Dealing With Difficult People When You Have Social Anxiety

how to handle difficult people

Do you ever get very nervous and anxious when you have to talk to a difficult person?

What do I mean by “difficult person”? I mean someone who gets upset or angry easily. Someone who is negative, critical, and controlling.

When you have social anxiety, it can be very stressful to talk to these types of people.

Why is it particularly difficult to talk to them if you have social anxiety? It’s because social anxiety basically boils down to a fear of disapproval. This means that you’re going to feel the most anxious around people who are most likely to suddenly and severely disapprove of you.

And the bad thing is, these difficult people are everywhere. They could be one of your parents, grandparents, siblings, coworkers, boss, and so on. You may be forced to deal with one or more of them every day.

This post will show you the way to lower the amount of anxiety and stress you feel when around them.

Certain People May Trigger Social Anxiety in Early Childhood

As a side tangent, difficult people may also have played a part in forming your social anxiety. If one of your parents or relatives was one of these “difficult” people while you were growing up, they could have originally set off your social anxiety. Being around a certain type of adult in childhood often causes social anxiety to begin.

I still remember the day I found out about this. I was reading a book about the causes of shyness when I ran across this quote:

“People with shyness usually behave as if there is someone around them who is negative, critical, and controlling.”

When I read this, I had a huge realization as to the cause of my own social anxiety. And maybe this will shed some light onto your own past. Think about it: was there anyone in your early childhood who was negative, critical, and controlling? If there was, then they’re the ones who may have originally “triggered” your social anxiety and fear of disapproval.

Of course, it’s too late to go back now and stop your social anxiety from beginning. All you can do now is accept your social anxiety or shyness now that you have it and be proactive about overcoming it.

You Feel More Anxious Around “Difficult” People

If there is someone in your life who is very negative, critical, and controlling, and who disapproves of you often for little reason, then you will feel a lot more anxious around them.


It’s because the amount of anxiety you feel is directly related to how likely you think disapproval will happen. In other words, you’re going to feel the most anxiety around those people who are most likely to disapprove of you.

Re-read that last paragraph a few times. It’s VERY important.

Isn’t it true? You feel most anxious around people who often disapprove of you? And around them you may also have symptoms such as:

  • Faster heart rate and breathing
  • Paling or flushing
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Shaking

All of these are symptoms of the fight-or-flight reaction which I’ve written about before. When you feel anxious around difficult people, then you’re sometimes also going to feel these symptoms.

How To Deal With It

Alright, so now that you have some background knowledge of how difficult people affect your shyness or social anxiety, now the question is: what can you do about it?

The good news is, you CAN get rid of your anxiety around difficult people. The bad news is, there’s no instant cure.

Just like any part of social anxiety, you have to desensitize yourself over time and gain exposure to the thing which makes you feel anxiety. In this case, that means not avoiding the difficult person.

Of course, exposure by itself is not enough. You probably know that by now. Plenty of people go to or work or schools for years and never get rid of their social anxiety. So if all you do is exposure, then your anxiety probably won’t go away.

To get rid of anxiety, you have to combine the exposure with:

The last point is probably the most important. Changing the way your mind works is the step that permanently removes the anxiety from your brain. The question is, how can you change the way your mind works? The best place to learn is through my ebook.

I dedicate over half of the pages in my ebook to a section called “Changing The Way You Think” which shows you how to do exactly that.

The section in my ebook is a comprehensive summary of all of the techniques and knowledge I’ve learned and developed myself for overcoming my own social anxiety and helping many, many others do the same. I truly believe that no other book out there can compare when it comes to changing yourself and your inner thought processes from someone with shyness or social anxiety to someone who is confident and self-assured.

If you want to learn more, check it out here.

About the author

Sean Cooper

I study all areas of psychology, sharing what works (and what doesn't) for overcoming shyness and social anxiety. After curing my own severe social anxiety I created "The Shyness and Social Anxiety System" to help others. This program has received stunning reviews from psychologists and people like you.

Now it's my life's mission is to help 25,000 people get the confidence, friends and romantic partner you want!

Read more about me here.


  • It’s there a difference between cognitive behavioural therapy and cognitive restructuring? I’ve heard of CBT and that there are claims that it’s proven to work for those with social anxiety (and I guess shyness too, but I’m not sure) along with other disorders. Are they the same with different names or two totally different things?

  • Exposure therapy works very well, I did most of the time comfortzone challenges. But I also heard public speaking works very well.

    But what I found was that meditation and dealing with the inner critic (the voice) worked the best for me. Definitely worth reading more about!

    Keep up the good work!

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