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Dealing With Very Difficult People While They are Triggering You

Little Intro

In this eclectic article I’m going to talk about dealing with people who are very difficult and at the same time pushing on our sore spots emotionally. I don’t mean the people who accidentally step on our toes (once again emotionally speaking!), but the people who seem intent on getting a rise out of us, or staying entangled in some kind of weird dynamic, or power struggle with us. You can absolutely use some of the following exercises for people who are essentially benign and are just tripping over our triggers now and then by accident.

But if you have someone who is being an absolute nightmare right now, perpetuating a situation or conflict that absolutely does not need to be as difficult as it is, I hope that this will help. Because your situation is exactly what I had in mind while writing. OK, here we go!

Dealing With Difficult People When it Hurts

This is very not fun. You got hurt in the past and now, almost as if the world is poking the wound, it has come back around with a new version of exactly the same thing. 

‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Is a common reaction.

It makes sense. It’s not fair that we can go through life trying to do good, but bad things and people with bad motivations still pop up out of nowhere. 

But we need to shift the paradigm. 

What if the world isn’t trying to hurt or diminish us at all?

What if it keeps coming back with opportunities for us to revisit our wound and heal ourselves stronger? To know ourselves better? To finally move on.

I am currently dealing with a situation like this, so for me it is the perfect time to write about it. In fact, I usually try to write about issues when I am in the midst of them, because then I can truly empathise with you and everyone going through it, in a way that is embodied. A lived experience, rather than just something I know about. 

A quick note from me

Firstly I want to remind you, as always, do get help from a trained professional such as a therapist if you are suffering or affected by these issues. 

And secondly (but not less importantly), I want to say that I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. 

Adding Injury to Injury: A Rare Opportunity?

To have been wounded in the first place, perhaps when you were even quite young, is hard and it’s painful. To have that wound circle back over and over again like some kind of hungry shark can feel even worse sometimes. Like its personal.

And I think it is personal. But not in a malicious way. I believe if the universe thinks you’re strong enough and that you deserve better, it will keep offering you opportunities to step up into a more powerful and real expression of yourself and out of the lingering pain of that wound. 

So, a difficult situation with someone who is triggering you can be an amazing opportunity, even though it is also so hard. 

It’s important to note that even though we may carry a wound, we don’t need to accept any responsibility for other people’s bad behaviour. We can use it to our own advantage, however, to grow as a person and to heal.

Designer Brands Of Pain

It’s also useful to think about the fact that while other people may act badly, their behaviour may roll off our backs and we may either barely notice it or recover very quickly, if we don’t have the wound that matches it.

While those people who are acting out and looking (unconsciously) to tap into our specific brand of pain, can do things that feel exquisitely painful to us.

If you are a match then they will tend to linger in your life until you have healed that wound enough to stop accepting that kind of pain. At that point, they typically no longer get any release or satisfaction from the dynamic and may even let go of their own accord.  

Pointers, Perspectives and Exercises

The difficult thing with these situations is the amount of stuff going on behind the scenes. The invisible stuff that makes a dynamic – most of it unspoken and unconscious. 

So I want to talk about a few pointers you can use to get some perspective on a difficult situation like this, as well as some tips for dealing with it. 

  1. Try and Identify the Wound 

If someone’s actions or words are hurting, although it could just be about the current situation, if it feels very strong then they may be triggering an old wound. Bear in mind you may need to get support from a therapist as you work with this, because it may be very sensitive and/ or be affecting a much younger part of you.

The phrase “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical” is kind of useful and catchy enough to remember, if patronising – I don’t think you’re hysterical! But, if your reactions are stronger than seems warranted for the behaviour, that’s a strong sign you have an existing sore spot they may be pressing on. 


  1. Try to remember the first time you felt the way this person/ situation is making you feel. Try writing down all of your feelings about that old situation or emotion, and how it made you feel about yourself. Be kind to yourself as you do this, take time out if needed, and practice self-compassion. Self-blame has no place in this exercise. 
  2. Now write down your feelings about the current situation and how it is making you feel about yourself.
  3. OK, now you have those two lists, find the similarities common to both.
  4. You can draw this out as a Venn diagram if it helps, one circle being your feelings from the past (from #1), the second circle being the recent situation (#2) and the overlapping section containing the similarities (#3). These can include similar dynamics, feelings, actions, gestures, responses from you, even vocabulary used by the other person or yourself.

2. Take a moment to Breathe

It’s important to be kind to yourself when you uncover these deeper emotions. So take a moment with the following exercise. 


Put your hands on your heart and say these phrases in your mind or aloud in your own time: 

“I am safe and I am loved.

I am worthy of love and respect.

I am not to blame for others’ actions.

My worth remains high, no matter how I am treated

I am whole and worthy of love.”

3. Imagine What a Mentor Would Do

This does not have to be someone you know in real life, or even a real person. Just pick someone you look up to. Like Judi Dench, the Black Panther, Marlon Brando – whoever you feel a strong respect for. OK, now you have your person in mind, try this quick exercise:


Imagine your ideal mentor in this exact situation. With an open mind and taking your time on each question, wonder:

  1. How would they respond? 
  2. What would they say? 
  3. And how do you think they would feel? 

This is a very useful exercise because it tells you not only how you want to be in the situation: it tells you more about who you actually are deep down. If there is a strength you admire in your mentor you may not have fully embodied or owned it yet, but it’s in there. Congratulations!

4. Identify What the Difficult Person is Trying to Get/ Get Rid Of (and What is Hurting You)

Our weak spot is our wound, the ‘difficult person’s’ MO is whatever emotion they are trying to put on us or get from us. For example, if someone can’t deal with their own anger they may be impossible to work with until we feel that anger and express it for them. Or if, as very commonly happens, they are in pain and can’t bear to feel it, they will act in a way that hurts us, putting their pain on us instead.

I had a realisation of another key aspect of this dynamic, while reading an amazing book called Group by Christie Tate. In it her therapist says that when you keep a secret for someone else, you’re agreeing to hold their shame. I realised this may be crucial to the kind of poor behaviour we might experience from others, beyond an unconscious channelling of their pain into us or trying to elicit specific emotional responses. Because shame is a very specific, sticky, uncomfortable emotion – difficult to hold and difficult to let go of. Even if the difficult person is not asking you to keep a secret, they may be trying to alleviate their own feelings of shame.

So there are a wide range of things the other person may be asking us (unconsciously) to hold or to supply, from emotions such as anger or joy, to… forces (? there may be a better term for these) such as love, attention or pain. It is great to be open-minded while considering what the relevant one(s) in your situation might be.

(And the ‘difficult person’ most likely has their own wound they are trying to distract from or satisfy. But that is none of our business, because that is their issue to deal with, not ours to try to fix (a common way we might try to avoid addressing our own discomfort, or avoid acknowledging our value).) 

I believe symptoms of holding others’ pain may include: agitation, confusion, excessive problem-solving about the situation, self-blame and thinking about that person too much. And symptoms of holding others’ shame may include all of those and also: feeling like the connection between you is “icky”, you feel bogged-down or ‘gross’, and that the issue is starting to affect how you feel about yourself, for example: lowering your self-esteem or ability to listen to your instincts. 

So, try this short exercise:


  1.  Wonder with an open mind, what the main emotion or specific dynamic behind the scenes is.
  2. When you have one or a couple, say to yourself:
    • “This [the specific emotion or dynamic] is not mine to hold. It has nothing to do with me.”
  3. Picture it leaving your body, and also your, and the other person’s, emotions separating. 
  4. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders drop a couple of times. 
  5. Then pick out a pleasurable and healthy thing to do to nurture yourself today. A walk, a smoothie, massaging your shoulders – whatever it is, try to enjoy shifting your focus back to yourself and your life in an empowered and embodied way.

5. Get the Care You Need

Although this situation has been a great prompt, it is powerful to keep your attention on yourself, your healing. In fact, shifting your focus back from the other person to yourself is the ultimate success. Because, although you may never get the apology or vindication or even just clarity you want, the point is always you and how you feel about yourself.

So, try this open-ended exercise for considering your healthiest next steps. 

  1. Call to mind the nature of the hurt you are carrying, with a gentle and open mind set (avoid getting into specifics or the “story”)
  2. With a curious and open mind, wonder – what is the best way forward for myself? Is it therapy, massage, more socialising, speaking more openly to my friends, setting up healthier boundaries, or other? This next step could be anything as long as it is healthy and feels right for you. 


I hope you enjoyed this simultaneously long and way-too-short-to-cover-everything article. It occurs to me we have not covered the practical aspect of dealing with difficult people, so I may revisit this topic with a second part next week. And if you’re struggling with a situation like this, you may also benefit from reading Part One and Part Two of my article on dealing with narcissists. 

I hope you’re doing OK with everything, feeling healthy, happy and whole. 

As always, take care! 


PS If you want to check it out, this is the Group book (it’s an affiliate link btw).

reflection of woman s eye on broken mirror

Dealing with Narcissists (Part 2)

OK, we’re back, and I have four more aspects for you to look at to help you in dealing with the narcissist in your life.

6. They Make You So Very Confused

This also relates to my previous point about them telling you an issue is X, but it’s actually something very different, usually behind the scenes. But it’s not just that.

Octopii flood the water with ink to defend themselves from predators. To a narcissist anyone who can see them clearly feels like a predator. That’s way too vulnerable for them. 

Their kind of ink is mental confusion. The confusion they create is its own reward for them, they get more room to pretend and to manoeuvre and to make out that the facts aren’t the facts. It’s a win, win, win for them. 

They have various methods, the most well-known is gaslighting – where they essentially make you doubt that a fact is a fact and at the extreme end make you doubt even your own sanity. Because they are so brazen it can be hard to spot them doing it, especially as we all make some allowances in differences in communication between individuals. Surely they can’t really have meant that, tends to be the general feeling.

Often they have nothing to back their arguments up with so instead they use a sense of their own superiority as a battering ram, accompanied by a vague phrase meant to override your well-explained arguments or evidence. These may include: “you clearly don’t understand/ are exaggerating/ misunderstood/ wasn’t my intention” etc etc – anything that is so vague they can use it as an excuse not to provide any actual information, but with a tone that conveys that specifics are beneath them. You are beneath them. 

This is just one example of the extremely slippery nature of dealing with communication with a narcissist. And although the mechanism is interesting, it’s really the effect we should focus on. The mental confusion. 

If you leave a meeting or read an email etc and all you feel is a brain fog, or a sense of disorientation, or other confusion, that feels much more untethered than normal confusion, you need to take a step back. 

Take a moment, centre yourself, breathe. 

Have someone else read the email, or listen to you recount the conversation. See if there is any clarity to be found. Are there any answers there? Or was the main purpose to make you feel confused? 

“Why are they causing confusion now?”, you may ask. Perhaps they’re about to lose face, perhaps they feel threatened. It doesn’t matter. Get back to a sense of clarity within yourself, grounding yourself in the facts and breathing, then if you need to continue with communication, stay polite and stay clear. I’m a big fan of short sentences and numbered points. People who are refusing to give you information, or want to confuse you, will struggle to do that more with numbered points, probably because there is more pressure to give solid facts in answer to each. 

7. You Feel Strange Emotions That Are Hard to Process

When you pick up other people’s emotions, they’re really hard to process – probably because you don’t know where they’re from or have any information on what caused them. 

If, for example, someone drops something on your foot and you get a rush of self-protective anger, that usually passes easily (if the person apologises and there’s no lasting damage). 

But if someone dropped something on a narcissist’s foot and it triggered them and they felt rage, but they supressed it because they were with someone they wanted to impress, but the rage lingered and then they took it out on you – you wouldn’t have any of the context to deal with the rage they had shifted onto you. It’s kind of – sticky. (And icky).

I think that often what the narcissist is trying to make you feel, that’s how they feel deep down inside. So if, when you’re dealing with them, and you feel small, insignificant, uninteresting, wrong, strange, unattractive, for example, – perhaps that’s how they feel deep down about themselves. 

But let’s shift the focus back to you again. You may be feeling some emotions that are strange for you, or normal emotions but of an unusual intensity. 

Your mind is probably stuck on the details of the conflict, and while it is, it’s really hard to deal with the underlying dynamic that’s going on and to work through the emotions that have been put on you/ engendered in you. 

This isn’t about avoiding responsibility for our own feelings, it’s about the difficulty of navigating feelings we have, that were probably the underlying goal of a strange interaction. This is something a lot of us are unprepared for because we think people are using communication to share information with us, rather than to hurt us. In this context communication becomes something else. 

But back to the emotions! Something is dropped on your foot – “ow! Hey! “sorry”, “OK”, is my very rough summary of this. But if anger is dropped on you from out of nowhere, it lingers, circles, confusing us, making us stub our toes, drop things, we just don’t know what to do with this foreign body. We don’t even know it’s not of us

So here’s a rough guide to dealing with these “foreign body” emotions:

Step 1. Acknowledge the things you are feeling that are unusual for you, and what you think was the trigger. If it’s been going on for a while, see if you can spot a pattern of triggers and the emotions that result. 

Step 2. is to understand the dynamic that is leading to these feelings and then gracefully bow out. If you do not accept the emotions it is harder to put them on you, and this is easier when you can clearly spot what is happening. You can even try saying “no thank you” when you feel them arising and visualise releasing them back to their rightful owner. You should feel a shift, and feel lighter, freer or clearer.

(If these steps don’t work for you, you can also try processing your emotions using the methods I’ve spoken about previously on this blog). 

If you already have a wound that fits that feeling, it’s much easier for someone to make you feel it. In this case you can wonder when you first felt this way, to find a clue for inner-child work you might benefit from. Working with a therapist can help a lot in this area. 

8. You May Find Yourself Addicted to The Struggle/ Relationship

Whatever situation you have found yourself in with the narcissist – whether it’s romantic, work, family, or other. It may be addictive.

The drama, the highs and lows, the desire to win, the lovebombing or breadcrumbing, the intensity of it. It can really make you feel like it’s the biggest deal in the world. 

I understand. When someone hurts you really badly and you just want to win your power back. When a narcissist withholds love and attention but then shines that spotlight on you just as you’re about to leave, and you feel all the love you were hoping for. That desire for vindication, for validation of the effort you’ve put in or the suffering you’ve endured. 

All that can never come from a narcissist. 

Sure, they convince you that this connection is the thing, that they’re important, that you need them to love you or approve of you, or that you are powerless unless you “win”. 

All of that is fake. The only victory worth winning when it comes to narcissists is to get away as cleanly as possible from them. And then have, or keep having, a great life.

Of course, there are exceptions – you could win back a sum of money, or they could be fired, or face other consequences of their actions. 

But your power lies within you, that’s where it has been all along. You can’t wrestle it back from them – they don’t have it. Your power is in you, your passions, your goals, your sense of self. That’s all within you. 

So if you believe on any level that you may have become too caught up in a relationship or a struggle with a narcissist, try the following steps (if it’s too much just do the first two). 

  1. Take a deep breath, let it out. Do that a couple more times. 
  2. Think about the things that are really important to you, the things that give your life meaning and the things that make you feel joy. 
  3. Say to yourself “I choose where my power goes and how I use it”, feel your power within you. 
  4. Call to mind the connection with the narcissist briefly and say to yourself “I am ready to let go” and feel that in your whole being. Visualise the connection floating away into the distance and disappearing.
  5. Bring your attention back to your power. And now also to the things that are important to you. Visualise your power flowing towards the things that are important to you. 

9. They Try and Get Into Your Idea of Reality and Mess It Up

This ties in a lot with several of the points above – the mental confusion, making you think the explicit issue is the issue when it isn’t, undermining your power. 

But I want to talk about your sense of reality as a separate issue before we finish because it is such a common theme with everyone I’ve seen who has had to deal with a narcissist. 

Even the really level-headed clients I’ve had, who have had a run-in with a narcissist where they had ample evidence and support to back them up as well as an infrastructure that made dealing with them fairly simple. Even their sense of reality had a ding in it afterwards.

It is most likely the gaslighting, but I think it is often also the damage to their sense of reality is that they had an idea of what was a minimum of good behaviour or professionalism – and then that was thrown out of the window. Because narcissists try to make everyone stoop to their level and normalise bad behaviour, many find their ability to assume the best in others and trust people is damaged afterwards. 

In the worst case scenarios the narcissist causes the person to doubt themselves, their worthiness, abilities and even their knowledge of who they are. The damage to their reality – to how they experience themselves – can be long lasting and painful, and usually needs professional help to get over. 

For others it’s just a lingering confusion around what happened – like however much they puzzle over it, they can’t get it straight in their mind. 

If you’ve had an interaction, a struggle or a relationship with a narcissist – how has your sense of reality changed? Think about both your experience of the world, and also of yourself. 

If you can’t grasp the answer, try casting your mind back to before you met this person. What has changed?

So, in these two pretty long and eclectic articles I’ve tried to cover many of the most important dynamics of dealing with narcissists. Although understanding their actions and behaviours is very important, it is often the underlying dynamics that I see eroding people’s wellbeing the most, so I hope you have gained an understanding of how to deal with these more explicitly.

At the end of the day, it’s very sad that people suffering from narcissism are wounded and will most likely die with those wounds, never fully knowing themselves, because they hardly ever seek help. But we have to release ourselves from any responsibility for their lives. We can only ever really be responsible for our own lives and we can only bring all of the gifts we offer into the world if we stay intact and healthy enough to do so. 

The healthier our cultures become, both psychologically and in other areas, the less narcissists will be able to victimise others and benefit from aggressive behaviour. So, I believe effort is best spent keeping ourselves healthy and contributing to the growth and evolution of the cultures we are a part of, rather than trying to “fix” narcissists. That is best left to the professionals. 

If you’d like to know more, I enjoy Dr Ramini’s videos on youtube. There are some amazing books and other resources out there also, but if you’ve been badly affected I think your first stop should be to see a therapist if you haven’t already.

If your wellbeing has taken a beating from dealing with a narcissist, I also have an exercise for boosting self-love you can try here

Finally, if you know someone who has been affected and you think this article could help, please share it with them. I love helping more people. 

And as always, take care! 

reflection of woman s eye on broken mirror

Dealing with Narcissists (Part 1)

It’s not great when you have to deal with someone suffering from narcissism. A large part of the difficulty is the level of psychological manipulation that goes with it, as well as the self-doubt and the damage to your self-esteem that can result. 

If narcissists looked and sounded like the wounded animals lashing out that they are, we’d all be saved a lot of time, effort and heartache. But unfortunately for us, they are often charming, intelligent, in positions of influence and are well-thought of by many people. This makes any situation where you have to stand up to one, or prove your side of the story, a real challenge. 

I’ve experienced the hardships of dealing with narcissists first hand and supported many clients going through it too. I’ve both witnessed and felt the emotional, physical and mental impact of prolonged abuse from them, and one of the most effective self-defence weapons we can add to our arsenal is getting informed. So in this blog article I’m going to talk about what I’ve learned about recovering from difficult situations with narcissists and regaining your sense of self, agency and strength, I hope it’s useful to you.

Before we start I just want to remind you that I am not a psychiatrist/ psychologist and also I don’t recommend diagnosing others. I should also mention that we all have a bit of narcissism, a bit of “please delete that photo and post the one with the nice light where I look cute”. The difference is really the extent and whether or not you are leaving a trail of wounded people in your wake as you move through life. I’m taking an educated guess that if you’re reading this, you’re not. 

With that said, let’s look at some of the main traits of narcissists: 

They feel like they are entitled to what they want

They need attention, admiration and praise

They lack empathy for the feelings and suffering of others 

They rarely take responsibility for their own actions

They see themselves as better than others, when not treated this way they can become rude or even abusive.

The last example reminds me of a time I went on holiday to Greece and this terrible (IMO) couple kept walking around the beach saying “boy, bring me my towel”, “boy bring our drinks” – and then to each other “he’s a good boy”. The “boy” was a Greek man in his 40s. When they finally settled, the woman waded into the sea and half a minute later started screaming really loudly – the water was full of biting fish that had surrounded her and were nibbling rather aggressively. If you’ve never felt the joy of a whole beach-full of people smiling silently at the same time, well, I recommend it. It feels a bit like a summer breeze.  

A well-adjusted therapist would most likely tell you they could have been going through something etc. And perhaps that’s the case. But I thought if you’ve been having to deal with a narcissist you could probably use a little pick-me-up right now, like an example of instant karma.

Because dealing with them can be protracted and messy and difficult. If there is either: 1. no way for them to extract themselves from a situation with you while saving face or 2. they’ve been using you as a scapegoat and they have no better options, then you may be in for a rough ride. Sorry. 

But it’s my aim to share what I’ve learned about how to protect and handle yourself through the self-development tools I’ve gained over the years. Again – not a therapist though – if you need one do go and see one, I can’t replace them. 

OK, let’s start! These are the main issues I see people having:

1. The Person Suffering From The Narcissist’s Behaviour Believes the Named Issue Is the Issue

So many people (including myself) are so rocked by dealing with these people (which is part of their strategy by the way), that they’re desperate to right the situation. So the narcissist complains about X and you reply in a reasonable way, but somehow it gets worse and you become more confused. Perhaps you come up with more options, perhaps you spend a lot of time trying to figure out their point of view, or understand what they need. 

What ALL my clients struggle getting their head around is – it’s not about X. Most of the time it was never about X. You’re trying to make everything better by fixating on X. But really X is, and has always been, a decoy. 

The narcissist’s goal wasn’t fixing X. It was to get you to think about X while they cross your boundaries, make you doubt yourself, make you spend a lot of energy thinking about them, give themselves a power trip, take pleasure in your discomfort, discredit you, or boost their own ego by making you look incompetent.

If you see what their actual goal is you will manage to alleviate a lot of the confusion you are feeling. It’s not about X (or if it is, that’s only 1% of the story). It’s about the dynamic, the power struggle, the energy drain. 

So, if you are dealing with a narcissist right now – what is X in your situation?

And what is their real goal? 

You may need to go with your gut on the second question. If you are completely stumped you might be able to figure it out by looking at the effect they are having and working back from there. 

2. The Self-Esteem Ship is Sinking and Sinking

This is one of the hardest aspects of dealing with a narcissist – that they love to see you suffer. It’s the polar opposite to being an empath. 

I have seen clients get into really bad shape when involved for too long in a struggle of some kind with a narcissist. I mean, it’s not great to be around them in general – usually the health of the culture around them ends up suffering at least a little from their presence, or a lot if they are in a leadership position.

But going head-to-head with one, or being the punching bag of one… I’ve seen it have long-lasting detrimental effects. 

Things that make it worse seem to be: a tendency to be self-critical already, being a people-pleaser, having been bullied in the past, having low self-esteem to start with, lacking emotional support and/ or a tendency to be hyper-responsible. 

And if you identify with any of those points, don’t worry! It’s never too late to get therapy and/ or work on yourself to start feeling better. And it’s worth saying that a ton of people share these issues, so if you’re feeling alone at all – you’re anything but. 

Things that make it better: having a whole rich life that is nothing to do with the narcissist, good levels of self-esteem, ways of finding self-fulfilment, a sense of being in a community, good levels of self-respect, being clear about one’s own “rightness” and boundaries, feeling good about yourself, having fun, feeling love, feeling connected, healing experiences (like being around kids/ animals/ water/ nature etc). 

So if you find your self-esteem has taken a plunge I recommend plotting out a plan to restore your self-esteem and connection to yourself and to the world (and you know, to colours and fun and pleasantness) and putting into action. 

3. They End Up in Places They Shouldn’t Have Access to 

Boundaries are often more of a hypothetical to these people – well, unless you’re trying to cross theirs! And then it’s a very tangible concrete and barbed wire affair. 

While they’re distracting you with other things, trying to disarm you with charisma or insults, using the element of surprise or coming at you over and over again to wear you down, they’re trying to cross a line. Holding the line is tricky, but it’s easier once you know that’s what they’re trying to do. 

If you’re dealing with a narcissist right now – what is the line they are trying to cross? 

And is there also another, less tangible one they’re trying to cross also? 

For example, let’s say you’re in business with one and they broke a contract – that’s crossing a line in an obvious way. But underneath that, perhaps they have also crossed a line of where you feel safe. Say you used to trust in people to be professional, and now your trust has been shaken. In a way, they crossed a boundary into your inner life, making it slightly worse. 

(let’s set aside the argument right now of: they didn’t make you feel anything – you decide how to feel. Let’s just keep it simple for now – a snake bites you and you feel pain. That’s actually a pretty good metaphor…)

So, considering that – what boundaries have they actually crossed?

As I mentioned in the self-esteem bit above, some of us are more vulnerable than others (and there’s no judgement there – we’ve all got stuff to deal with). If you start with a larger void inside you where ideally self-love and self-esteem would be, the more real estate a narcissist can try and take up. I mean, they’ll take up as much as they can when they’re interested in you, whether that is to be liked by you or to hurt you – or both. Either way they’re “space-invaders” and they’ll take as much as they can. 

4. They Make Our Healthy Anger Seem Unhealthy

It’s natural to push back against boundary-invasions with anger but I’ve found narcissists tend to use this against us, either muddying the water by confusing the facts, or calling us “emotional” or “irrational” (more likely if you’re female, yay!), or insinuating to others that we’re unstable.

You might feel like reacting in the heat of the moment to a narcissist: shoot out an email, make an angry call, make a fast decision. But that is usually what they want and you often come off worse. If it is a situation where it is safe and sensible to wait, then I recommend writing in your journal, talking to a friend or a sympathetic co-worker, or anything else you can do to vent your strong emotions. Then take a step back and think about what you actually want. 

Then, you can use your anger, but you should try and use it for controlled, purposeful steps that are well-thought out and logical. 

5. They Often Steer Your Goals Without You Noticing

You’ll nearly never win an ego-battle with a narcissist. But your goal should never be to win that struggle – what’s the point in beating someone who is broken at being broken?

You have to think about what your end goal is. They will make you so angry you may think about them way too much, fixate on proving them wrong or stopping them from getting what they want. That’s all about them. It’s already way too “about them”. 

What do you want? What is the best goal for you?

And what have they made you feel (reactively) like the goal is?

If there’s a difference – how are you going to shift yourself to work towards your real goal?

Keep coming back to what you want, how you want to show up in the world, the kind of person you want to be, even when dealing with someone suffering from narcissism. Especially when dealing with them, because it’s so easy to get blown off-course. 

And even if your intention is “I don’t want to be anything like this person”, you’re still letting the narcissist dictate the direction. 

Keep coming back to what is genuine for you. 

OK, next week I’ll release the second half of this article. I didn’t realise I knew so much about them until I started writing! I will give you 4 more important tips for dealing with them, but until then try and use the information and tools above.

And if you have been adversely affected by this issue I recommend you reach out to your mental health provider and/ or find a local support group to help you (This article has advice on finding a support group).

As always, take care!

sad person head in hands

We Can Do Difficult Things

One of my favourite podcasts is We Can Do Hard Things – that’s immediately what came to mind when I realised what I wanted to write about in this post. But I didn’t want to rip their name off, especially as it’s such a great show. Seriously if you haven’t already, check it out (link below). Inspirational.

Today I finally got round to cleaning little dried stains of water that had dripped down the front of my cabinets under the kitchen sink. Not really noticeable enough to kick my will power into a high enough gear to make me lift the sponge (sooo heavy!), but noticeable enough that I felt a twinge of discomfort every time I saw them. 

So I finally scrubbed the little so-and-sos off. The relief was palpable – why had I put it off for so long? Probably because I didn’t know how good it would feel afterwards. 

Buoyed by the success of getting rid of those irksome little reminders of my housekeeping deficiencies, and a very productive morning of writing, I decided to tackle another difficult task. 

I’m ready to finally deal with the shame of being bullied as a 40 year-old. It’s a special kind of shame. Seriously – 4 decades old and I couldn’t stop someone treating me terribly during the first year of the pandemic. So now I’m just taking my hat in my hands and going to these other authorities to admit this terrible thing. 

How can I justify the fact I got treated this way? A coach, a published author, successful-ish business person. I’ve run two marathons, backpacked round the world and got an email back from Andy Weir. How could this happen to me? Undertone: how could I let this happen? I feel ashamed and embarrassed. 

This person treated me and my work really badly. I tried standing up for myself, it got worse. I tried being nice, it got worse. I tried showing my point of view with research and logic. It got worse. I tried negotiating and finally trying to get this person to honour a contract they wrote themselves and then immediately broke, by threatening legal action. And guess what? You got it. It got worse. 

It feels almost irresponsible to “allow” myself to be treated so badly in my 4th decade sitting on top of our spinny floating ball. But I couldn’t stop it. What can we do when someone’s relative amounts of situational power vs personal power (i.e. being in a position of power, vs having integrity and self-control) are so out of whack? The side of me that celebrates fairness and justice was, let’s just say, not having a good time

What happens when there’s a road mapped out in professionalism and common courtesy but you suddenly realised it veered off miles back and you don’t know how to get back to being treated like a person? After being very self-sufficient for most of my life I realised the only thing I can do is ask people with more experience and industry know-how for help. And hope that they listen. 

That’s pretty hard, I mean, there’s a well-documented bias against people who have been treated badly – we’re not really wired to want to hang out with the injured members of the pack. That’s why people suffering from racism, ageism, sexism, homophobia etc have historically had such a hard time (of course I’m not comparing my experience to theirs). If you’re in the stronger group then why be associated with weakness? There can be a palpable physical response, a shudder and self-protective emotional closing down. People perceived as weak find themselves on the outside too easily. 

But since mental health is actually a topic with a place at the table nowadays I’m pretty optimistic. And I think these other people share my vision for a better world. A world I will be much more effective at helping to build once I no longer have to deal with unprofessionalism. It’s hard to build something lasting for the future while you’re preoccupied with stopping yourself from being torn down. I hope if you’ve ever found yourself in a similar position that you’re doing OK and you found the support you needed.

So – that was a whole thing. But what I really wanted to share with you was this: 

Out-of-the-box thoughts on tackling our to-do lists

  1. Tiny, annoying things

If there are tiny things that are bothering you a little and you feel like it’s not worth the time or effort to fix them, you might want to think about just addressing them now. It costs us emotional energy not only to be bothered by something little over and over again, but to push the feeling of it bothering you down out of your conscious and to keep on keeping it down. 

I think that’s why the relief can feel so big for just a little thing. You get the satisfaction, but you also get the rush of all that energy you spent “not noticing” it, coming back to you all at once. Ahhhhh. Feels good.

  • Big scary things

OK, there are some things we can’t handle right now. They might lead to situations, conversations and/ or emotions we just can’t deal with. That’s alright, good in fact. Knowing what we can handle and not handle is essential for mental health. But, at the same time, dealing with it and getting it over and done with can help to put a big scary thing into perspective, and your own agency and power along with it.

So if something feels huge and overwhelming but you deal with it, on the other side you may realise it was more of a medium-sized irritation and you are more resourceful and empowered than you were giving yourself credit for. But if you’re not ready today, I can definitely empathise with that. I’ve had situations where it was stressful to open my own inbox. And that’s my inbox! I should feel able to go there comfortably whenever I want. 

But difficult things are… well, yeah, they’re difficult. Whether we think they should be or not. Whether other people think something should be a big deal to us or not. We are strong and resourceful but we also hold fragile and complicated emotions. And navigating that line between pushing ourselves to be strong and protecting ourselves when we’re weak is, I think, one of the hardest things to get right in our lives. But we really know when we didn’t get it right, don’t we? 😉 

So that’s my 2 cents on doing the little annoying things and tackling those enormous hairy beasts. I want to leave you with a couple of questions that you might find helpful when you’re putting together your to-do list for the day. 

I recommend you take your time with them, let each question sit for a moment and feel for the most real answers that pop up. Also, these are mainly to gain insight, so don’t feel that you need to do everything that comes up (like I mentioned before, it’s not always the right time to tackle something). And last tip – let surprising answers come up if they want to. 

To-Do List Insight Questions

What is annoying me right now, or niggling at the back of my mind? (could be anything – in your environment, relationships, wardrobe, health – anything)

What am I scared of doing right now?

I would feel proud at the end of today if I do/ finish ________ .

I will feel satisfied at the end of the day if I ___________.

Thanks for reading. As always, take care! 

PS If you have been bullied as an adult, know that there are resources out there to help you. Also, I found this article very interesting.

PPS. This is the podcast I mentioned: We Can Do Hard Things

PPPS. relatable?


PPPPS: remembered this old chestnut

Amusing to do list meme