The Relationship Blog

Dealing With Difficult People Using The Five Movements – Dr. Bruce Derman, Relationship Counseling Woodland Hills

One of the theories I have integrated into my work as a relationship counselor in Woodland Hills  is that there are no difficult people, even though everybody assumes there are difficult people. Many people come into counseling or therapy because they are struggling with someone in their life that they consider difficult. Sometimes it can be an intimate relationship, sometimes it can be a relationship with a boss, or a friend. The person in question behaves in a particular way that they can’t deal with and they can’t handle, Anytime we can’t handle someone’s behavior, we call them a difficult person. But I say there are no difficult people. Instead, each person’s behavior calls  for a particular movement. There are five movements in life: moving toward a person, moving away from a person, moving  against a person, moving up and acting superior or compassionate, or moving down and feeling helpless, scared, awkward, inadequate, insecure, etc. Moving forward is when you miss someone, want to be with them, or want to discuss something with them. Moving backward is needing space, needing to be alone, not being able to handle it. All the movements are important but we tend to play favorites as we do in everything, so certain movements we consider ok and certain movements not. This is particularly true when we run into a person that calls for a movement that we don’t favor, especially the down movement that I mentioned. You won’t find many people who think the down movement has any value. It is my best friend in helping me to take care of myself as therapist.

It allows me to hear a client’s disappointment and dissatisfaction without getting defensive at all.

Every client that comes in through my door has a powerful act. They may be a powerful passive person, obnoxious person, hostile person, or they may be powerful in  posing as a problem, such as a victim. Whatever they come in with is very powerful, because they practice it daily.. That kind of behavior gives me two choices. I can try to be more powerful than the patient and try to out power them. But this is a deadly choice. They have been doing their thing 24/7 and I’m not trained in passivity, for example, seven days a week. So if I try to out power them then the only one that’s going to get killed is me. But if I go for the natural response, which is the willingness to say that I feel powerless in relation to their powerful act. Now I no longer feel trapped, nor vulnerable to them trying to defeat me. The more that I can accept my powerlessness  and accept that I can’t make any difference, the less they are able to do their act. They count on me to talk them out of their act, or to push and pull them. But if I’m willing to feel powerless, then I don’t need to do either one of those. I can simply accept that I feel powerless and then it creates a dilemma for them. Either they validate me as powerless or they come back and say, “You really are powerful.” This is the real key because you will run into many people who are difficult but the difficulty is based mostly on the fact that the person is provoking a movement from you that you’re not willing to do.

Some people are not willing to say no. So if you have a person that constantly invites that, and you’re not willing to say no, then you’re trapped again. But if I’m open to opposing and saying “no that’s not acceptable to me” then I can deal with that person and what they are calling for. I had a client who came into my office and wanted to smoke in the room. I told him it’s unacceptable. He asked if I believe in freedom. My answer was that I do believe in freedom, but that you still couldn’t smoke in the room. He continued to argue that I was a therapist and that I should accept whatever he wants. Even though I believe in acceptance that still didn’t make it ok for him to smoke in the room. He then pulled out his final card and said that he would no longer continue therapy as a result. I let him know that was his choice and that he didn’t have to continue therapy, but that he also still couldn’t smoke in the room. And that was our last session. And that was fine, because I took care of myself.

Everything I’m talking about in learning these five movements and having the flexibility of all five is so that you can take care of yourself in the face of all these so called difficult people. If you accept what I’m saying then you’ll see that there are no difficult people. There are just behaviors that you’re not willing to do what’s called for.

Author: Bruce Derman Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and offers relationship counseling in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, and Santa Monica, California who specializes in working with people in all stages of relationships. You may reach Dr. Derman by calling (818) 375-7194.

For more information on relationship counseling in Los Angeles, contact Dr. Bruce Derman PH.D. at

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