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How to deal with assholes: 14 no bullsh*t tips

Peter Pan syndrome

Let’s be honest: The world is full of assholes. No matter what your job is or where your live, it’s undeniable that you’ll be surrounded by at least a few assholes.

The main question is, what should you do about it?

In this article, we’ll talk about everything you need to know about how to deal with assholes. These 14 tips will be the blueprint you need to suvive the assholes in your life. Before we get into how to deal with them, let’s go over 5 common traits of an asshole.

5 Common Traits of an Asshole

Image credit: Shutterstock – By Roman Kosolapov

1) Everything Is About Them

The Behavior: Some people are masters when it comes to spinning situations or discussions into a way to talk about or interject themselves.

If too much of the spotlight has strayed away from them for too long, they have to do whatever it takes to make sure it comes back to them.

You end up never wanting to interact with them, because you know you’re going to get tied down to an endless story about their weekend, their ideas, their thoughts, and whatever else is going on in their lives. 

Why They Do It: These people are not necessarily cruel; they are just slightly immature in their personal growth.

They are too accustomed to unabashed attention and find it difficult to think about others. In the worst cases, everyone around them simply exists to enhance their centrality in the universe.

2) They are Verbally Toxic

The Behavior: They will always have something to say about everyone and everything.

Gossiping, blaming, whining, and shouldering off responsibility to the next likeliest candidate is their daily agenda. Simply put, they just don’t know when to shut up.

They are master storytellers. If a minor event happened to someone in the team or workplace, they love being the one to break the news to everyone who might be interested.

And if the news isn’t interesting enough to stand on its own two feet, they will fictionalize parts of it to make it more interesting.

Why They Do It: This trait is related to the first trait we discussed – they can’t stand not being the center of attention.

But instead of making the situation about themselves, they interject themselves by being the traveling poet who distributes the story.

By anointing themselves as the official storyteller of their environment, they become the main controller of what people know.

3) They Paint Themselves as Victims

The Behavior: You can’t say anything to them, because they always have a reason for their less-than-charming behavior.

The moment you try to call them out for anything, they will burst into emotions and profusely apologize while giving themselves a dozen different excuses for their actions.

Maybe they were never raised in a loving home, or they have insecurities from childhood, or they have an incredibly rare mental disorder or illness that forces them to be a certain way.

Why They Do It: In most cases, this is just a prime example of deflection.

While some are consciously aware of what they are doing, there are many other cases who have simply adopted and carried this defense mechanism from childhood, and now think their behavior is normal as an adult.

4) They are Oblivious to the Obvious

The Behavior: When you meet an asshole, you have to remember: you’re not the only one who feels that way. A person who is an asshole to you is most likely also an asshole to everyone else around them.

Their lives are filled with interactions with people who are subtly and carefully trying to approach them about their difficult behavior – disgruntled faces from their co-workers, sighs from their families, bad looks from strangers on the sidewalk – but no matter what happens, none of these subtle hints are enough for them.

They are oblivious to it all and continue with their behavior.

Why They Do It: There are two common causes for this obliviousness: Simple unawareness, and an abundance of pride.

Some people are just simply unaware of the looks and the subtle hints; they have difficulty reading the signs and thus never realize the inconveniences they bring to other people’s lives.

Others are just too proud to concede, and they frame it as a way of standing up for themselves.

They want people to confront them directly because otherwise, they will continue acting out and mistreating those around them.

5) They Count Everything

The Behavior: You will never get an asshole to do something for you without them letting you know what they have done. If you ask them to do anything beyond their normal expected tasks, they will make sure that you pay for it.

They will remind you again and again about their favor, ensuring that you find some way to even the odds with them.

Why They Do It: It all comes down to being too self-absorbed. The more self-absorbed the person is, the more self-serving they are.

Every minute they spend on an objective that isn’t directly related to their own interests is a minute they live in anguish (or at the very least, annoyance). They want their time to be paid back in one way or another.

How to deal with assholes: 14 no bullsh*t tips

How to tell if someone is lying

1) Recognize the traits that make you easy prey

To begin with, you need to figure out why they’re targeting you.

According to Peg Streep in Psychology Today:

“Use cool processing to think about the interactions you’ve had with the person that make you unhappy—focusing on why you felt as you did, not what you felt—and see if you can discern a pattern.”

Do you have a need to please or do you fear to cause even the slightest conflict?

Take a step back and consider the interactions you have had by focusing on what you did, but not what you felt – and see if you can find a pattern.

Once you find a pattern, you can be more aware of what behaviors cause that person to take advantage of you.

Keep in mind that assessing what traits cause mistreatment of you doesn’t mean that you are to blame. They are still to blame, but this will help you avoid them targetting you in the future.

2) Accept that it might take some time to get rid of them

For some, getting rid of an asshole in their life is going to take some time.

This is especially true if the asshole is close to you, lives in your home, or is in some way in charge of your financial situation, for example, a toxic boss.

However, if you already know that they’re an asshole, this may help you protect yourself.

According to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind:

“Knowing that you may be dealing with someone who could hurt you and having some concern for yourself in this situation can help you to protect yourself from the pain that a malignant narcissist can cause, at least to an extent.”

You might need to map out how you are going to begin the process and what you hope to achieve by removing them from your life.

This is also a crucial step because you’ll need to look at your own toxicity and determine if you are projecting onto another person.

Be honest about where you are and why this is a problem for you and you’ll be in a better place to start removing them from your life.

3) Explore your reactivity

Again, without taking the blame for the dynamic, you should look at how your overreacting and under-reacting in the relationship.

For example, if you’re dealing with a bully, continually under-reacting gives them permission to keep on bullying you.

Also, people who are easily anxious tend to over-react when a relationship is going south, which only gives narcissists more power to keep on playing with you.

piece in Psychology Today explains why:

“The closer we get to a toxic individual—the more they know about us, the more emotionally attached we grow to them, the more we let them into our lives—the more damage they can do to us. They simply have more information with which to manipulate or violate.”

Try to not emotionally react to them. Assholes aren’t worthy of that, anyway.

Be clear, concise, forthright, logical and don’t attach yourself to anything they say.

(To learn how to be mentally tough in the face of assholes and toxic people, check out my eBook on the art of resilience here)

4) Trust your gut

Some people stay in a hurtful relationship because they don’t trust themselves or their judgment.

You tend to rationalize their toxic behavior or give the person the benefit of the doubt.

But there comes a time when enough is enough. If they’re affecting you emotionally and making your life worse, it’s time to take a stand.

Relationship expert, Dr. Gary Brown, offered some great advice in Bustle:

“While our gut is often right, there are times when it is not…There is an old saying that goes like this: ‘Follow your heart.’ I would add the following: “Follow your heart AND bring your brain along with you to help you exercise some reason.”

If you find yourself continually making excuses for someone, stop and ask your gut while bringing along your brain with you.

Life is a precious gift. Don’t let other assholes ruin it for you.

5) The word “no” is your new best friend

Chances are that the asshole in your life didn’t push their way into your life without your permission.

Chances are that slowly, and little by little, they made way into your life and broke down your boundaries and are not going full throttle through your life and making it miserable.

This is why you need to be assertive and direct. Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. in Psych Central offers some great advice on how to be more assertive when talking to an asshole:

“Tell the person how you feel in an assertive way. Use “I” statements. For example: “When you act/do/say _____, I feel _____. What I need is _______. The reason that I am sharing my feelings and needs with you is_______ (because I love you, I want to build a healthy relationship with you etc.).”

It’s possible that you find it difficult to tell them no. Perhaps they are fragile and you see that, or you see that they don’t have anyone else and you feel bad for the situation they are in.

Stop it right now.

The easiest way to cut an asshole from your life is to learn to direct and to use the word, “no” whenever and wherever possible. Keep them at arm’s length by not letting them into your realm.

6) Beware of the sunk cost fallacy

What’s keeping you in this relationship?

According to Peg Streep in Psychology Today:

“As the work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Twersky shows, humans are famously loss-averse, and prefer to hold onto what they have in the short term—even if giving up a little will get them more in the long run.”

Also, humans prefer the known to the unknown. Keep this in mind and realize that short term loss may actually lead to long term gain.

7) Recognize the power of intermittent reinforcement

Despite what you may have thought, humans are overly optimistic. We tend to see a close loss as a “near win”. This is what keeps people on slot machines.

Evolution explains this.

In our hunter-gatherer days, when the challenges of life were mostly physical, staying encouraged enough to keep going and turn the near win into a real one was a good thing.

Roberta Satow Ph.D. explains how we can be on the wrong side of intermittent reinforcement:

“Many of us have been on the wrong side of intermittent reinforcement–hungering for the crumbs that we sometimes get and sometimes don’t–hoping that this time we will get it.”

So in toxic relationships, we’re motivated to hang in there, even though we only get what we want some of the time.

“Now and again” does not make a pattern and you need to keep that in mind.

In fact, narcissists are very skilled at what is called “love bombing“. According to Psychology Today, love bombing is the practice of “overwhelming someone with signs of adoration and attraction…designed to manipulate you into spending more time with the bomber.”

Look at your life over the course of a month and ask yourself if they are actually adding to it.

If they’re not, then you need to consider ways you can see them less, or if you have to, not see them at all.

8) Ignore their social media

Whatever you do, don’t torture yourself on social media following their every move. Assholes love to take to the internet to let the rest of the world know how much things suck or how right they are about things.

As Amanda McKelvey points out in MSN, you have to be willing to make the first move to improve your social media atmosphere:

“Social media doesn’t have to be the toxic place everyone says it is, but you have to be willing to make the first move to make it that way.”

It’s a tough spot to be in because chances are that the asshole is going to constantly ask you, “did you see my post!?” and they’ll want an answer.

A quick, “Sorry, I was too busy” is all you need to respond.

If you want to take things to the next level, you can be very clear about why you don’t follow them on social media and feel out the conversation to see if they are willing to make amends.

9) Don’t waste your time trying to tell you otherwise

Here’s the thing about assholes: they don’t want your help. They don’t want to learn more, do better, be different.

They want everyone around them to just put up with their ways and make accommodation for them.

It’s an impossible situation and you can bet that it’s one that you cannot improve.

Trying to fix them won’t be successful anyway, according to Elizabeth Scott, MS in Very Well Mind:

“Do not try to change them and don’t expect them to change or you will be disappointed.”

These people, however smart and cunning they may be, are just negative and looking for trouble.

They don’t see how they are hurting others and they’ll continue to do it because in some sick way, it makes them feel good.

Or at least, doesn’t make them feel any worse about themselves.

10) Create distance (if you can)

Whenever possible, distance yourself from them. If they are at work, eat lunch at a different time or in a different space.

In fact, a great strategy to adopt is the “grey rock technique”.

In a nutshell, the Gray Rock Method promotes blending in.

If you look around at the ground, you don’t typically see the individual rocks as they are: you see the dirt, rocks, and grass as a collective.

When we are faced with narcissists and toxic people, they tend to see everything.

The Gray Rock Method gives you the option of blending in so that you no longer serve as a target for that person.

Live Strong says that the Gray Rock Method involves remaining emotionally unresponsive:

“It’s a matter of making yourself as boring, nonreactive and unremarkable as possible — like a gray rock…More importantly, remain as emotionally unresponsive to their pokes and prods as you can possibly allow yourself.”

If you can’t cut them out of your life completely, try separating yourself from them as much as possible.

Don’t drastically change your life so that you can’t enjoy yourself at work anymore, but be wary of how you feel and what you take away from the conversations you have with this person.

It might be easier to just eat in your car a few days a week than try to put up with their bullshit one more day in the lunchroom.

If this person is living in your house, you will eventually have to sit down and have a serious conversation with them, but if the situation is temporary, just keep your distance, fill your calendar with things you want to be doing instead of listening to them whine about life, and wait it out.

11) Guard those boundaries or plan an exit strategy

If the asshole is someone you can’t avoid, you need to set boundaries for the type of behaviour and contact you’re going to have.

You don’t need to be rude, but you need to be firm and decisive.

To a co-worker you might say, “I’m okay with criticism, but my being overweight has nothing to do with my performance.”

Ending the relationship may be difficult, says Jodie Gale, MA, a psychotherapist and life coach in Sydney, Australia, but it might be well worth it:

“Ultimately though, you will have created space for much healthier and far more nourishing relationships in your life.”

12) Anticipate push-back retaliation

It’s likely that the asshole is benefiting in some way from the way they’re acting to you.

Once you set boundaries, chances are they will redouble their efforts to keep manipulating to gain the upper hand.

Keep firm, strong and direct. Don’t let them emotionally manipulate them. Whatever they say shouldn’t carry any weight.

If you have established little contact, keep it that way.

In Mind Body Green, Annice Star, who was involved in a relationship with a narcissist, decided to see her partner again months after breaking up. Here’s why it was a bad idea:

“What did shock me, however, was how easily I flipped right back into scurrying around, fetching him this and that, tiptoeing, soft-pedaling, rationalizing, even lying … you name it, I did it. Within the first hour, I lost all the gains I thought I had secured over the months since our breakup.”

13) Don’t normalize abusive behaviour

This is important. If they’ve treated you poorly for a while, they’ll likely have rationalized their behavior, according to Peg Streep:

“They may have demeaned, marginalized, or dismissed you or other family members and then rationalized their behavior by saying, “They’re only words”; denying that they were ever said.”

The bottom line is that emotional or verbal abuse is never OK.

If you’re okay with it, or you react to it (which is what they’re looking for), then they’ll keep on doing it.

So don’t emotionally react, explain rationally why they’re wrong and get on with your day without being affected.

Once they know you’re a difficult target to get a reaction out of it, they’ll eventually give up.

14) Say goodbye

In some cases, you are going to have to bite the bullet and let the person go out of your life. That may be easier said than done because assholes have a way of hanging around.

We’ve said it before, but toxic people and assholes can be very narcissistic, and that can be difficult to change.

According to licensed clinical psychologist Dianne Grande, Ph.D., a narcissist “will only change if it serves his or her purpose.”

But if you make yourself perfectly clear that you don’t want such toxicity in your life, they might just be so offended that they bugger off anyway and they’ll do the job of riding themselves from your life so you don’t have to.

So save yourself the trouble and prioritize your own happiness and sanity. In many cases, you might not have a choice, so when you do – get out, now.

It’s not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Who knows, you might find it easy! It might feel good to tell someone that you don’t like their attitude and you deserve better in your life.

Whatever feels right to you, do that. But whatever you do, don’t continue to live in a shell because of this person’s way of making you feel small in your own life. It’s not worth it.

[To learn how to deal with selfish and toxic people, and build your own self-esteem, check out my new eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life]

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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