Dealing with Difficult people

I don’t have to tell you that it is very stressful dealing with a bad boss or other bad relationships in general.

I have done a lot of research on how to protect myself and others from bad relationships. In addition to direct experience, there are some excellent references on this topic from a number of perspectives:

  • Narcissism
  • Micromanagement
  • Control freaks
  • Assholes
  • Emotional Blackmail

Rather than send you links to the extensive literature on these topics (which you don’t have time to read) this is my attempt to provide a Coles notes like summary of what the key points and strategies are to mitigate the situation.

In most cases, the emphasis is on self-defence rather than expecting to be able to change the other person’s bad behaviour.


Managing a relationship with someone who has narcissistic personality traits can affect your well-being and mental health. Try strategies such as setting clear boundaries and relying on a support system of people you can trust.

The term narcissist is tossed around frequently. It is used to describe people who seem self-focused, concerned only for themselves, or manipulative of people in their lives.

How to handle a Narcissist: 9 tips


6 Signs of A Micromanager (And How To Deal With Them)

This article is a mixed bag of suggestions – some of which I don’t think will work in your situation.

  1. Figure out the level of management you need – your own clarity is good ✓
  2. Initiate relationship-building conversations – NA since you don’t have trust X
  3. Ask for clear guidelines and timelines.- NA because already have received excessive bad advice X
  4. Show that you are trustworthy. – Use examples that you are doing well ✓
    • Being transparent – nope this just invites more meddling X
    • Asking advice – nope will get bad advice you can’t follow that will provoke anger X
    • Completing projects on time – Yes ✓
    • Showing loyalty – somewhat to reassure when you can but not when getting bad advice ~
  5. Reinforce positive behaviour – yes when genuine ✓

Control Freaks

(2078) How to HANDLE a CONTROL FREAK! | Surviving Toxic People – YouTube
What to do:

  1. limit interactions
  2. Do not share information that isn’t necessary for the job or role
  3. Learn to say no
  4. Build healthy boundaries


The two tests that I use for spotting whether a person is acting like an asshole:
• Test One:
– After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person?
– In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?
• Test Two:
– Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?


Common Everyday Actions That Assholes Use

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s “personal territory”
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mail flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

To protect your career and be a respectable nice person make sure that you do not align with or support a jerk/asshole boss or person.

Emotional Blackmail

Narcissists and control freaks use emotional blackmail to gain power over others.

The Four Faces of Blackmail

1. Punishers

Punishers let us know exactly what they want and the consequences we’ll face if we don’t give it to them are the most glaring. They may express themselves aggressively, or they may smoulder in silence, but either way, the anger they feel when thwarted is always aimed directly at us.

2. Self-punishers

Self-Punishers who occupy the second category, turn the threats inward, emphasizing what they’ll do to themselves if they don’t get their way.

3. Sufferers

Sufferers are talented blamers and guilt-peddlers who often make us figure out what they want, and always conclude that it is up to us to ensure that they get it.

4. Tantalizers

Tantalizers put us through a series of tests and hold out a promise of something wonderful if we’ll just give them their way.

Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG) are leveraged to control people.

Emotional Blackmail

By definition, emotional blackmail is an act of controlling the person with whom you have an emotional connection. This control is by using tactics that make him/her feel guilty or upset. Put simply, when any person uses your feelings (in a negative way against you) to control your behaviour or seek what he/she wants, it’s called emotional blackmail. You can be emotionally blackmailed by your spouse, parents, children, siblings, friends, colleagues, or anyone close to you without realizing that you are being manipulated.

As previously defined, an emotional blackmailer uses your feelings against you; to control your behaviour the way they want or to seek their intended objective. So the threat here is not tangible. Your feelings are used against you in emotional blackmail.


An emotional blackmailer uses three main emotions against you – fear, obligation, and guilt coined into an acronym, FOG by Susan Forward, one of the USA’s leading psychotherapists.


For a blackmailer to be successful, he/she must know about your fears, the deep-rooted ones like fear of isolation, humiliation, or failure. The most interesting part is that these fears might be unique to you. No one else perceives them as a threat from the blackmailer except you. This gives the blackmailer a chance to threaten you, isolate you, ridicule you in front of others, or expose your past failure if you don’t succumb to their desires.


Obligation is yet another favourite tactic used by these addicts. They justify their addiction by blaming others. Instead of taking up the responsibility for their wrong behavior, they project it onto others. For example, a habitual drinker may threaten his wife by saying, “If you kick me out of the house, I’ll be forced to drink more.” The innocent wife believes and hopes that her husband will stop drinking if she obeys him, but it’s just a trap she falls into.


Guilt-tripping is used by blackmailers to make their target feel guilty about causing some negative outcome to the blackmailer. The end result might not even be that negative, but the blackmailer presents it in such a way that the target feels pain and guilt.

Manipulation is Used to Control

The idea behind using these three emotions to control a person is that they are negative emotions, and nobody wants to experience such feelings in their life.
Consequently, they give in to the blackmailer’s demands to avoid experiencing these negative feelings.

Personality Traits

Emotional blackmailers share some common personality traits:

  1. Lack of empathy
    It’s usually not too hard for us to imagine ourselves in the other person’s shoes
    and feel his agony, his pain, and empathize with him. But that’s not so with emotional blackmailers. They can’t have real empathy with others. Either they can’t imagine themselves in the other person’s shoes, or even if they do, it’s from a position of distrust. They think that the other person is going to harm them, and thus, they are justified in manipulating them.
  2. Low self-esteem
    Low self-esteem? In emotional blackmailers? Are you serious?
    They are capable of robbing others of their self-esteem via emotional manipulation. So how could they have low self-esteem? I know it sounds a bit weird, but that’s the truth. As explained previously, emotional blackmailers are often emotionally insecure and have low levels of self-worth. Instead of finding ways to raise their self-esteem, they believe in lowering that of others to feel good. Low self-esteem also means such people struggle to form close relationships. They might have just one close relationship and look up to it to give all the things they are missing elsewhere. This is their dependency on a relationship, and if they feel they are going to lose it, they resort to more intense emotional blackmail.

3• Tendency to blame others
Emotional blackmailers never take up responsibility for problems in their relationships or failure in their careers. They always hold others responsible for their pain and suffering. Such logic makes them feel justified in threatening others to get what they want.

Emotional Blackmail Summary

  1. Emotional blackmail is a form of abuse where the blackmailer tries to control the other person’s feelings and behaviour.
  2. The blackmailer uses fear, obligation, and guilt to manipulate the victim.
  3. Such people lack self-esteem and empathy and blame others for their bad relationships.
  4. To know if you are subject to this in your relationship, ask yourself these questions:  
    • Does my partner say or do things to make me feel guilty for actions that aren’t wrong?
    • Does my partner point out negative things related to my success?
    • Does my partner seek a way to bring my mood down?
    • Does my partner frequently make me feel fear, obligation, or guilt?

If you answer ‘Yes’ to these questions, you’re definitely being emotionally blackmailed.

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