Deal With Impossible People

Most people know someone who seems to make every situation toxic and impossible. Pointing out that these people are difficult and demanding won't get you anywhere, though — odds are, they don't even see a problem. Whether the issue is caused by a personality disorder or some other underlying issue, you can learn how to navigate interactions with impossible people and preserve your own sanity.


Handling Conflicts

  1. Realize you probably can’t have a reasonable conversation. Having a civilized conversation with the impossible person is unlikely—at least with you. Recall every time you tried in the past to have a civilized discussion about your relationship with the person. You were probably blamed for everything instead. [1]
    • Use silence or try to humor the person whenever you can. Know that you cannot "fix" impossible people. These people cannot and do not listen to reason.
    • Avoid getting cornered into an argument. Don’t deal with the person one-on-one. Always suggest that a third party be brought in. If the person refuses, demand it.
  2. Don’t get defensive. Stay calm, and be aware that you will never win in an argument with an impossible person—he is referred to as "impossible" for a reason. In the impossible person's mind, you are the problem, and nothing you say can convince the person to see your side of the story. He feels that your opinion doesn’t matter because you are guilty, regardless.
    • Think about what you are going to say before you say it and what your goal for the conversation is. Don’t just react impulsively because the other person offended you. You don’t have to defend yourself to this person.
    • Use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, don’t say, “You are wrong.” Try something like, “I feel like that statement may not be the whole truth.”
  3. Detach, disassociate and defuse. Staying calm in the heat of the moment is paramount to your personal preservation. Spitting angry words, reacting with extreme emotions such as crying, will only stimulate impossible people to do more of the difficult behavior. Don’t take the reactions of impossible people personally, and don’t allow yourself to become emotionally charged in reaction to him or her.
    • Remove yourself emotionally from the situation, and treat it with indifference. The goal is to not allow yourself to get emotionally involved in the conversation, keep the person at a distance and not let the words make you feel bad.
    • Redirect the situation or conversation to something positive by focusing on something other than what the argument started about.[2] Talk about the weather, fishing, the impossible person's family—really anything that will distract from the argument and is not likely to cause further conflict.
    • Consider the fact that anything you do or say while angry can be used against you. Unless you don’t mind hearing about an angry comment years from now, then let it go. Impossible people want you to say something to prove that you’re the bad guy.[2]
    • Do not judge this person as right or wrong even if they seem irrational. Judging is likely to only make you feel worse.
  4. Avoid arguing with them. If possible, don't disagree with impossible people. Find ways to be agreeable or ignore them. Arguing will only get you emotionally invested in the situation and trigger your fight or flight responses. This will make it harder for you to think clearly and respond appropriately.[3]
    • Impossible people are looking for a fight, so when you agree with them or some truth in their statement, you are no longer giving them what they want. If you are called a "jerk," for example, go ahead and acknowledge a time when you acted badly. This corrects an overgeneralization.[4]
  5. Ignore them. Impossible people want attention, so once they realize you won’t give them what they want, they will move onto someone else who will react to them. Stay out of their business, out of their way and avoid talking to or about them.
    • Impossible peoples’ outbursts are like a child's tantrum. Pay them no mind unless the outbursts becomes disruptive, dangerous or threatening. Do your best to avoid angering impossible people or giving them a reason to lose their temper.
  6. Ask a thought-provoking question. Asking the impossible individual or the group you are dealing with a question regarding the issue, such as, "What is the problem?" or "Why do you feel this way?" can be helpful. It shows that you are engaged in the conversation and willing to find the source of the disagreement. Rephrasing the impossible person's position to illuminate irrationality can encourage an individual to come to a better conclusion.
    • Know that the impossible individual may respond to the question by attempting to complicate everything with name-calling, blaming, changing the subject or other behaviors.
  7. Take a breather. If the person you're talking with is getting on your last nerve, then you need to step away from the immediate situation. He might just want to get a rise out of you, so show him that he has no effect on you. Walking away or handling another task so you can calm down is a good idea.
    • Count to ten silently if you need to.
    • If the person is still being impossible, then just ignore him. That person will eventually back down if he notices that he's not aggravating you.
  8. Be confident. State your views with confidence and look the person in the eye when communicating with her. You do not want to appear weak to one of these people. If you look at the ground or over her shoulder, she could interpret this as weak. You want to be reasonable but not timid.
  9. Adjust your strategy. Sometimes you can’t leave the situation, so treat it like a game. Learn the impossible person’s strategy, and develop counter strategies ahead of time. Eventually you'll find what works and what doesn't, plus you'll probably feel better as you realize you're three steps ahead, outwitting him at every turn. Just remember your ultimate goal is to help free yourself mentally, not become the person's master.
    • If the impossible person comes up to you and whispers something negative around others thinking you won’t want to respond and create a scene, then say out loud, “Do you really want to talk about this here?” This may surprise him and discourage him from showing negativity to an entire group.
    • Always consider the possible consequences of your actions if your plan doesn’t go as expected so you can prepare for those too.
    • If the impossible person still finds a way to get to you, then don't feel bad. Just make a note of what happened and devise new strategies for next time.
    • Impossible people aren't so impossible when you can predict what the person is going to say or do next.
  10. Check your body language. Become aware of your positioning, how you move and your facial expressions when around these people. We reveal a lot of our emotions non-verbally. You don't want to reveal your own feelings unknowingly. Also, this will help you maintain your own sense of calm, and may have a calming effect on the impossible person in the process.
    • Speak softly, and move as calmly as possible.
    • Avoid confrontational body language, such as eye contact for long periods of time, aggressive gestures, pointing or standing directly in front of the person face-to-face. Keep a neutral expression on your face, don’t shake your head and stay out of the person’s personal space.[5]

Accepting the Situation

  1. Consider that it might be a question of compatibility. Even if a person seems to get along with everybody else, he could be an impossible person for you. Some people simply clash or don’t get along together well. There may be nothing wrong with either of you but together you just bring out the worst in each other.
    • When an impossible person makes a statement like, "Everyone else likes me," he is trying to shift the blame onto you. How he interacts with others is irrelevant, since there is a problem with the way the two of you interact. Remember that blaming does not alter facts.
  2. Avoid picking up “impossible” traits. You tend to pick up on the behavior of those around you. For this reason, you could find yourself adopting the very traits that you dislike on accident. You may engage in the same manipulative and irrational behavior in response to the impossible person. Catch yourself when you start to do this, and make a deliberate attempt not to mimic the offending traits.
  3. Consider what you can learn. Impossible people offer valuable life experiences. After dealing with impossible people, you will be able to get along with most other people easier. Try to keep perspective, and realize that what may seem crazy to you may be another person's only way of coping. Try to view these interactions as a way to build strengths such as flexibility, grace, and tolerance.
    • Never be misled by a person's age, intelligence or station in life when determining her maturity level.
  4. Be prepared for emotional mood swings. If you successfully convince an impossible person that he made a mistake, then he may suddenly have an emotional meltdown. Instead of believing he is right all the time, he will decide that if he can't be right now, then he will always be wrong. This is a coping mechanism to elicit sympathy from others.
    • Some impossible people will use erratic behavior in order to surprise and confuse. It's possible he didn't even expect it either. Resist the urge to let this kind of unpredictable behavior intimidate you.[4]
    • Don't let these people confuse you by acting like they are being persecuted. If they genuinely feel bad for something they did, respond positively but don’t give them encouragement to manipulate you this way.
  5. Focus on the positive. Many people have some redeeming traits, so try to think of something. There might be something the person does well, or maybe there was a time you were able to connect with her. If you can’t think of anything positive, then make a statement to yourself like, “All life is precious” or "God/The Universe loves her" to help keep yourself under control—even if you don't love or value her yourself.
  6. Talk to someone. If you know someone who will be understanding of the situation (good friend, relative, counselor, etc.), talk to that person about it. He will probably understand you, and it will definitely help you feel better. It is best if the listener doesn't know the impossible person personally and is not involved in the same situations (for example, not a co-worker).
    • Vent in a journal or online community if you need to.

Protecting Yourself

  1. Preserve your self-esteem. Maintaining a positive self-image in the face of someone who portrays you as a bad person takes effort. Instead of listening to what the impossible person says, focus on the people who validate you and make you feel good. Realize that the impossible person wants to hurt you to make herself feel better.
    • Understand that the impossible person is the problem—not you. This may be difficult because impossible people are good at shifting the blame and making you feel like it is your fault. But if you accept responsibility for your mistakes and flaws and try to improve yourself, there’s a very good chance that you are not the impossible person.
    • When she/he makes a statement designed to hurt you, realize that all she/he wants is for others to say that she/he's awesome. Know that you don't require validation like that.
    • If the insults have no basis in fact, just dismiss them. You are not as bad as the impossible person would like you and everyone else to believe.
  2. Protect your privacy. Impossible people will often find ways to use personal information, even if it seems petty and small, against you. They can fabricate entire stories and paint you as being an awful person based on a simple comment you made. As specialists in manipulation, impossible people are also very good at getting you to open up and tell them things.[6]
    • Don’t tell impossible people anything personal, even if they seem normal or act like a friend to you at times. Things you say or share in confidence can suddenly come back to haunt you unexpectedly in your personal or professional life.
  3. Be the opposite of them. Be a “possible” person—make yourself and your life an example of tolerance, patience, humility and kindness. Always try to be the reasonable one. Consider all sides of the story before coming to conclusions.
    • Just as bad behavior can influence us negatively, behaving like a tolerant, patient and kind person can sometimes influence another for the better.
    • Recognize that you aren’t perfect. You don't have to do everything right all the time, but do try your best. Be respectful, and if you don’t receive respect in return, then understand that it’s the impossible person's problem and not yours. You will have good days and bad days just like with everything else in your life.
  4. Don't focus on him. Even if you cannot avoid impossible people in your daily life, don’t think about them on your "off" time. Remember that stressing about the person all the time is the same as giving him your precious time when he doesn't even care about you. Do other activities and make new friends; that way you aren't wasting time by thinking about what the person said or did constantly.
  5. Know that you may be dealing with an emotional abuser. Emotional abusers can cripple you with their words and actions. They use tactics such as humiliation, negating. criticizing, domination, blaming, demanding and emotional distancing to make you codependent on them. Never let what emotional abusers say define who you are. Know that the things they say and do are from unresolved childhood or past issues that they are projecting onto you.[7]
    • The best thing to do is to be kind and friendly even though the impossible person may act like a jerk to receive negative attention.
    • If the person is lonely but doesn't know how to get attention, then she will appreciate what you are doing and change.
    • If the person is just a natural jerk who loves to make others mad, then what you are doing will enrage the person because she can't figure out how to make you mad. Eventually the person will leave you alone.
  6. Set boundaries. State the rules about what is and is not okay in the relationship. Determine that neither of you will bring up certain subjects, events, people or behave in a certain way. It may be beneficial to sit down with the impossible person, and let him know what is and is not okay and what will happen if boundaries are crossed. Allow him to make the choice to follow the rules or not.
    • Write down some thoughts, and get your wants and needs right in your head. Sit down with the person and start talking. If he interrupts, stop him and continue your talk until you are done. Be honest. Give ultimatums if you must, but focus on the benefits of staying and changing the bad behavior.
    • If you decide to stay in a personal relationship with an impossible person, then keep to yourself as often as possible.[8] Find and focus on a hobby, join a support group or focus on your religion.
    • Make sure to follow up with consequences if boundaries are crossed. Don’t let anything slide. If you said you’d be out the door, then out you go.
  7. Part ways. Eventually, you will need to separate yourself from an impossible person. Even if she is a family member, you will probably need to leave at some point. A long-term relationship with an impossible person is not healthy. Remove the person from your life as soon as you can.[2]
    • Stay away after you leave the impossible person. No matter how much you love the person or if she tries to convince you she has changed, don’t go back.
    • If you can't leave or make the impossible person leave right now, then leave the relationship mentally until you can do it physically.
    • Severing your relationship with an impossible person can be painful in the beginning but will be liberating once you can move past old habits.

Dealing With Personality Types

  1. Try to figure out what bothers you about the person. We all have certain aspects of our personality that others can describe in a few words. Some people are clingy, controlling, play the victim, passive-aggressive, overly dramatic or super competitive. If you can describe what it is about the impossible person's personality that clashes with yours, you may be able to pinpoint specific ways to deal with him.[9]
    • Clinging types are insecure and can be desperate for affection and love because they feel weak and idolize stronger people.[10]
    • Controlling types are often critical perfectionists who need to be right and often blame others for their behavior.[10]
    • Competitive types always want to win and often use any type of relationship, conversation or activity as a contest to prove they're better at something. [10]
    • Passive-aggressive people express their hostilities indirectly by subtly pushing other people’s buttons. An example is the line, "Don't worry about me, I'm fine," when you know that if you go on with whatever you were doing, there will be problems to deal with later.
  2. Know what doesn’t work. Some things work better for certain types of people, while others won’t. It may take some trial and error to figure out what is and is not going to work with the impossible person. It is also possible that there is nothing you can do to make dealing with her easier most of the time.
    • Avoiding clinging types will only make them try harder. However, rejecting them openly can turn them into an enemy. If you remain aloof, then their feelings get hurt. [10]
    • For a controlling type, you can’t prove that you are right and he is wrong. She always has to be right no matter what, and doing a better job won’t help get critical perfectionists off your back.[10]
    • People who are very competitive will use what they see as weakness against you, so don’t show emotion around them. If you stand up to them and try to win, then they tend to either abandon you or never let it go. [10]
    • Don't agree with complainers or try to appease them. They’ll just get angry about something else.
    • Victims want you to feel sorry for them. Don’t offer sympathy, and don’t let them use excuses either. Be practical and offer to help in other ways. [10]
  3. Find out what works. You can work with certain personality types to help deal with the negative aspects. Use their strengths to help solve conflict and interrelationship stress and downplay weaknesses. Dealing with some personalities this way may produce very positive outcomes.
  4. Deal with clingy, controlling and competitive types. Understand why certain types of people act the way they do. People who are clinging need guidance and responsibility to help them gain confidence. Those who are controlling are often insecure and afraid of their own inadequacy. Competitive types of people care a lot about their self-image, so they can usually be very nice and generous after they win.
    • Show clingy types how to do things and then let them figure it out. Don’t let them try to convince you that they shouldn’t try something because you would do better. Seek out situations where you need help and ask them. [10]
    • Don’t be intimidated or let what controlling types say get to you. Acknowledge when you do a good job but don’t argue with them if they say otherwise. [10]
    • You can just let competitive types win. If you are having a discussion they won’t back down on, acknowledge their position and ask for time to do more research. [10]
  5. Deal with self-important people, complainers or victims. Understand that self-important people just need to feel like people are listening to them. People who complain a lot usually have a lot of internalized anger from unresolved issues, and often also need people to listen. Those who play the victim always have bad things happen to them so that they have an excuse for why they haven't achieved something.
    • If you’re dealing with a self-important person, then just hear him out.[10]
    • Put up with people who complain a lot, acknowledge how they feel and try to stay away as often as possible. [10]
    • Overlook the reason victims are late or causing problems and react as you normally would to someone else without an excuse. You can offer advice but don’t get emotionally engaged.[10]
  6. Deal with histrionic and passive-aggressive types. Histrionic personality types live for attention, and will frequently go to great lengths in order to get it. They have to live in the right neighborhood, wear the right clothes and send their kids to the right schools. Passive-aggressive people are often hostile because they don't know how to express their wants and needs effectively.
    • Regardless of sex or gender, histrionic people are often referred to as "drama queens”. Avoid getting caught up in the drama and emotional rollercoaster these people bring with them. Listen but keep your distance.
    • Deal with passive-aggressive people by being very specific about the behaviors and situations that may be an issue. Then practice addressing the problem by being nonreactive to the hostility. Set boundaries, and encourage the person to express wants and needs as well as how to ask for things assertively.[11]


  • If you think that you may be an impossible person, then you have already gotten through the first step of realizing that you are being impossible. Learn to consider other people's opinions with an open mind. Keep your own opinions, but recognize that just because an opinion is yours does not make it the right one.
  • Stay calm and collected but do not use sarcasm if dealing with difficult people at work. You could possibly lose your job or get reported so try to be professional.
  • Never resort to violence as a solution.

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Sources and Citations

  • Cavaiola, A. C., & Lavender, N. J. (2000). Toxic co-workers: How to deal with dysfunctional people on the job. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
  • American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, DSM-IV-TR, 4th ed. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.