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Self-Esteem And The Gift Of Challenging People: Part One

We all know people who are a challenge. We may love a challenging person or we may work with one. A challenging person can be your friend, a family member, or a neighbor. They are difficult and you may find yourself having to work hard to interact with them. They challenge you to find increasingly better ways to stay centered. They challenge you to become a better person.

Self-esteem refers to how well you value yourself. The self is many things, but in a nutshell we are referring to the “sum total” of who you are, including all of your known strengths and your shortcomings. Someone with healthy self-esteem is able to see both sides.

Self-esteem can be influenced by who we know. It’s easy for some to say that we can just eliminate negative people from our lives and that is that. This is easier said than done. What happens if the negative or challenging person is a loved one or someone who you really don’t want to cut out of your life, at least not yet?

If you don’t want to replace that challenging person, you can attempt to understand them. Stephen Covey is known for his books and his quotes. One of his characteristics of the highly successful person is “seek to understand before you seek to be understood.”

How do you identify a difficult person in your life?

  • Does he put you in a bad mood?
  • Do you feel emotionally numb or abused after being with her?
  • Do you feel “dirty” after being with him?
  • Do you feel tense, nervous, angry, or irritable around her?
  • Does he make you feel uneasy?
  • Does she sabotage you or herself?
  • Is the person condescending, rude, or offensive to you?
  • Do you fantasize about seeing them suffer or “pay”?
  • Do you feel relieved to get away from this type of person?

Challenging people may behave differently around a variety of people. You may find that the person who is difficult in your life is not like this in another person’s life. This does not mean the person is not being difficult in relation to you.

Difficult or challenging people do not help you build your self-esteem. But, challenging people can also be seen as a gift. If you can figure out how to deal with them or why they get under your skin, you get big points toward you own self-esteem.

Why Are People Difficult or Challenging?:

Difficult people do not intend to be difficult. People can be vile, ugly, mean, and corrupt for a variety of reasons. You will never really know their story until you have had the opportunity to walk in their shoes.

They could have been difficult for yeasr and years from events stemming from their childhood. They could have suffered a major loss from which they were never able to recover. They may have (and probably do have) significantly low self-esteem. They may feel they have to treat others badly just so they can feel better about themselves.

It is quite likely that difficult people would be diagnosed with some mental illness if they were to go to therapy. Most issues that are extreme have a reason. We usually don’t think of things that are annoying or maddening as related to a mental health problem. This is largely because mental health hasn’t yet achieved mainstream understanding. 

Difficult people, those who challenge our understanding of typical and expected behaviors, are typically diagnosed with a personality disorder. A personality disorder is also known as a character disorder. This simply means that the way a person processes and behaves is in keeping with certain personality characteristics.

Personality disorders are a class of disorders in which personality traits have taken the form of an enduring pattern. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder, or DSM-IV-TR, these patterns involve perceiving, relating to, and thinking about oneself or others in a diverse variety of contexts. In short, a personality disorder is about personality patterns that deviate from the norm of a person’s culture.

In the next blog, Part Two, we will look at Types of Difficult or Challenging People.

Take care,

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, PhD

Excerpts in part taken from, The Everything Guide to Self-Esteem, by Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo

Self-Esteem And The Gift Of Challenging People: Part One

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D.

Nanette Burton Mongelluzzo, Ph.D. works in private practice as a psychotherapist. Nanette works with children, adults, adolescents, couples, and families. She also works as a consultant with public and private schools on issues ranging from suicide and violence prevention to topics on mental health issues affecting youth. She is the author of Entering Adulthood: Understanding Depression and Suicide, 1990,The Everything Self-Esteem Book with CD, 2011, and A Comparative Case Study of the Elderly Women Beggars of Central Mexico, 2006. She frequently appears on radio and television covering community mental health topics such as the Arizona wild fires in the summer of 2011 and the Gabrielle Gifford shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

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APA Reference
Burton Mongelluzzo, N. (2012). Self-Esteem And The Gift Of Challenging People: Part One. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 27 Feb 2012
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