How to Recognize and Deal with Difficult People

Written by Angela Atkinson

Last Updated 11/25/2022

Do you have a friend or family member who makes you feel not good enough or who actively belittles and teases you, even through the most difficult parts of your life?

This is exactly what malignant narcissists do, as well as many other difficult people. 

Difficult People: Red Flags

  • Toxic and difficult people tend to minimize your thoughts, ideas, and opinions so often that you begin to doubt them yourself.
  • They aren’t worried about your feelings because they have no genuine empathy and no remorse.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with this personality type, you might try to ignore your thoughts and feelings – or even forget what you feel and who you are.
  • In many cases, you might gaslight yourself into believing the lies you’re being fed.
  • Dealing with difficult people can be intrinsically negative.
  • You aren’t allowed to be yourself, and if the narcissist has anything to say about it, you’ll squeeze yourself into whatever mold they’ve assigned you.
  • The narcissist requires you to have a facade that matches (or at least coordinates) with their own. And often, they create their own false self from a version of you.
  • The truth, especially when life throws you all sorts of negative curveballs, is that life can be difficult for anyone.

But when narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships is part of your reality, things are much more complicated. 

Dealing with Difficult People: Manipulation

When you’re dealing with difficult people, whether they’re narcissists or not, you can feel confused and foggy most of the time. 

And when the difficult people in your life are strangers or acquaintances, you can often let their gloom and doom roll off your back.

But people you live with and care about can poke holes in your little bubble of happiness – and when you look closely, this can often be sneaky hidden emotional abuse

Walking on Eggshells

Do you know what it feels like to “walk on eggshells” in a relationship? It’s miserable, and believe it or not, it’s a form of emotional abuse. 

Toxic and difficult people love to make you feel uncomfortable – and they often intentionally misunderstand you to add to the awkwardness.

When you live with someone like this, you have to watch every word that comes out of your mouth, and you overthink everything.

You become a people pleaser and a conflict avoider.

This is because you want to avoid their wrath or anger when you slip up and say or do the wrong thing – or even look at them the wrong way. It’s a terrible way to live. 

The Backhanded Compliment/Veiled Insult

If you listen to someone who makes you walk on eggshells all the time, you can find all sorts of sneaky little innuendos, digs, and pokes. Sometimes this comes as a veiled insult or a backhanded compliment.

For example:

  • They tell you that your dress is doing wonders for your figure, and boy, do you need it…or that your child is gorgeous but looks nothing like you.
  • They congratulate you on an accomplishment and then tell you they never thought you could do it.

And these examples are some of the more obvious ones, often uttered from the mouths of people who claim to love us – people who might have been psychologically messing with us since very early in our lives. 

How to Deal with Negative People in Your Life Without Losing Your Damn Mind

How are you supposed to handle this kind of negativity? Well, in a perfect world, it’s very simple:

Of course, if it were always so easy, this article would end here, and you’d be a lot happier, right? 

In the real world, doing all that is messy, ugly, and painful. And sometimes, not an option. 

So what do you do if it’s not sensible to cut that person out of your life?

How to Deal with Someone Who is Having a Bad Day

There are different kinds of difficult people. And we can all be “difficult” from time to time. We all have bad days.

Remember that everyone needs to know they’re being heard in these situations.

  • So, when someone complains to you, try acknowledging the complaint.
  • Then, people need to know that they’re being understood and, ideally, that you can empathize with their situation.

So, the next time your neighbor complains about the gas prices, her kid’s teacher, or the dishonest mechanic she just dealt with, just let her know you understand and listen without judgment.

  • Express your empathy.
  • Relate by telling her how you handled a similar situation in the past if it’s appropriate.
  • Otherwise, let her say what she needs to and move on. 

In a situation where the person is being negative ABOUT you, things can get a bit hairier.

Pathologically Difficult People Are Different

What is the best way to handle someone who is pathologically difficult? What if they are angry with you or complain about you directly?

(11/25/2022 – I was disgusted and horrified to discover that I previously wrote here that you should swallow the insult and move on with the conversation. But that’s completely wrong.)

Clarify the situation.

If you’re certain this person is not a pathological narcissist, you should be sure you fully understand what they were implying with their comments or statements before reacting. So, ask for clarification.

Determine your options.

Then, consider your options.

While the ideal situation is to avoid giving them your energy through the gray rock method, many people can’t or won’t do this because of fear and codependency issues

Non-Toxic Option: Expression of Empathy and Setting of Boundaries

Not to be used with a malignant narcissist, the non-toxic option is to express genuine empathy but still retain your boundaries.

  • So, please acknowledge that you understand they’re having a tough time but want them to know that what they’ve said hurt your feelings.
  • Being so forward about it can eliminate a lot of arguing.
  • So, say something like, “It hurts my feelings when you say _________ about me.”

Ultimately, the key is this: whether the negativity is directed toward you or is just in your vicinity, do what you can to avoid internalizing it.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but try coming up with an affirmation or even just a word you repeat to yourself when dealing with negativity.

(I can’t believe I wrote this.)

(2008 me): Remember that episode of Seinfeld, the one where Frank Costanza started the mantra, “SERENITY NOW!”? This may be an extreme example, but the idea is good. When something or someone threatens to poke holes in your happiness bubble, recite a mantra in your head, and know that you will deal with it in the best way possible.

  • Remember that you don’t always know what the person is dealing with outside of you, so have compassion.
  • Once you’ve left the situation, take a few deep breaths and feel the tension leaving you as you exhale.
  • Inhale, breathing in the positive energy around you.
  • This takes practice, but learning these skills can make your journey to self-actualization and inner peace smoother. 

Actual Advice for Dealing with Toxic, Malignant, Pathological Narcissistic ‘People’ (from 2022 Me)

  • First of all, there is NO guaranteed ‘happiness bubble.’ Recognize that and own the fact that if you create one, you’re also the one who maintains it. 
  • Secondly, in that episode of Seinfeld, a slightly more mature “me” would’ve recognized that they were all losing their damn minds trying to shove their problems away and not deal with them. 
  • While a good pattern interrupt and a decent affirmation can take you far, it does nothing to help you heal – but it slows you down enough that you can attempt healing after pausing to finish what you need to do and then managing the emotion at the moment. 
  • But then you have to go back to that moment and deal. You can’t, unfortunately, ever fully self-actualize until you have taken the time to feel and process your emotions and release them as appropriate. 

Start Getting Help with Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Today


  • Angela Atkinson

    Angela Atkinson is a certified trauma counselor and the author of more than 20 books on narcissism, narcissistic abuse recovery, and related topics. A recognized expert on narcissism and narcissistic personality disorder who has studied and written extensively on narcissistic personality disorder and narcissistic abuse in toxic relationships since 2006, she has a popular narcissistic abuse recovery YouTube channel. Atkinson was inspired to begin her work as a result of having survived toxic relationships of her own. Atkinson offers trauma-informed narcissistic abuse recovery coaching and has certifications in trauma counseling, life coaching, level 2 therapeutic model, CBT coaching, integrative wellness coaching, and NLP. She is a certified trauma support coach and certified family trauma professional. She also has a professional PTSD counseling certification. Her mission is to help those who have experienced the emotional and mental devastation that comes with narcissistic abuse in these incredibly toxic relationships to (re)discover their true selves, stop the gaslighting and manipulation, and move forward into their genuine desires – into a life that is exactly what they choose for themselves. Along with her solution-focused life coaching experience, Atkinson’s previous career in journalism and research helps her to offer both accurate and understandable information for survivors of abuse in a simple-to-understand way that helps to increase awareness in the narcissistic abuse recovery community. Atkinson founded Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support, the SPANily Narcissistic Abuse Recovery Support Groups and the Life Makeover Academy. She offers individual and group coaching for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse here at and at NarcissisticAbuseRecovery.Online.

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