Usually people are “difficult” because they are going about getting their needs met in the only way they know how. They have very specific (and we might think “overly rigid”) ways of feeling powerful and having esteem; they focus narrowly on controlling things, situations, and people so that they can get the outcomes that will enable them to feel good. They are not able to feel good by connecting meaningfully with you for who you really are. They are not able to see you as a separate person, with your own wishes and interests, they can only see you as an actor on their stage in order to get the result they need to feel good about themselves. Self oriented? Yes. Limiting their own happiness? Yes. Doing it on purpose to make you mad? No. Doing it because you objectively are ‘not enough’ or ‘wrong’? No.
If you have more effective and diverse ways of getting what you need, then you are more lucky than they are – and it understandably makes you see their limited approaches as unreasonable. Usually you will feel annoyed by them and want to block them from getting what they want, as a punishment of sorts for being so controlling. Instead, be appreciative that you are able to feel more connected to other people and have more harmony than they are able to achieve. Try to have compassion for the limitations they face and the constraints in their success and happiness they are creating.
If you want to try to get them to act in a different way, you will rarely evoke that change by trying to reason with them or trying to convince them to see it your way. Someone like this is going to be motivated only by what motivates them, not by what you think is reasonable. Figure out what is really important to them (hint: the thing they always try to control you about). Whenever you talk with them, always state your request in terms of how your request will help them get what they want. Always take a moment to think through their request and think together about the final result, to avoid having them change their mind many times and cause rework. Thank them for their input, and if they repeat themselves many times, remind them respectfully that you already heard the information and that you are interested in continuing to listen if they have any new information to impart you.
Most importantly, start orienting your life around no longer deriving your emotional or financial security from them. This is your way of freeing yourself from the effects of their control!
Dr. Sharon Melnick is a business psychologist dedicated to helping talented and successful people “get out of their own way”. Her work is Informed by 10 years of research at Harvard Medical School and advanced training cutting edge stress resilience techniques. Dr. Melnick is the author of the acclaimed book Success under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident, and Productive When the Pressure's On. Find tools for resilience to stress at http://www.sharonmelnick.com.