How To Not Let Difficult People Drive You Insane

Difficult people are everywhere. From the coworker who never stops complaining to the friend who constantly drains your energy, these individuals can drive you up the wall if you let them. But here’s the thing — you have more control over the situation than you think. By setting boundaries, changing your perspective, and practicing self-care, you can minimize the impact difficult people have on your mental well-being. Here are 15 no-nonsense strategies to keep your sanity intact.

1. Recognize that their behavior isn’t about you.

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Difficult people often lash out due to their own unresolved issues and insecurities. Their comments and actions are a reflection of them, not you. Don’t take it personally or let their negativity define your self-worth. At the end of the day, you can’t control their behavior, but you can control how much power you give it over your emotions. Remind yourself that their words and actions say more about them than they do about you.

2. Set clear boundaries and stick to them.

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Boundaries are essential when dealing with difficult people. Clearly communicate what you will and won’t tolerate in terms of behavior and treatment. If someone consistently oversteps or disrespects your limits, don’t be afraid to enforce consequences. This could mean limiting contact, ending conversations when they turn negative, or even cutting ties altogether. Remember, you teach people how to treat you by what you allow. Don’t let someone trample on your boundaries just to keep the peace.

3. Don’t try to change them — focus on changing your reaction.

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As Mark Manson points out, you can’t force someone to change their personality or behavior. Trying to “fix” a difficult person is a futile effort that will only leave you frustrated. Instead, focus on what you can control — your own reactions and responses. When they push your buttons, take a deep breath and choose to respond calmly and rationally. Don’t let their negativity trigger you into stooping to their level. Rising above their difficult behavior takes away their power to manipulate your emotions.

4. Practice empathy, but don’t get sucked in.

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Difficult people are often coming from a place of pain or insecurity. Try to have compassion for what they might be going through, but don’t let that empathy turn into an excuse for their behavior. You can understand someone’s struggles without condoning their actions. Offer support if you’re able, but know when to draw the line. Empathy is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of your own well-being. Don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.

5. Keep interactions brief and to the point.

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The more time you spend around difficult people, the more opportunities they have to push your buttons. Keep necessary interactions as brief and focused as possible. Stick to the matter at hand and resist the urge to engage in small talk or unrelated topics. Politely excuse yourself when the conversation starts to veer off course or turn negative. Remember, you’re not obligated to be anyone’s sounding board or punching bag. Protect your time and energy.

6. Don’t feed into drama or gossip.

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Difficult people thrive on drama and often try to rope other people into their negativity. Don’t take the bait. When they come to you with gossip or complaints, shut it down politely but firmly. Change the subject, offer a neutral response, or simply say you’re not comfortable discussing it. Engaging in drama only fuels the fire and keeps you embroiled in their chaos. Stay above the fray and focus on more positive topics.

7. Practice detachment.

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Detachment is the ability to mentally and emotionally disengage from a situation or person. It doesn’t mean you stop caring, it means you stop letting it consume you. When a difficult person starts to get under your skin, take a step back and detach. Remind yourself that their behavior is not a reflection of your worth. Visualize a protective bubble around yourself, deflecting their negativity. The more you can detach, the less power they have over your emotional state.

8. Find humor in their absurd BS.

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Sometimes the best way to cope with difficult people is to find the humor in their ridiculous behavior. When they’re being over-the-top or irrational, try to see the absurdity of the situation. Laughing to yourself (not at them) can diffuse the tension and remind you not to take their antics too seriously. Just be careful not to be dismissive or provocative. The goal is to find levity for your own sake, not to antagonize them further.

9. Lean on your support system.

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Dealing with difficult people is emotionally draining. Make sure you have a solid support system to turn to when you need to vent, get advice, or just recharge. Surround yourself with positive, understanding people who can offer a listening ear and perspective. Sometimes just talking it out with a trusted friend or family member can help you let go of frustration and approach the situation with a clearer head. Don’t hesitate to reach out when you need backup.

10. Practice assertive communication.

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Assertiveness is the middle ground between passivity and aggression. It’s about expressing your needs and boundaries firmly and respectfully. When communicating with a difficult person, use “I” statements to express how their behavior impacts you, rather than attacking them with “you” statements. For example, “I feel disrespected when you speak to me that way” instead of “You’re so rude.” Assertiveness takes practice, but it’s a powerful tool for setting limits and maintaining your calm.

11. Don’t stoop to their level.

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When someone is being difficult, it’s tempting to give them a taste of their own medicine. But responding to negativity with more negativity only escalates the situation. Don’t let their bad behavior bring out the worst in you. Take the high road, even when they’re pushing your buttons. Respond with kindness, even if it’s not reciprocated. This isn’t about being a doormat, it’s about maintaining your integrity and not letting their actions dictate your character.

12. Practice mindfulness and stress management.

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Dealing with difficult people is stressful. Practicing mindfulness and having go-to stress management techniques can help you stay grounded. When you feel your blood pressure rising, take a few deep breaths, do a quick meditation, or go for a walk around the block. Regular exercise, journaling, and hobbies you enjoy are also great ways to blow off steam and keep perspective. The better you are at managing your overall stress levels, the less impact difficult people will have on your psyche.

13. Pick your battles wisely.

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Not every disagreement with a difficult person is worth your energy. Before engaging, ask yourself if the issue is truly important or if you’re just getting sucked into their negativity. Is this a matter of principle or a petty squabble? Is it worth the emotional toll? Choose your battles wisely and let the small stuff slide. Save your energy for when it really matters, and you have a chance of being heard. You’ll maintain your sanity and your dignity.

14. Remember that you can’t please everyone.

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Difficult people often have unrealistic expectations and are impossible to please, per Healthline. Don’t bend over backwards trying to win their approval or avoid their criticisms. It’s a losing battle. At the end of the day, you can’t control their opinions or reactions. Focus on living according to your own values and priorities. As long as you’re being true to yourself and acting with integrity, that’s all that matters. Their judgment says more about them than it does about you.

15. Know when to walk away.

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Some people are so toxic that no amount of boundaries or communication will make the relationship healthy. If someone consistently brings negativity into your life and shows no intention of changing, it may be time to walk away. This doesn’t make you a quitter, it makes you someone who respects their own well-being. Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not tear you down. Life is too short to waste on those who drain your happiness. Know your worth and don’t be afraid to choose your peace over their chaos.

Sinitta Weston grew up in Edinburgh but moved to Sydney, Australia to for college and never came back. She works as a chemical engineer during the day and at night, she writes articles about love and relationships. She's her friends' go-to for dating advice (though she struggles to take the same advice herself). Her INFJ personality makes her extra sensitive to others' feelings and this allows her to help people through tough times with ease. Hopefully, her articles can do that for you.