Have you ever had someone deliberately be an asshole to you? Of course, you have. Although the frequency of our encounters with the jerks of the world varies, it’s safe to say that we engage (often not our choice) with them many times throughout our lives.
The definition of an asshole according to Urban Dictionary is “An inconsiderate, arrogant, uncaring, selfish, borderline sadistic, apathetic, mean, spiteful, dishonorable, bastard of a man [editor’s note, any gender can be an asshole; it’s not reserved for cisgender males alone] who could tempt the pope into a fight.”
If someone is deliberately annoying or disrespectful, you can describe them as an asshole. If they talk over you, ignore your boundaries, or get up into your business, then they are definitely one.
There are times when someone will refer to themselves as an asshole like, “Oh man, I’m such an asshole” but it’s usually said in the way of a light-hearted apology. If you were a true asshole, you most likely would deny it.
Assholes seem to get off on making other people’s lives as complicated and miserable as possible. They have no consideration or respect for other people, are passive-aggressive (if it suits them), and seem to get off on causing trouble.
No matter what you call them—an asshole, jerk, dickhead, or worse, these types of people often infiltrate your life and challenge you to the task of dealing with them calmly, professionally, and without losing your cool. Good luck with that!
When we talk about how to deal with assholes, it’s good to remember that while some of the same strategies as handling unkind or stubborn people can apply, the jerk has their own set of behavioral quirks and what may work with others, won’t necessarily work with them.
There is no one solution for how to deal with assholes or any toxic person in your life. You can come up with a basic strategy and adapt it on a case by case basis. As Adina Mahalli (MSW) says, “Not every asshole is the same and therefore there isn’t one rule to deal with all of them. You may be tempted to say something nasty to them in the heat of the moment, but that’s what they want…they feed off the drama and the attention. They want to get into a fight with you so that they can win.” Don’t let the assholes win!
How to Deal With Assholes Without Losing It
Assholes have an uncanny ability to know exactly what to do to get under our skin, so it can feel like a huge effort not to blow up. “Getting angry or irritated is probably what the a-hole wants,” says life coach Susan Petang. “If you feel your emotions rising, excuse yourself and walk away until you can calm down.” Go to your happy place in your head and try to bliss out for a few moments. Taking a few cleansing breaths wouldn’t hurt either.
Figure out a way to avoid them:
Avoidance is a must when you’re learning how to deal with assholes. If they’re a member of your family or someone you work with, avoidance may not be an option. However, if they’re a neighbor or a friend of a friend, you can take steps to not put yourself in situations where the asshole will be present. There’s no shame in avoidance, even if there were, you need to do what’s best for you.
Ignoring may sound like avoiding but it’s a different tactic. “Most of us confuse avoiding with ignoring,” says intimacy expert Allana Pratt. “Avoiding is when you use energy trying hard NOT to let them bother you…which bothers you. True ignoring is literally not letting their behavior matter. Like whatever. Honestly no big thing.” Don’t give the asshole any of your emotional time or energy because they haven’t earned it. Withdrawing your focus is a great tip for how to deal with assholes.
Don’t take their behavior personally:
What the asshole does and says may be directed at you, but still, it’s not about you. You don’t know what effed up things are going through their head so that they think messing with you is a valid coping strategy. Spiritual psychologist Ali Boone says, “When you realize the reason for someone being an asshole is completely within themselves and truly has nothing to do with you, it becomes easier to shrug off.”
View them with compassion:
If you see them as an asshole and dread coming into contact with them, the chances are that other people feel the same way you do. Imagine what it must feel like knowing that you’re not well regarded. Try to shift your attitude towards them. “What may be the reasons that they are this way,” asks Dr. Tricia Wolanin Psy.D. “Can we try to understand where they are coming from? One can opt to deal with them by sending loving-kindness towards them.” By being compassionate, you may be able to change the dynamic between you and the faux know-it-all who is working your last nerve.
Focus on yourself:
Figuring out how to deal with assholes is good motivation for centering your focus on yourself. The more you concentrate on your life and less on the asshole, the more empowered you’ll feel. “Just focus on you and your intentions,” says Boone. “How they are is their problem. If you take on their actions, then that person being an asshole becomes part of your personal reality, that’s on you.”
Question the importance of their input:
All assholes have a lot of opinions but how much influence do they really have on your life? What are your motivations for giving them any emotional real estate at all? Petang suggests, “Ask yourself ‘How important is this, really?’ Will it matter in six month? Six years? Six minutes?” You’ll see that most of the time their comments have no lasting affect on your life.
Setting boundaries is key to knowing how to deal with assholes. If you have to engage with an asshole, make sure the interactions are a finite amount of time. You don’t want them to take advantage of you or your good nature. “A-holes typically are energy suckers that look for your weaknesses and exploit them,” says mindset expert Belinda Ginter. “Often we are so open and good-hearted that we do not realize we are handing them our weaknesses on a silver platter every time we communicate with them. Set up boundaries of what you will share with them in your interactions and stick to those boundaries.”
Acknowledge their perspective:
Sometimes assholes are like little children acting out to get a reaction—even if it’s a negative one. “Make statements like, ‘It sounds like you think this… or, ‘Sounds like you’re angry about…’ says Petang.” Frequently people who behave like a-holes lack self-esteem; by acknowledging their perspective, often they can be diffused.”
Don’t stoop down to their level:
Although they’re being a jackass, it doesn’t mean that you have to be one in return. Be the adult in the situation. “The best way to deal with an a-hole is to be firm and direct with them, without egging them on,” says Chris Castillo, career development expert. “It’s about stepping into the adult space, sharing direct feedback on behaviors (AKA: stuff that can’t be debated or relative), and not giving them a pass.”
For every jerk move they make, counterbalance it with kindness:
Yes, by showing the asshole consideration and kindness instead of anger and revenge, you’re not only being the bigger person; you’re being the healthier one. Talk to them the way you would a trusted friend or at least someone you respect. When they do something to deliberately annoy you, do something kind in return. The kinder you are, the less enjoyable being obnoxious may become to the asshole.
Help them realize their behavior isn’t okay:
Is your asshole aware of how they’re coming across? If not, maybe give them a nudge so they see clearly how they’re acting and how their behavior is affecting others. “Our tip, when encountering an a-hole: Ask in a very genuine way how their day is going, or how they’re feeling today, “ says Helena Plater-Zyberk, co-founder of Supportiv. “People don’t often realize they’re acting like an asshole. Sometimes asking them a refreshingly authentic question can ‘shock’ them out of their mood—it forces them to check in with themselves. This method also avoids putting them on the defensive. By showing a little concern, you encourage the difficult person to reflect on their own behavior, without you having to be the asshole who calls them out.”
Allow them to take responsibility and come up with solutions:
Unless your asshole is completely oblivious, they probably suspect how they’re coming across. One way for them to break this cycle of behavior is to participate in changing their actions and attitudes. “When someone creates their own solution, they’re more likely to stick to it,” says Petang and gives this example: “So, it sounds like you’re unhappy because you can’t get the refund you want. Since we can’t do that right now, what is another solution that would be acceptable?” The asshole may surprise you with their insight and problem-solving abilities.
Give them what they want:
Another tip for how to deal with assholes is figure out what their motivations are and then give it to them. If they’re desperate to win the argument, let them win. Pratt says, “One tactic to deal with an a-hole is to feed them what they’re hungry for…affirm that they’re right, the best, the winner, dominant, in charge…say it matter of factly. No exaggeration or dramatization. Just like the sky is blue and they are right.”
There are always going to be asshole, dickheads, and schmucks in our lives. If you can deal with them without letting them get to you, then you’ll come out ahead. If none of these suggestions work, then try changing the way you look at their behavior and decide that everything they do is hilarious. Instead of feeling anxious or angry at their foolishness, see it as hilarious. The funnier you see it, the less power they will have to aggravate you.