During the past few years, one of the biggest adjustments I had to make was learning to let go of the toxic relationships in my life. Whether it was a friend or boyfriend, I found it difficult to cut ties and walk away from an unhealthy situation—even when it was in my best interest.

Looking back, I realize the reason I stayed in these relationships was the fear of starting over and building new relationships from scratch. Sometimes I wish, more than anything, that I could go back in time and slap some sense into my younger self, but I know that’s all part of growing and maturing as a person. Now I’m happy (and relieved) to say that I have the most amazing people in my life, and am beyond grateful for the hardships I went through to get to this point.

That being said, there are some relationships in life—mainly coworkers and family members—that you just have to put up with. In these circumstances, there is no easy way to cut ties, so ultimately you have to find a way to cope. But aside from that, here are five types of difficult people you will come across in life and how to deal with them:

1. The Complainer

This is perhaps the most common type of all difficult personalities. For many years, I found myself attracted to these type of girl friends, maybe because I enjoy playing the therapist role at times. But as much as I enjoyed helping them sort through their issues, I always felt drained after spending time with them. Oftentimes, what was meant to be a relaxing night over a glass of wine turned into a 3-hour venting session about why her love and/or work life sucked.

Dealing with a complainer involves a two-step approach. First, you need to know what not to do:

“Don’t agree with their complaints, don’t apologize (not immediately), and don’t become overly defensive or counter-attack because this only causes them to restate their complaints more heatedly,” says Clay Tucker-Ladd, Ph.D, author of Psychological Self-Help.

The second step is giving the complainer the tools he or she needs to come up with a solution.

“As you gather facts, create a problem-solving attitude. Be serious and supportive. Acknowledge the facts. Get the complaints in writing and in precise detail. Get others, including the complainer, involved in collecting more data that might lead to a solution,” says Tucker-Ladd.

2. The Know-It-All

These are the people who are always trying to impress or one-up you. The “know-it-all” is out to prove something and is all about appearance—name-dropping, competing and making comparisons. I’ve encountered “know-it-alls” in both my academic and professional life, and my approach has always been to just smile and nod—essentially, letting them think they’ve won, because it’s a waste of my energy to confront them. According to experts, that is actually a solid strategy.

“Competitive types are handled by letting them win. Until they win, they won’t have a chance to show generosity. Most competitive types want to be generous; it improves their self-image, and competitive types never lose sight of their self-image,” says Deepak Chopra. “If you have a strong disagreement, never show emotion or ask for mercy. Instead, make a reasonable argument. If the discussion is based on facts, competitive types have a way to back down without losing.”

3. The Volcano

Unfortunately, I’ve dated my fair share of volcanoes—the arrogant, domineering, hostile types. In my defense, I was initially drawn to the confidence, charm and intensity of their personality—but later came to discover the controlling, manipulative side. But let’s assume you don’t have a Christian Grey dating history. How do you deal with these types of people as colleagues or relatives?

“When responding to a difficult person, you have several choices—doing nothing, walking away, changing your attitude, or changing your behavior. Doing nothing may not be the best choice because over time it can lead you to become increasingly frustrated,” according to leadership consultant Louellen Essex. “Walking away may not be an option if you need to work closely with the person. Changing your attitude and learning to view the behavior differently can be liberating. Ultimately, though, changing your behavior is the most effective approach because the difficult person then has to learn different ways of dealing with you.”

While you may not be able to control their behavior, you can control how you respond to it. By teaching yourself to disengage, you can prevent yourself from getting trapped in the negative cycle.

4. The Pessimist

Similar to the complainer, pessimists drag people down with their negative energy. The main difference, however, is that the pessimist has a hopeless “I give up” and “It will never work” attitude. The danger in spending time with pessimists is that they can suck you into their cynical world before you realize it.

“Don’t argue with the pessimist; don’t immediately offer solutions to the difficulties predicted by the pessimist,” says Tucker Ladd. “Instead, make optimistic statements — showing that change is possible — and encourage [them] to brainstorm leading to several possible alternatives.”

The next step is to ask what the worst possible outcome of each situation would be. This gives the pessimist an opportunity to problem solve, which will subtly help them move away from their negative assumptions.

5. The Sniper aka the Passive-Aggressive type

This personality type is most commonly seen in the workplace. Snipers have an underlying fear of conflict, so they avoid it—which can manifest in the form of a power struggle. Whether this is a professional or personal relationship, the signs are similar: sarcasm, the silent treatment, gossiping, and not doing what is expected of him or her.

Essex says, “Hold your ground. Teach others how to treat you. Don’t open the door to challenges. With snipers, you may need to expose their behavior publicly to other team members.”

When all else fails, and it will sometimes, give yourself permission to limit your exposure to the difficult people in your life. While you may not be able to fully rid yourself of their toxic load—and they may revolt or throw a fit when you try to disengage—I believe that you will be happier in the long run when you establish appropriate boundaries.

Have you encountered one or more of these difficult personalities? Tell us how you handled it in the comments!

Click here to see Rose’s tips for healthy and happy relationships



  • Tony
    Posted January 4, 2018 10:43 pm 0Likes

    I’ve had a long opposite sex friendship that seems to be near the end. I’ve brought up my concerns, only to have her twist things around and make it sound like I’m so willing to walk away and not fight for the friendship.

    She is an alcoholic with stage 3 to borderline 4 liver disease. When she was diagnosed with this disease last January we became close. She is my dearest friend. I was there for her. She called me her rock. I became her closest friend.

    She is selfish, mean spirited, cold hearted and toxic. Why do I find it so hard to walk away and move on? We used to be able to talk and laugh, now even our conversations on the phone aren’t as enjoyable as they once were. I told her I felt like she was trying to push me out of her life, she said nothing. A week later is when she said she lost faith and trust in me because I was so willing to end the friendship. She totally doesn’t get or care that it is how she treats and or talks to me that is destroying our friendship.

    • Victoria Rotante
      Posted January 5, 2018 9:06 am 0Likes

      Hi Tony,

      While I cannot give you expert advice (as I lack the credentials of a therapist or psychologist), I can offer some thoughts based on my personal life experience of a similar nature.
      I believe the reason you are finding it hard to leave this friendship is due to your compassion for her. However, people with addictions are often toxic, emotionally manipulative, and EXPERT at playing the guilt card. Establishing your boundaries in this friendship is key. Addicts have no boundaries and usually cannot see beyond their own addition.

      If I were in your situation, I would express to her how you still love her as a friend, but will no longer tolerate her abusive behavior towards you. Tell her that you will be there for her in her recovery, but until she does so, you cannot allow yourself to be dragged down with her.

      Be prepared for a highly emotional and manipulative backlash from her, but stand strong in your boundaries AND the knowledge that you did what you could. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to walk away… both for your sake and theirs.

      Stay strong!

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