At least some portion of my day is spent helping my clients manage demanding and challenging people in their lives. We’ve all been there. Maybe, it’s a condescending and demeaning supervisor. Perhaps, it’s a snide comment by a family member, or passive-aggressive behaviors from a spouse.
I remember reading a book in graduate school called, Emotional Vampires. The title captures it well: these people suck the life out of you. In worse cases, they can be abusive and cause emotional trauma. I’ve seen an increase over the last several years in the amount of clients experiencing legitimate PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from abusive employers and managers.
Taking Your Power Back
The approach most people attempt to take with these type of people is to either avoid them or try and figure out their thought process. “What do you think they are thinking,” or, “Why would they do that?” Although I can make educated guesses, anything I come up with would be pure speculation. Only the person can ultimately say what motivated them.
This kind of thinking is a dead end and leaves the control with the other person. The truth is the only power these types of individuals have is to induce fear and shame in you. Once you realize this, you can begin taking your power back. Some of these people have become masters at controlling others through shaming them.
Overcoming Your Own Shame
The reality is these people are actually full of a tremendous amount of shame. When you overcome your own shame you can challenge them in ways they rarely experience because they intimidate so many others by trigger their inadequacies.
We all struggle with insecurities at times. The key is to acknowledge them, identify their origins, and process and release from the core shame. Once you do this, you will become bulletproof to these category of people. You need to realize the solution to your freedom from them lies inside of you, not between you and them.
Even if you can develop a behavioral strategy to manage them, you will still be vulnerable to being controlled and manipulated as a result of the underlying insecurities you carry. Furthermore, there is a time and place to practice healthy avoidance and boundary setting, but some situations will be unavoidable. The long-term solution is to conquer your own shame, which will lead to you becoming untouchable.
Shame and Implicit Memories
All the incidents throughout your history in which you experienced shame and were not able to regulate it were stored in what is referred to as your implicit memory system. This type of memory is stored in your body as a felt sense. It does not come with words, images, or thoughts. Moreover, the way this memory is stored in the brain, it cannot distinguish between people, time or place.
When you originally experienced the event and could not manage the feeling of shame, a neurological process referred to as dissociation activated to split off what you could not manage into its own isolated memory network. Now, whenever this feeling gets triggered in the body it dissociates you back into that moment, and you tend to cope in the same manner you did originally, which is to go into a state of passive helplessness. Contrastingly, you might reactive excessively to avoid this state of powerlessness, such as acting out in rage and anger.
The Steps to Freedom
Here are the steps for processing and releasing the historical shame you are still carrying. The first step is to imagine a current challenging interaction with the difficult person in your life, such as a supervisor berating you in front of your peers. As you observe the incident in your mind’s eye like a photograph, notice where you begin to feel energy or activation in your body. Be patient and take your time if you do not become aware of a feeling in your body. It may take a few minutes.
Once you identify where you feel sensation in your body, work towards letting go of conscious control of your mind. The only thing you are going to do with conscious intent is to observe your present experience. Don’t attempt to make connections, label anything as important or unimportant, or try and make things happen in any way. The key is to observe without judgment.
Accessing Your Inner Healing Capacity
Just observe any body sensations, emotions, thoughts, images, memories, or subjective experiences you notice in the present moment. As you continue to let go of conscious control, you will move into what is referred to as an alpha brain wave state. This will allow you greater access to your subconscious brain, which is where the implicit memories are stored. Moreover, it will initiate an internal processing system we all have that will release the blocked emotional energy that has been stored there.
This will then allow you to become fully present and no longer get sucked into the past by the difficult person in your life. Remember, be patient and let go of any expectations about what you may experience. Some people notice only body sensations, others emotions and images, and some images with not much feeling. There is no significance to how you process. Each person is different.
When to Use a Professional
Continue to track and notice your experience until you can return to the initial image of the difficult person you began with and no longer feel any sensation but a sense of resolution, peace, or a newfound confidence leading to imagining some effective action you can take. One caveat would be if you become highly activated or experience excessive numbness or feel disconnected, discontinue this exercise and contact a professional like myself.
Due to time constraints, you may have to do this several times until you achieve a zero level of sensation and a subsequent positive state. Although difficult people can use fear, shame, and guilt in their effort to intimidate and use others, the one I have chosen to focus on in this article is shame, due to the fact it is the most frequent emotion they trigger in others. Even in many cases of fear being triggered, it is actually the fear of experiencing feelings associated with shame.
Don’t Be Fooled by Faux Confidence
I can assure you it is possible to become immune to their attacks once you overcome your own shame. You will then be like the character Neo in the movie, The Matrix, when he stopped the bullets in mid-air. I cannot emphasize enough how impenetrable to these people you will become once you win the battle within. You no longer need to fear them because they cannot change the way you feel about your value and worth.
Don’t be fooled by the level of arrogance these people may express. Deep down they are incredibly insecure. Individuals who have high self worth are always humble, kind, and compassionate. As you resolve your fear of them, you can even develop compassion for their suffering, while setting healthy boundaries of course.
If you would like to learn more about how to become bulletproof to difficult people or need more support and guidance for the exercise mentioned above, contact me at www.gatewaycounseling.com