At some point in life, nearly everyone is on the receiving end of a personal attack. These attacks are usually unwarranted and far beyond whatever the actual issue at hand is. When faced with someone so angry that they begin calling names and hurling unfair accusations, it can be difficult to keep your cool.
The last thing you want to do is to get down in the mud and “wallow” around with the person. This will not resolve anything and may create an image that you are argumentative. Use these tips to defend yourself without getting defensive, to show others exactly what the bully is about, and in some cases to resolve deep issues and repair relationships.
Know Your Enemy
You’ve probably heard it said before that “knowledge is power.” This is true. If you understand the person who has targeted you as their enemy, then you can better understand how to deal with a temper tantrum that ensnares you and tries to pull you and your reputation down. Ask these questions to prepare for the upcoming battle you are about to face from this person.
- Does the person often start fights with people other than you? If so, how do those fights usually go?
- Has this personal ever personally attacked you before? If so, make notes about their method of attack.
- Does the person lie to get his or her own way?
- How well respected is the person by others? Will others be in your corner or the attacker’s? Sometimes a sociopath will charm most of the people around her, but show her true colors to an unlucky few.
- When the attacker gets angry, is he or she rational or irrational?
Refuse to Engage
Those who personally attack other people usually win through creating chaos. If they can get you upset, on edge, crying or yelling back, then they’ve already won the battle.
When dealing with a difficult person in the workplace, at church, in your family or elsewhere, it is vital that you refuse to engage in that sort of behavior and reaction. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish, so you’ll need to prepare by keeping the following tips in mind:
- Pause three seconds before answering a question or an attack.
- When the attacker makes a harsh statement about you that is untrue (or even if it is partially true), ask questions to force her to clarify what she means.
- It is better to say nothing than to lose your cool.
Additional Tips to Handle a Personal Attack
- Review interactions you’ve had with the attacker in your mind. Go over the scenarios, so you clearly remember what actually happened.
- Call in reinforcements. If an attacker says you talked to another person about her, ask that person to verify you did not.
- Prepare beforehand by calling on others for help in any area in which you might be attacked.
- If you start to lose your anger, ask for a short bathroom break. Use the time to calm down or to call a friend for quick advice on how to handle the situation.
- Take notes while the other person is speaking. This will allow you to address any lies or misinformation without interrupting the person.
- Try to see the other person’s point of view, if it is reasonable.
- Make sure there is a skilled mediator present.
Once you’ve had a run-in with a difficult person, it likely won’t be the last. You now have a target on your back. Proceed with caution. While some disagreements can be worked out and both parties friendly in the end, this is not always the case. It is vital that you protect yourself and your reputation from future attacks.
- Never speak to the person without a neutral third-party present.
- Avoid interactions that aren’t completely essential.
- If the situation grows too stressful, consider removing yourself from the situation by finding a new job, new church, new social circle.
If you are dealing with a person who is completely unreasonable, it can be stressful and draining. It truly is not always worth it. See if there is a way to remove yourself from that person’s life. If not, then do the best you can and hold your head high.
My Personal Story
While I am thrilled to say that most people are reasonable, I did once deal with a very difficult person. I was accused of things I did not do. The attacks were vague and hard to defend myself against.
For example, this person would say that I “was mean.” When pressed for specific examples of how I was mean or what I’d done, the person would go into rages. During one such meeting when questioned for specifics, this person rose up from the chair, pointed a finger in my face and screamed at me so loudly that spit fell from this person’s mouth. I could see this person lashing out physically quit easily, but it did not get to that point.
My attempts to make the situation better were not well received on any level and the problems continued to escalate. The main lesson I learned was to stay calm in the face of such anger. If you can maintain your control, the situation will go better than if you lose control as well. Others will begin to see that the other person is out of control. Also, you will have the self-satisfaction of knowing that you did not let the other person’s actions define your actions.
Eventually, this person moved on. We cut off every connection we possibly could under the circumstances. I hope and pray that the person is able to overcome the anger and twisted thinking and realize the truth. If not, then I know that I handled things in the right way and I can hold my chin up and move forward boldly.
I also am thankful now for this experience. It grew me as a person. It taught me how to handle conflict instead of running from it. It made me stronger. I had been praying that I wouldn’t cry so easily and be quite so tenderhearted when faced with hurtful situations. I’m proud to say that while I still love friends and family deeply, that I no longer cry easily. In a way, it was a prayer answered.
Have you dealt with a difficult person? Perhaps it is a family member. Share your experiences and tips in the comment section below.