home and unconsciously picks a fight with his wife and hits her, displacing his anger. This may eventually become his way of “dealing with” his anger and the abuse cycle begins.

Sometimes this can have a chain reaction. Suppose the wife, now hurt and angry, displaces her anger unto their child by hitting him and the child then goes and hits the dog.

It can be a vicious, unhealthy cycle.

Displacement is an amazing psychological deception and some people will do it just as much consciously as unconsciously.

Some people will purposely displace their anger, worries, whatever unto others so that they can either attempt to avoid their own feelings or to distract the other person from the real problem.

When this type of displacement happens, it can be more abusive than simple unconscious defense mechanisms at work.

Take for example a wife who really is cheating and her husband gets suspicious. She gets scared and instead of confessing, she very angrily accuses him of being the one who is cheating. He may get so caught up in her strong emotional energy that he feels guilty for his suspicions and ends up being the one trying to treat her like a queen in an effort to show her that she is the only one for him, all the while she has successfully distracted him from the real problem at hand.

So the next time someone yells at you, gets angry really quick or displays any other emotion that seems out of proportion to the activating event, before you allow yourself to get caught up in all that emotion, take a few seconds and ask yourself, “Is this really about me?”. Sometimes that’s all it takes to avoid getting caught up in a battle of emotion that is not yours to fight and prevent yourself from unnecessary stress.

Noxious People: Dealing, Working and Living With High Conflict People

istock_argue_bullyUnfortunately, dealing with difficult people is a part of life. They can be found everywhere from our own homes, to our jobs, which is way it’s important that we know how to deal with these difficult and high conflict people so that they don’t negatively affect our lives.

Noxious people can not only cause us to feel miserable, but they can also cost us job advancements, relationships, mental and even physical health.

Over the years I’ve dealt with my fair share of difficult and high conflict people and one of the most valuable things I’ve learned is to not take it personal.

I realized that most of the time when someone was being difficult with me, it actually had very little if anything to do with me. Sometimes these people are just difficult people and they are that way with everyone. Some people are just going to hate. That’s who they are. Don’t take it personal. Allow that person to be who they are, but that doesn’t mean they have to affect you. When you take it personally, you will not only feel bad or angry, but it will make it much more difficult for you to effectively deal with that person.

I wrote a post about not catching the ball, which means that you don’t have to catch whatever someone is throwing at you and difficult, high conflict people are always throwing their anger, hate and insanity at you. You can simply let it fly past you and drop to the floor (or someone else can catch it if they want). It’s sometimes helpful to visualize their negativity as a ball and see yourself not catching it, this way  it can’t affect your emotional state.

Difficult people also hate to be told anything, even when they are wrong. They don’t like to be given negative feedback, so doing so will just stir up more resistance and a bigger conflict. Instead of making statements, try asking questions instead to try to get that person to see the errors in their thinking.

For instance, recently I was speaking on the phone with a high conflict parent, asking him to come and pick up his daughter from school, who had just had a panic attack and didn’t feel safe walking home. He didn’t see the big deal and was very angry that we were asking him to come and get his daughter who walks home everyday (yes I know, most parents wouldn’t react this way, but many parents I deal with are out of touch with their children especially when it comes to their mental health). I simply asked him, “Sir, what if she has a panic attack on the way home and falls out, hits her head or worse, gets hit by a car.” Needless to say, he came and got her.

Also, asking questions can help you turn the tables. When that parent said, “I can’t pick up my daughter” I could have said, “Who CAN pick up  your daughter?”. If he would have said, “I can’t do it right now” I could have asked, “When CAN you do it?”

Also, effective communication is important. Difficult people often misinterpret what you say and will become very defensive. You have to be ready to say things such as, “That is not what I said” and “Please let me finish”.

Also, use “I-statements”. By saying “I” rather than “you”, you are taking away some of the accusation from the person and they are less likely to react negatively. For example, instead of saying, “You didn’t give me that report”, you can say, “I never received that report”.

High conflict people like to argue and sometimes no matter what you say, they will have a better idea in their opinion, that even if it is really bad, they will stick to just to be difficult. That’s why it’s important to learn to separate the issue from the person. The same works if the other person is criticizing your idea. Separate the idea from yourself, that way it won’t feel so personal.

Be assertive, not aggressive or obnoxious.

There is a difference between being passive, agressive and assertive. There is no need to be a doormat and there is also no need to be as aggressive and obnoxious as the other person may be, but it is good to be assertive. To stand up for yourself while also respecting the other person. You can state your opinion and make your points without attacking.

Since we are talking about agression, if at anytime you feel your personal safety is at stake, don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the situation and get help if needed. There is never any need to subject yourself to violence.

Lastly, difficult people have purpose in our lives. Sometimes they help us practice patience, to brain storm, control ourselves or to learn how to communicate better. Look at every encounter you have with a difficult, noxious, high conflict person, as an opportunity to practice those qualities and you will emerge a better person each and every time.

For more information on dealing with noxious people check out Noxious People: Institute of Brain Potential at www.ibpceu.com/content/pdf/NOXNCS13.pdf