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At sometime in everyone's life, it is his displeasure to run into a difficult person, perhaps at work or in the neighborhood. Others feel like magnets for the bullies and the know-it-alls. Some folks feel they attract the negativists and whiners.

Jungian psychotherapists would answer that we shadow others; others shadow us. A person raised in an abusive situation may become overly fearful of confrontation. A bully senses this fear, despises it and is drawn to abuse the perpetual victim. The opposite is also true: a person who feels generally unworthy and defensive may, in turn, accuse others of being defensive when they questions her decision at work or at home.

Mark Rosen, PH.D., in his aptly titled work "Thank You For Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People" (1998, Three Rivers Press), promotes the notion that such difficult relationships are not random encounters; they are opportunities for spiritual and personal growth. Use these people as mirrors for examining your own difficult personality quirks. Try to define what it is about the behavior that is so offensive, and also consider if there is any truth in the remarks they make.

A hostile, threatening person is easy to identify as difficult, but what about the habitual whiner or the automatic naysayer? A mother in your playgroup never stops complaining about how hard her life is: kids' earaches, husband traveling, credit card overcharges. Does this set your teeth on edge? Do you think maybe you hold the title of martyr in another, quieter way by your heavy sighs as you say to your spouse, "Oh, never mind. I'll do it myself?" Does your boss put down all your ideas? She may have a clue about how complex your proposal is and is being realistic, but you may feel she is just like you mother who never felt you were as good at anything as your sister.

How can you cope or maybe even move beyond coping to friendship?

Robert Bramson, PH.D. published his classic "Coping With Difficult People" in 1981 and offered his plan for coping:
- Step back, detach, assess the situation.
- Accept that the person is the way he is; wishing won't make him go away.
- Separate physically, as well as emotionally, from the disturbing behavior.
- Make a plan. Write out scripts for possible discussions, practice your part in front of the mirror.
- Put your plan in action.
- Study the results. Did your calm demeanor difuse the aggressiveness, did your humor stop the whining?

Dr. Mark Rosen delves deeper into the action plan phase by asking what are you going to do and how will that help you grow? Should you ignore it, be super-sweet, avoid the person, seek revenge, talk it out or, the most helpful, make inner changes.

By changing yourself, you will be altering the way these difficult people react to you. Lost the martyr complex and your friend will stop trying to outdo you with her woes. Firmly stand your ground and refuse to be a victim and the bully boss may begin to respect you. Acknowledge the co-worker's negative comments as possible concerns and she may offer her help in avoiding pitfalls.