How do you deal with manipulative and petty people that just refuse to go away?

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Leah Beingagrownup here. I’m going to tackle this one, though I’d also love to hear what another contributor has to say to this, since (1) I’m notoriously blunt to the point of being slightly scary; (2) I am so busy that I barely have time to spend with people I actually like, never mind anyone I don’t; and (3) I probably don’t even agree with the premise of the question (and find it a bit broad).

But answering this question allows me to bring up what I think is one of the key concepts of being an adult, something that I always try to remember: You cannot control how other people act or feel, you can only control how you react to other people’s actions and feelings.

Moving on, I’m going to split this question up in two, and take the easier part first. 

How do you deal with people who just refuse to go away? 

First off, read the “How do you deal with manipulative and petty people?” section below. If you approach the situation with more empathy, can you understand that they’re not really manipulative and petty? Have you talked with them and explained how their actions make you feel? How did they react? If they really, truly are manipulative and petty, have you stopped reacting to their attempts to prod you? 

If you really, truly feel that your need to limit your time with someone, well then, you can’t make them go away. You can only control your presence in a situation. 

So what’s your situation?  Do you work with these people, or live in a dorm with them, or are they in your family? If so, they’re likely not going anywhere, and you’re just going to have to be diplomatic and try not to let yourself be manipulated or hurt by their actions. 

Are they in your social group? Can you limit your interactions with them, or at least tolerate them in a bigger group without (again) letting yourself be manipulated or hurt by their actions? Can you diversify your social group, make new friends, volunteer, find people with similar interests, join a knitting group or a sports league, so your social circle is more diverse, and this person isn’t such a focus of it? If they are manipulative or petty over social media, can you mute them on Twitter or block them/ignore them on Facebook with limited blowback?

Are they in your apartment right now, and do they refuse to leave? You should probably call 911, unless they’re your roommates, in which case, you must tough it out until your lease expires, and then find a new place to live. 

How do you deal with manipulative and petty people?

Here’s the rub: I don’t think there are manipulative and petty people, or at least not many. I think there are people who either don’t know how to communicate in a healthy way, or choose not to, or are going through some stuff right now. First and foremost, have some empathy for other people (see Erin’s excellent post on this, perhaps!). Everyone is flawed. 

There can be communications problems in any  relationship, however. Perhaps you are in a situation where someone has fallen into a habit of putting you down or causing some drama; maybe it’s always been that way, but you’re sick of it. There are a few ways to deal with that. Are you close to these people, or at least feel comfortable having some uncomfortable conversations? Can you sit down and chat about how their actions make you feel? I know it’s corny therapy-speak, but “It sometimes I feel like I get picked on within our social group more than others, and that makes me feel sad and distanced from you” will probably be received more constructively than “Why do you make fun of me so much?” or “Why are you so petty?”. 

Now, I can’t guarantee that having talks like this will actually work. Maybe they’ll just be more negative. Maybe they’ll promise to change, to no avail. If so, at least you tried. Move on to diplomacy, and if they’re your friends, spend more time with people who are nice to you. Again, you cannot control how other people act or feel, you can only control how you react to other people’s actions and feelings.

Don’t feel like you’re close enough to have a chat? Are you sure? Are you really, really sure? Communication is key to being an adult.

Really?

Okay, then. I understand you have to pick your battles.  Diplomacy it is: just be cool but nice, polite and firm in your refusal to be manipulated by them (again, control how you react to other people’s actions and feelings). They can’t manipulate you if you don’t let yourself get manipulated. If other people bring it up, refuse to get involved. Try to remove yourself (emotionally and physically) to the point that their allegedly manipulative and petty behavior just starts to seem laughable, and then have a good laugh about it. 

In short, embrace the spirit of the southern phrase “Bless his/her heart”, which is an amazing piece of verbal economy that is usually used while gossiping about someone. Fully spelled out, the sentiment of this phrase is basically: “Bless her heart (but I think she’s doing some dumb stuff (but it’s not really my place do to anything about it (still it’s pretty ridic (but you know, I pretty much wish her well, hence the heart-blessing (life is pretty amusing))))). 

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