Over the past month, I have had to deal with a particularly difficult client. An individual that seemed straight out of a comic book with a bundle of sociopathic traits. I believe this individual was a legitimate narcissist and sociopath. The type of person you try to avoid like your life depended on it. Well, in 2021, I set some financial goals and I had been working towards transitioning to my own Creative Agency (see services here). So basing my decisions on people’s mental instability would not be wise.
So what does one do, when confronted with difficult people standing in the way of one’s goals? Well, in my case I could simply quit and find better clients, but I decided to see this as a challenge. This particular client was a wealthy person’s child, with a sense of grandeur that bordered on psychopathy, loved going into diatribes and forcing his worldview on others. He was verbally abusive and quite inconsiderate of others. Most of my meetings with him were just a self-restraint ordeal in which I was quite tempted to tell him to shove his ego up his ***.
But it all came down to him. He was not raised with love, felt he needed to emulate his father perhaps and took out his low self-esteem on others, to puff up his ego. They were all his issues, which he was attempting to externalise. I realised that in order to grow stronger this was something I needed to learn: some people just can’t help but foist their damage on others.
I couldn’t keep getting frustrated by other people’s complexes. So I began a little experiment, I would use this particular client to learn how to cope with difficult personalities. As a business person, being social is something I need to get used to even though I’m mostly an introvert. So here is what I learned:
It’s Not About You
In most cases, difficult people are just stuck in their own issues and insecurities, Some hide behind a facade of grandeur, some take out their shortcomings on others. But one must never forget that it has nothing to do with the people they drag into their black hole of misery. Difficult people need to be understood with no personal attachments. It is not necessary to keep interacting or engaging them, at any point you can get out or consider other options. There is very little point in constantly arguing over their behaviour. This is especially true in a professional setting.
At first, I did feel quite offended by this client’s behaviour. This was my first foray in freelance, and I value respect above pretty much everything else in my social interactions. So learning to distance myself from the impolite and crude language the client used, with other colleagues and towards me enraged me to the point where I did clearly point it out to them, that I would not be taking it any longer. A revolt that was poorly received. Which to me, became a clear indication that this person had not grown with any sense of respect for others instilled in them.
I decided, I’d move on to other clients at this point. As this was a lost cause, if I ever found one, so I terminated my contract with them at the end of the first month. But if you find yourself in a position where quitting is not possible, yet, it would be wiser in my opinion to learn how to distance yourself from such a person. However, if I’m really being honest it would be better to completely exit such a situation if you find yourself retaining a lot of the negativity.
Acknowledge That It is NOT Your Responsibility to Change Them
Whatever you do, don’t delude yourself into thinking that you can change such people or that you should. , as I first thought. You did not make them this way, you probably can’t unmake them. If it is a romantic relationship and you believe there is a good chance the person would try changing, perhaps you could try but the success rate of such endeavours is not great. Many spend an entire lifetime suffering such relationships, for instance, marriages with abusive narcissists. Often, all that accomplishes is keeping the drama going for decades.
In such circumstances, the wisest move, I believe, is to realise that you can only control your own behaviour, emotions and actions. Such people are not likely to change, and one’s good will becomes a trap that could end up being self-destructive.
You Can Always Leave
In the majority of cases, your future is not tied to a place or a person. You are neither a prisoner nor a slave. There is no point at which you can’t flip the switch off and move on with your life. All it takes is realising that you are always free. So at the end of the day if you accept being mistreated, it comes down to choices you’ve made.
Admittedly, mustering the courage to disengage from a relationship with a difficult person is not easy. The more emotionally entangled you are with a company, person or circumstance the harder it is to simply leave. I understand that, but objectively leaving is never off the table, especially if you’ve got no moral obligation or duty to stay.
Take time each to consider options, and make a plan for your exit. A serious and well-timed effort, could make a great difference. Never limit yourself mentally, to the point where you are actually trapped by your own mind, and its imagined circumstantial limitations.
Life is too short to waste it away working with people that make every step of the way a struggle. However, it is understandable that some business relationships are matters of convenience. In those cases, learning to distance yourself emotionally, and reducing unnecessary interactions might be the way to go.
Just don’t allow those relationships of convenience to begin eating away at your self-esteem, confidence or ability to perform at your best.