The Value of Support Through Shared Experience
Can you envision a difficult person in your life? Chances are, the answer is yes. Research indicates that many people experience the same types of relationships as difficult. The good news, is that where there are shared challenges, there are shared opportunities for support.
Who are the Difficult People?
Research by Shira Offer and Claude S. Fischer (in 2018) examined the question of what types of people were viewed as most difficult, and what impact dealing with such people has on our lives. Using results from a survey of over 1,100 respondents who described over 12,000 relationships, they examined the ties respondents described as most difficult.
The major contribution the authors made through their study was their examination of the constraints that cause people to have to interact with difficult and demanding people they would rather avoid. We can all relate to these constraints, particularly those relating to family members and coworkers.
Shira and Fischer (ibid.) found that among those likely described to be difficult were women relatives and aging parents. Non-family friends were less likely to be described as difficult, and friends were less likely to be described as difficult as were coworkers.
This is likely due to the reduced freedom we have in the workplace to choose our colleagues.
One surprising finding related by the authors was that neighbors were not more likely to be viewed as difficult. They note this finding contradicts the stereotype of neighbors as "noisy and nosy."
They found that younger study participants considered their neighbors to be less difficult than older participants, and speculate this might indicate that younger people enjoy greater selectivity in how they deal with neighbors, or have more physical mobility.
Difficult Love Can Be All in the Family
When it came to family matters, Shira and Fischer (ibid.) found that older participants were more likely than their younger counterparts to identify close family members as difficult.
They suggest this might be due to 50 to 70 year olds having to support both their own adult children and aging parents. Interestingly, participants in this group were more likely to identify aging parents as difficult as opposed to their adult children.
The authors recognize that this finding is consistent with the intergenerational stake hypothesis, holding that parents enjoy better relationships with and have more emotional investment in their own children than they do with their parents.
Support Through Safety in Numbers Can Manage Difficult Relatonships
When it comes to dealing with difficult people, connecting with others who face similar challenges can help make our own situations easier to manage. There are a broad spectrum of support groups to choose from, both on and offline. Research corroborates the value of peer support.
A study by Seyyed Abolfazl Vagharseyyedin et al. (in 2017) revealed the benefit of peer support groups on enhancing family adaptation of spouses of military war veterans with PTSD. Emma Scharett et al. (also from 2017) discuss the utility of online support groups and websites for people dealing with family members with Alzheimer’s to share questions and concerns.
And of course, as often occurs in my line of work prosecuting crime, there are support groups for family members dealing with mentally ill offenders.
A study by Sara Rowaert et al. (2018) found that individuals who participated in a family support group felt a decreased amount of both self-blame and the feeling of having lost control over their lives, and an improvement in emotional well-being.
The authors explain that these findings suggest that participating in a family support group can empower family members by offering emotional support management as well as coping strategies.
The bottom line is that we all have difficult people in our lives, many of whom we live with and love. The good news is that by taking advantage of the opportunities to draw support from others, we do not have to struggle alone.
This article was originally published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 4,000 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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