Tame Your Inner Hulk: Dealing With Difficult People

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How we deal with conflict is not inevitable. At some point, people will push the boundaries of what you can comfortably tolerate. We might fantasize about verbally berating them, but what’s that gonna solve? When dealing with difficult people, it's important to tame your inner Hulk!

One thing I enjoy about being a member of Southeast Psych was their initial suggestion that I pick a heroic alter-ego for myself. I mean, how cool is that?

Occasionally therapists get accused of being uptight and analytical, almost robotic (“Mm Hmm – Tell me how that makes you feel, Mm Hmm”) and yet here I was in a position to do something fun and different so of course I jumped at the chance.

I’ve always been fascinated with heroes and comics and so this was a no-brainer to me. Or so I thought.

In case you haven’t noticed, there are a LOT of heroes to choose from! Well just about everybody knows Superman. He’s come to represent America in a way, even though technically he’s an alien from planet Krypton. He’s so iconic, yet so…lame.

Don’t get me wrong, he’s got a small place in my geeky heart, but the blue and red tights just don’t do it for me.

Then there’s Batman.

Now he’s definitely cool – he’s got that dark, brooding edge to him and the fact that he’s a self-made hero certainly doesn’t hurt. Whereas other heroes are aliens or Norse Gods, or victims of elaborate accidents involving radiation, Batman is where he is because of years of self-discipline and focus.

I respect that about Batman. He took the psychological pain of loss and channeled it into seeking justice and fighting crime. Well, Batman was already taken by my friend and colleague Frank Gaskill (Dr. G), but in the end, I really didn’t think he suited me anyhow.

“How we DEAL with conflict is NOT inevitable. At some point, people will push the boundaries of what you can comfortably tolerate.”

I knew I needed something else…and then it hit me.  I like green. I’m a fairly bulky guy.  My speaking ability could use some refinement.  And I’m known to rock the purple trousers on occasion – just kidding!

Yes, folks, I’m talkin’ about HULK!

When I really thought about it, Hulk seemed very appealing to me. As a child I used to love catching the live-action show starring Lou Ferrigno as the green body-painted wig wearing beast, the green alter ego to Bill Bixby’s wandering scientist.

Classic line: “Don’t get me mad.  You wouldn’t like me when I’m mad”.

The light bulb went off.  I mean, who doesn’t get mad? That’s a universal condition. We’ve all been tested by others, whether directly or indirectly. And that does something to you.

At its pinnacle you “hulk out” – your body gets in fight or flight mode to prep you for a perceived threat. As the adrenalin flows, your heart starts pumping faster and your muscles tense up. You can’t think as clearly because your blood is flowing to action-oriented places like your extremities.

It can certainly be helpful to be in this state when we are faced with an ACTUAL threat, however, a problem arises when we are chronically hulking out because we perceive threats EVERYWHERE. When we fail to trust others we start to burn bridges and cause all kinds of destruction in our wake.

In effect, we succumb to the beast inside when we should be consulting our inner Bruce Banner and his scientific mind.

I love that about the Hulk – the sense of balance that is inherent in his struggle between experiencing emotion and relying on his analytical mind. If he just lets go, his rage gets the best of him and others around him.

Hulk is often responsible for so much collateral damage that occasionally threatens those he loves. This causes him to run and live in fear of himself and what he might do to hurt others.

“When we fail to trust others we start to burn bridges and cause all kinds of destruction in our wake.”

On the other hand, he can always appeal to his brilliant and logical scientific mind. This part of him is constantly striving to find creative ways to help others, perhaps as a way of alleviating guilt for his destructive side. He is constantly seeking a cure when he probably needs to contend with the fact that there is no cure and that he needs to learn to tame the beast, so to speak, as best as he can.

In much the same way we all need to contend with the fact that people are going to frustrate and anger us. Our relatively brief time on this earth has demonstrated that all levels of human conflict are inevitable.

How we DEAL with that conflict is NOT inevitable, however. At some point, people will push the boundaries of what you can comfortably tolerate.

In that moment we might fantasize about tossing them over yonder light pole or verbally berating them, but then when you really think about it, what’s that really gonna solve? It might feel good in the moment to blow off some steam, but then you have to face the music over the long haul.

Guilt. Financial and legal ramifications. Pain. It’s much more prudent to rein it in and channel your frustration into something creative and productive, like sharing with your significant other, family, or friends, taking a scenic walk, or simply doing something thoughtful – a random act of kindness.

I feel we should always strive to be role models to others by maintaining our calm under duress and working towards helping, protecting, loving, and building rather than destroying, hurting, withholding, and creating chaos. There may be setbacks along the way, but that doesn’t mean we should give up.

We need to hold on to ideals not as something to be perfectly realized, but as guidelines.  In our own way, then, we can work towards being modestly heroic.

Click here to read more articles by Jonathan Anslow, Psy.D.!

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Jonathan Anslow, Psy.D.
Dr. Anslow enjoys serving a variety of populations including adults, adolescents, and older children.Whenever possible he likes to incorporate family members into treatment to offer parental guidance or address family dynamics.Dr. Anslow strives to be compassionate, non-judgmental, and open-minded in his practice.

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