You cannot turn around, it seems, without hearing about violence occurring in so many ways in the world—shootings, wars, subway “pushers,” rape and beatings. Often, it’s happening right where you are. Perhaps not in such obvious ways, but sometimes we are so close to the people we love or work with, that we cannot see that their “difficult” behavior is actually downright abusive and dangerous.
Look around in your own life. Is there a partner, family member, child or co-worker who seems difficult to deal with most of the time?
Do you know how to tell the difference between “difficult” and “dangerous”? The point when “difficult” turns to “dangerous” is often not apparent, especially when you are close to that person (e.g. “not my daughter”, “not my husband”).
A dangerous person is a threat to your well-being and health in all ways.
Whether or not they are dangerous to society is something only a psychologist or therapist can determine on an individual basis. All you need to know is if they are dangerous to you.
For your emotional, mental and physical safety, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you in denial about this person’s potential for violence because you don’t know what to do about it?
- Have you tried to talk to this person close about the startling or inappropriate ways they react to life and treat people, to no avail?
- If you did try to talk with them, where you met with anger, defenses, excuses, and rationales?
- Did they immediately point the finger back at you, rather than accept the invitation to look at themselves?
- Do you feel you must be nice to this person who scares you, just to keep the peace and not be victimized by them?
- Are you in an abusive relationship, and you need help to stand up, speak up, and do something to keep yourself and your children safe?
If any of these scenarios are present in your relationship, it’s time to take action.
No, it’s not time to start blaming, getting angry, criticizing, lecturing or threatening to leave them; that doesn’t work. Yes, threatening to leave them does seem to straighten them out for a little while, but be honest, there is no real, lasting change over time.
Many people who behave these ways are not driven by logic. (Those are the very difficult ones, the ones crossing the line between difficult and dangerous.) Not driven by logic? That’s a game-changer, isn’t it? If they are not driven by logic—and your efforts to reason with them is all you’ve got—you’re not going to get very far. Repeated attempts at reasoning just make you frustrated and furious, wasting your time, energy and goodwill.
In fact, these folks are so resistant to your logical approach that they may even behave in more entrenched, frustrating and violent ways just to prove to you that you have no power over them. To handle this, you need insights and skills.
Here is where we all need realistic expectations.
If you see patterns of behavior meant to dominate, control or alienate others or you, consider them signs of potential trouble. That trouble will seldom be the huge, violently overt acts of a killing spree. It is more likely repeated acts that show other people how little they care.
In so many cases, these behaviors that push people away are due to a deep belief that the offender feels unlovable. They say, “I’ll show you. You won’t ignore me.” That is their motivation for verbal or physical violence. It is a search for significance gone terribly wrong.
So, if someone you live, love or work with is habitually difficult, defensive or destructive, take note now. They likely won’t grow out of it, nor will they likely change unless they are open to positive, immediate and effective help, and, maybe not even then.
You have to do things differently because:
1. They think everyone is a potential danger to them emotionally.
Recognize that their pain is within themselves. It has nothing to do with you, so don’t take it on as your fault, no matter what they say.
Yelling, belittling or abusing others is their desperate attempt to get some respect and release the pain that they feel. That pain was likely inflicted in childhood, emotional, physical, verbal or sexual pain. It is not about you.
2. You avoid confronting them and their behavior.
You need to do your own internal work. If you think or feel that the poor ways someone treats you is because you deserve it, you’ve got work to do.