Dealing with difficult people

What does playing the victim mean? Exploring the psychology behind the victim mentality

playing the victim

Defining playing the Victim

“Playing the victim” refers to a psychological condition in which people act like victims in a particular situation. This behaviour is marked by the tendency to exaggerate or even make up instances of abuse. It can be seen in personal relationships, the workplace, and the complicated world of politics.

Victim playing is a psychological phenomenon that helps people explain their actions or gain power over others. By playing the part of a victim, people may try to get pity, avoid taking responsibility, or change how other people see them. Playing the victim can lead to bad things, like people distancing themselves from you or ending the relationship.

The psychology behind why some folks love playing the victim

People are likely to adopt the victim attitude for many reasons. Some people do things like this to get attention or support from others. Others might do this to avoid taking any responsibility for their wrong doings, because it is a lot easier to blame someone else for what went wrong.


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Research has shed light on the exciting topic of people who love to play the victim role, showing how they might be more likely to act like victims in real life. This exciting idea has four main parts that shape the way they think: a constant need to be seen as victims, a noticeable lack of empathy for others, an insatiable desire for payback, and a deeply held belief that the world is hostile and unwelcoming.

It is also important to realize that not everyone who pretends to be a victim does so intentionally or with bad intentions. People often think bad things have happened to them, even if their view of the situation doesn’t always match the truth or other people’s version of events.

Even though this behaviour seems harmless, it can hurt the person who does it and the people around them. When building healthier relationships and creating nurturing environments, it is vital to be aware of how your actions affect others and yourself.

Recognizing victim playing in others

Victim playing is an interesting behaviour pattern in which someone pretends to be a helpless victim to get pity and attention or to avoid taking responsibility for their actions. It is a way to manipulate people and can hurt relationships and personal growth. Understanding what victim playing is and how it happens can help stop it from becoming a repeating pattern of behaviour.

Jenny had enough of a friend who always played the victim card

Jenny’s friend, Lisa, always played the victim. No matter what happened in her life, Lisa would find a way to make herself the victim in the situation and blame others for her problems. Jenny tried to be supportive and understanding, but it became exhausting to constantly listen to Lisa’s complaints and excuses.

find a way to make herself the victim

One day, Jenny realized that she couldn’t take it anymore. She had reached her limit and decided to end the friendship. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, but she couldn’t continue being friends with someone who refused to take any responsibility for their actions and always played the victim.

When Jenny told Lisa about her decision, Lisa was shocked and hurt. She couldn’t understand why Jenny would end their friendship. However, Jenny explained how she felt and why she made the decision. Lisa eventually realized that her behavior was pushing people away, but still did nothing to change her victim pattern and started her playbook with other people.

Signs of a victim mentality

Knowing the signs of a victim’s attitude can help both the person who has them and those who are trying to help them. Here are a few typical signs:

  1. Others are to blame

Victims say that other people are to blame for their problems and don’t take responsibility for what they do.

  1. Predetermined destiny 

They think that their destiny is decided by fate, luck, or what other people do, not by what they do themselves.

  1. Use suffering to get attention

Victims often use the fact that they are sufferers to get attention, sympathy, and help.

  1. Wallowing in self pity

They often self-pity and use their misfortunes and shame to identify and gain compassion.

  1. Refusing to accept feedback

Victims don’t like change and feedback, even if it leads to good things because they like being on the receiving end.

refusing feedback

Effects on relationships

Playing the victim in a relationship can have several harmful effects, such as:

  • Constantly acting like a victim can be hard on relationships because it makes others feel frustrated, useless, and even angry.
  • A victim mentality can keep people stuck in a negative behaviour loop by thinking terrible continuously, making it harder to change.
  • Victims oppose personal growth and change because it threatens their victim identity, which hinders personal progress and healthier relationships.
  • They are taking advantage of other people by using their feelings of shame and guilt to control them.

Those with a victim mindset need to be aware of these possible effects and get help or support to change their thoughts. Counseling for a person or a couple can help with these problems and make relationships better and more balanced overall.

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Dealing with victim players

People who always play the victim can be hard to deal with, but you can get through these situations with empathy and clear limits. Here are some ways to deal with and help them:

Approaching the situation

Instead of ignoring or denying what a victim player has been through, listen carefully and let them know their feelings are considered. This way, we give them a place where they can be themselves in a safe and loving environment. It also renders our relationships stronger and helps us understand each other better.

understanding the victim

People need to be talked to with care and helped to take responsibility for their actions. When people are asked open-ended questions, they can think about themselves and get better. Others might think about how their acts affect others if you ask them questions that make them feel.

Setting boundaries with someone who plays the victim

Setting up good boundaries is integral to all relationships, especially with people who always play the victim. This gives you the power to keep your emotional energy safe and stop their actions from hurting your mental health.

By clarifying what is okay and what is not, people can give their relationships a feeling of direction and consistency. This not only helps to avoid mistakes and fights, but it also builds respect and understanding between the two people. 

Another way to deal with these people is to limit the time spent with them. By intentionally reducing the length of your interactions, you avoid the emotional drain that may come from long-term exposure. Also, avoiding talking about certain topics that typically trigger their victim mentality can be helpful because you don’t want ther person to go in a negative spiral.

Dealing with someone who always plays the victim can be challenging. Remember that your goal isn’t to criticize or judge but to help and encourage growth and self-awareness. Approach the situation with empathy and a genuine desire to help them live a more satisfying and powerful life.

Overcoming a victim mentality

If you think of yourself as a victim, it can be hard to break out of the loop of negative thoughts you are stuck in. You can get past the thought pattern and take back control of your life by devoting yourself to personal growth and self-improvement. Here are some ways you can change your way of thinking:

Steps to change

  1. Accept responsibility for your actions

 Accepting that you have the power to make your own choices and decisions is essential. You can then start a life-changing journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

  1. Practice Positive Thinking

Positive mantras can help you change your thoughts. Repeating positive and encouraging words will help you transform your thoughts and feelings.

positive thinking

3. Embrace Gratitude

To develop a grateful attitude, you should notice and appreciate the good things in your life. You can change your mind from one focused on what you don’t have to one that values and welcomes what you do have.

4. Establish your own goals

Make sure your goals are clear and doable. Setting goals helps you feel like you’re in charge of your life and that it has significance.

5. Surround yourself with positivity

Spend time with people who are helpful, upbeat, and encouraging towards you. 

Remember that overcoming a victim mentality is a process, and progress may be slow. Celebrate minor victories and cultivate a more confident and optimistic mindset.

The role of counselling and self-care

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When you are dealing with someone who constantly tries to play the victim and you find it stressful, consider getting support from a professional. Talking to a counsellor is a great way to work through a challenging situation, and help you find some strategies to work through the person’s behaviour.

Better Help is a great resource where you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of your own home.

Taking care of your own needs isn’t selfish, and you will feel better in the long run.

Why are strangers rude to me? Understanding the possible reasons

strangers being rude

Understanding rudeness

Defining rudeness

Rudeness is an impolite or offensive behaviour that can show up in many different ways. It can be as simple as interrupting someone who is talking or ignoring a person who is trying to get your attention. Sometimes folks use a condescending tone or make derogatory comments, which can also be considered rude and insulting.

What may be considered rude can differ from person to person. It is also often subjective and may vary depending on someone’s culture or their upbringing. Your personal beliefs also affect how you perceive rudeness or a slight.

Ahmet’s communication style was considered rude in Japan

rude communication style

Ahmet was a Turkish businessman who traveled to Japan for a business meeting. During the meeting, he noticed that his Japanese counterpart did not make direct eye contact with him and spoke in a soft tone. Ahmet was used to making eye contact and speaking in a direct and assertive manner, and he felt like his counterpart was not taking him seriously. He perceived the behavior as rude and unprofessional, and he was tempted to speak up and confront him.


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After the meeting, Ahmet’s Japanese colleague explained that in Japanese culture, making direct eye contact and speaking in a loud or assertive tone is considered impolite and aggressive. He assured Ahmet that he respected him and his opinions, but he preferred to communicate in a more indirect and respectful way. 

Ahmet realized that his cultural background had influenced his perception of social norms and interactions, and that he needed to adapt to the new environment. He learned to listen carefully and observe the nonverbal cues of his Japanese counterparts, and to adjust his communication style accordingly.

Strangers and rudeness

Strangers can appear rude because of a poor first impression. You might catch someone on a bad day, when they are stressed out of their mind about a job loss or health worries. It is important to remember that a stranger’s rudeness is not always a reflection of their true self. 

Samantha was on a train ride home from work when she noticed a man with three young children sitting across from her. The children were being loud and rambunctious, running up and down the aisle and disturbing other passengers. Samantha felt annoyed and judgmental, thinking that the father should control his kids and teach them better manners.

But as the train ride went on, Samantha overheard the dad talking to the oldest child in hushed tones. She realized that they were on their way home from the hospital where the children’s mother had just passed away. Samantha felt a pang of guilt and empathy, realizing that the children were probably acting out because they were upset and confused about their mother’s death.

We can meet people on an off day and perceive the person as rude or insensitive, but that may not be who they really are. We all have bad days where we don’t show up as our best selves, and we need to remember that before casting judgement on other people.

Cultural differences can be perceived as rudeness

One’s culture also affects how one perceives a stranger’s seemingly rude behaviour. For example, speech differs from culture to culture.

In Latino and Arab cultures, speaking loudly and expressively is considered polite behaviour, while  some people from East Asian and American Indian cultures use softer tones. Many cultures perceive interruptions when speaking as a norm, while others consider this incredibly rude.

Being aware of these cultural differences may help avoid unpleasant interactions with strangers. It also prevents you from appearing offensive to others too.

Maria and her friends were on the Canadian subway, listening to loud Spanish music and singing along. They were having a good time and didn’t think anything of it until they noticed that the other passengers were giving them nasty looks. Maria and her friends were confused and didn’t understand why people were reacting that way.

After the subway ride, Maria asked a Canadian friend why people were so upset about their Spanish music. Her friend explained that in Canadian culture, it is considered rude to play loud music or make noise in public places like subways and buses. Maria was surprised, as in her home country, it was common to listen to music on the bus, and no one had ever complained.

Understanding the social rules of a culture will also help avoid conflicts and misunderstandings, especially when dealing with strangers.

Personal experiences

Is someone being rude to you? Sometimes, you may feel this when interacting with others, yet you cannot pinpoint why you feel and think this way. It may just be a gut reaction that something is off.

We may feel offended by another person’s seemingly rude actions for several reasons, and our personal experiences are part of them.

feeling offended by others

Sometimes, we perceive some words and non-verbal cues as offensive because we are having a bad day. Even a coworker’s silence may appear dismissive of you, even though their intention isn’t to offend you.

The person you are dealing  with may be having a tough time or have a tight work deadline. They may not acknowledge your presence or make eye contact, which can come off  as rude to you. When this happens, the rude behaviour is generally not an intentional action nor directed towards you, in particular.

Impact of past experiences

Our past experiences also affect how we perceive rudeness and react to it.

Victims of bullying and harassment are more sensitive to perceived rude behaviour. They become on high alert when meeting strangers due to their past experience. Often, this perception leads to a cycle of negative interactions as these people may unintentionally act rude or hostile as a coping mechanism.

A person’s mental and emotional health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, affect how they view rudeness. People suffering negative emotions are often likelier to see neutral behaviour like silence and impartialness as rude. It can cause people to become more withdrawn and less likely to form positive connections with strangers. This also leads to feelings of isolation and loneliness.

effects of anxiety and depression

Our personal experience greatly affects our perception and reaction to the behaviour of strangers. Unfortunately, changing perceptions, especially those affected by our upbringings, experiences, and culture, is not easy thing to do.  But becoming aware of them may help us become more open when interacting with new people.

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Coping strategies with rude people

We cannot change how others behave, even if it offends us. But we can change how we react to difficult situations. 

Emotional management

Dealing with rude behaviour is emotionally exhausting, especially from someone we don’t know. Usually, treating rude with strangers with kindness  can stop things from escalating.

So, when dealing with rude strangers, try these emotional management strategies:

  • The first step is to remain calm and not let the rude behaviour affect you. Take a deep breath and process the interaction.
  • Next, try to view the situation from a different and positive angle. For example, if someone cuts in front of you, pause and take this as an opportunity to practice your patience.
  • Finally, remove yourself from the situation if possible and try not ruminate on what happened or let it ruin your day.

Communication skills

Besides managing our emotions, we can also practice effective communication when dealing with rude behaviour. Some helpful tips to consider:

dealing with rude behaviour
  • Use “I” statements to communicate your feelings towards the rude behaviour. You may say, “I feel disrespected when you speak to me in that sharp tone.”
  • Learn how to set clear boundaries and how to assert them. You may say, “I’m uncomfortable with how you talk to me. Please stop.”
  • Respond with kindness and empathy to avoid escalating the rude encounter. You may say, “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. Can I help you in any way?”

These coping strategies are healthy methods of dealing with rude behaviors from strangers. By managing our own emotions and communicating effectively, we’ll also have less risk of misunderstandings and more positive interactions with the people we encounter daily.

Got any comments, questions or tips for dealing with a stranger? Share them in the comments below.

What is a Petty Person: Understanding the Characteristics and Behaviours

understanding a petty person

Petty behaviour is when someone’s actions and their attitude are spiteful and instead of focusing on the big picture they major in minor things. When you think of a petty person, think of a small minded person who holds grudges against you, overreacts, and may act in a passive aggressive manner.

Psychological Aspects

Petty behaviour can stem from several psychological factors including: jealousy, low self esteem, wanting to control everything and  the need to be right. Petty people may see themselves as the victim in a situation, and  they may feel threatened by others, however, they lack the social skills to address the issue that they are upset about in an adult manner.

Social Implications

Petty people can negatively affect the people around them and create a toxic environment at work or in a friend group. Many petty people are unaware of how their actions affect those around them, and they demonstrate a lack of empathy every time they try to control a situation. You can develop strategies to help you cope with being around a petty person.


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Have you ever had a friend show up and change the entire dynamic of a get together? Jenny invited Camilla out after work with her team. Camilla made snide comments towards a lovely new girl, who after the third insult became very quiet for the rest of the evening. Jenny couldn’t figure out what exactly had happened but she knew that there was a definite shift in the dynamic once Camilla joined the group.

Characteristics of a Petty Person

Petty people have many negative personality traits that make it challenging to be around them for long periods of time. Here are a few typical traits of a petty individual:


The underlying issue is that petty people feel insecure, and they like to feel superior to others, which makes them feel good about themselves. They may one up others to feel superior and play down other people’s accomplishments.

characteristics of a petty person

Often petty people can’t take any feedback or criticism, and if you suggest a change they may become overly defensive and consider it a personal attack against them. 

Lack of empathy towards others

Often petty people don’t consider other people’s feelings and only see things from their point of view. They may try to guilt trip people close to them in order to get their own way. Often their requests can be completely unreasonable, but in their mind, they are right, end of story.

Carys’ mother wanted to come and stay with her for a couple of days. When Carys said they no longer had a spare bed available, her mother became snippy with her. Carys offered her free accommodation at a friend’s guest house nearby, she also offered to give up her own bed and sleep in the living room but it wasn’t good enough for her mother.

Her mother came to town, stayed with her brother, and didn’t invite her to any of the family get-togethers. Her mom’s petty ways got in the way of what could have been a pleasant family get together.

May be an attention seeker

Petty people may talk about themselves and their accomplishments in front of others because they crave attention.  They have a need to feel important and may make something sound bigger than it really is to impress those around them.

Dealing with a pretty person can be exhausting and may cause unnecessary stress and drama in a relationship. When you are focused on petty issues it brings up conflict over things most people would ignore.

Impact of Petty Behaviour

Petty behavior can take a toll on personal relationships and negatively impact a workplace environment. Understanding the effect of this behavior can help you take steps to address it and try to turn the situation around quickly.

Personal Relationships

People who have to deal with petty people can become resentful and fed up. People may choose to walk away from a friendship with a petty person, but with family members, it is more challenging to deal with. 

Common signs of  petty behavior in relationships:

  • Continually criticize people 
  • Hold a  grudge about something minor
  • Make rude, sarcastic, and snippy remarks
  • Will not compromise in any way
  • Act in a passive aggressive manner
impact of petty behavior

Take a look at your personal relationships and see if you have anyone who demonstrates these kinds of behaviors. You may want to bring up your concerns or distance yourself if you do not value the relationship.  

Pettiness at work

Petty behavior at work can be incredibly toxic and cause stress for coworkers. Here are some things to watch out for at work:

  • Spreading rumors about coworkers
  • Taking credit for projects at work, even when they had a very small role
  • Refuses to be a team player and help coworker’s projects 
  • Creating unnecessary petty arguments
  • Sabotaging other people’s projects and relationships at work  

Karen, a manager at an insurance company, was known as the queen of the gotcha, always looking to sabotage someone else’s work. Her entire team quit and a few went on stress leave. If that isn’t a sign of a problem environment, I am not sure what is!

If you see these behaviors in a coworker, you might want to bring them up with your supervisor or talk to the employee about possible solutions going forward.

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Dealing with a Petty Person

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Petty people can be incredibly frustrating to deal with and you may feel like retaliating, but don’t stoop to their level. Here are a few of our favorite tips on how to deal with the petty people in your life.

Setting Boundaries

You need to boundary up when dealing with a petty person and let them know what you consider to be unacceptable behavior. Calmly let the person know when they have done something inappropriate or crossed the line. You might say, “I don’t appreciate the snippy comments about the job I did on the last project. If you have something to say to me, let’s have a one on one meeting on what you think that we could have done differently.”

Effective Communication

dealing with a petty person

Try not to get defensive when you are dealing with a petty person. Listen to what they have to say and try to find common ground. Be prepared with something to say like, “ We may have different opinions about the project, but let’s focus on working together in a respectful manner.”

Seeking Professional Help

If you are feeling overwhelmed dealing with a petty person, it can be helpful to talk to a professional. 

Better Help is a great resource where you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of their own home. Dealing with a petty person can really take a toll and talking to someone about it will provide clarity.

If you have to deal with a petty person it will most likely be challenging, but by setting appropriate boundaries, seeking professional help, and handling it in a mature way you can navigate the situation.

When people call you a bitch: How to handle it with confidence

People calling you bitch

Understanding the term bitch

When you are called a bitch, you will probably be a little shocked and taken by surprise. There are many definitions of the word bitch, and a lot of them can depend on your generation or context.

A woman is called a bitch if she is perceived by others as dominant, unreasonable, belligerent, or aggressive. The complaining woman at customer service is perceived by others as a Karen or a bitch.

The term bitch is used whenever a woman is outspoken or assertive. Men are praised for being firm and strong willed, while a woman can be criticized for their strength and leadership skills. 


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Cultural and Societal Context

For years, women have been insulted and called bitches. Anytime a woman stands up for herself and stands her ground, she will be referred to as the b word. It is a word that can undermine a woman’s power when she stands up to someone or is taking charge of a situation.

  • When a man uses the word bitch in a negative way, it may be a gender-based insult. The man saying it may have an issue with women or women in leadership roles.
  • Bitch also has a different definition for the younger generation. In the last few years, the term has become a term of empowerment for younger women.

Young entrepreneurial women refer to themselves as “boss bitches” and consider it the ultimate compliment.

Urban Dictionary defines a boss bitch as:

A confident, successful, and independent woman who speaks her mind and stands up for what she believes in. She keeps it 100% real with everyone, sets boundaries, and isn’t afraid to go after what she wants. She is unique, courageous, and fierce. Her dreams are big, but her ambition is bigger. She is an advocate for the empowerment of women and knows that a strong mindset and putting herself first is for the betterment of everyone and everything around her. Her positive energy, charisma and drive to succeed make her an influential leader, role model, and mentor to other women. She is a force to be reckoned with and can be intimidating from afar, but once you get to know her you’ll realize she can be a loving, caring friend, confidante, and your own personal cheerleader.

cultural and societal context of a bitch

While younger women find the word bitch empowering, it may not fly with the older generation. Gen X and boomers will probably take offense to being called something they view as having a derogatory meaning.

Personal Interpretation

You may not know how to react if you are called a bitch.  Since we all assign a different meaning to the word.

  • Were you being assertive? When you are called a bitch it is most likely because you were assertive and unwilling to be treated poorly.  The person doing the name-calling may be threatened by you, and instead of being mature, they resort to insults.
personal interpretation of calling someone a bitch
  • Lowest common denominator of thinking: When people feel insulted by a woman, the term bitch is often the first thing that they can think of that comes out of their mouths. 

You can interpret being called a bitch any way you want. You may be offended but someone may actually be giving you a compliment. 

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Reactions and Responses to name calling

If you are called a bitch, at first you might feel annoyed or insulted. Don’t overreact, try to stay calm, the person who said it may have a different meaning or they could be plain rude!

No matter what someone says about you, positive or negative, it is important to keep control of your emotions and not let them ruin your day. They may be purposely trying to wind you up, don’t give them the reaction they are looking for!

Make sure you are clear on the context of the word they are using. My nephew was talking about a girl he admired and he called her a “bad bitch.” So if a younger person says it to you, it could very well be a compliment. 

Verbal Responses to being called a bitch

You can respond in many different ways, you could walk away and save your energy or you can respond in a mature manner. 

Here are a few things that you can say if someone calls you a bitch that won’t escalate the situation.

  • That’s rude, don’t call me derogatory names.
  • I don’t know why you feel OK talking to me like that. It’s not OK
  • Wow, what a harsh thing to say to me. Are you upset about something in particular?
verbal responses to being called a bitch

However you respond, it needs to feel comfortable for you.  If you are uncomfortable responding, simply remove yourself from the conversation.

Non-Verbal Responses

You can let people know that their behavior is not OK with your body language. If you aren’t able to respond verbally you could:

  • Remove yourself from a toxic conversation and walk away.
  • Look the person in the eye and let them know that you are not intimated. 
  • Cross your arms, turn away, or shake your head to let the person know that you don’t want to engage with them anymore.

Do whatever feels right for you. Leaving the room can send just as clear a message as a verbal response. You may not want to stoop to someone’s level and reward them with a verbal response.

Strategies for Handling Name-Calling


Learning to be assertive is an important life skill that we all need to learn. Standing up for yourself is a skill that many people didn’t learn growing up in their families. In fact, in many families, it wasn’t encouraged for children to speak up and assert their needs.

The good news is that you can learn to become more assertive and set boundaries, our free  Stand Up for Yourself Guide can help.

Seeking Support

Talk to a good friend about the name-calling, it is very common for people to be shocked and embarrassed, especially if the incident occurred publicly in front of several people. Talking about it can help figure out how you feel about the situation.

If name-calling is happening in a professional work setting you may want to talk to a therapist to help process your emotions around the situation.

seeking support when people call you a bitch

Better Help is a great resource where you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of your own home.

We can’t change other people’s behavior, but we can handle the situation in a way that works best for us by putting healthy boundaries in place.

The Power of Words

Words are powerful and they can lift people up or bring them down with derogatory comments. Remember that when someone refers to you as a bitch, you have the power to choose how it affects you. 

Got any comments, questions, or tips for dealing with people who call you a bitch? Share them in the comments below.

When people try to make you answer a personal question: how to respond gracefully

Responding gracefully to personal questions

Understanding Personal Questions

What is a personal question

A personal question is information that people may not know about you, for example, your opinion about a colleague, who you voted for, and whether or not you have a significant other. Some of these questions can make you feel uncomfortable and it may feel like there is an invasion of your privacy. 

Some other personal questions that people are commonly asked are about salary, sexuality, relationship status, health issues, or a personal political point of view.

Why do people ask personal questions?

People ask personal questions for many different reasons. Some folks are simply curious about you and your life and want to get to know you at a much deeper level. Other folks may be trying to build trust with you or establish a personal connection. In some situations, personal questions are used as a tool to assert power or try and control the person being questioned.

Remember that not all personal questions that people ask are considered intrusive. Family and close friends want to know about your life and support you. Always consider the source when sharing information, if you have a toxic family member you are going to want to filter what you share.

It is important to remember that you have no obligation to answer any personal question that you feel is an invasion of your privacy.


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Dealing with intrusive personal questions

Dealing with intrusive personal questions

Personal questions can make you feel uncomfortable and make you feel like you are being interrogated. You can use diplomacy and shut down these situations gracefully. Here are a few of our best tips on shutting down personal questions.

Deciding Whether to Answer

You have the right to decide if you want to answer a personal question. If the question feels invasive or you feel uncomfortable answering you should feel comfortable saying no. There are certain details of your life that should remain private and aren’t anyone’s business.

A friend of mine attended a work lunch for staff from a large organization. In front of ten people, a colleague asked my friend if he was gay. Everyone stopped and stared, Jason felt incredibly uncomfortable at being singled out and asked a personal question in front of people he didn’t know very well.

He isn’t gay and responded accordingly. Several people at the table jumped in to support him because they could sense how awkward he felt being singled out and being asked for personal information in front of a group. 

After lunch, everyone in the office was talking about the incident because asking a personal question publicly is in such bad taste.

Polite Ways to Decline to Answer

Polite Ways to Decline to answer a question

There are polite ways to shut down a conversation with a nosey person. Here are a few diplomatic things you can say:

  • That topic is not open for discussion.
  • That’s a personal matter that I am not comfortable talking about.
  • Thanks for asking, but I am not comfortable answering that question.
  • I’d rather not get into that topic right now.

Try to remain calm and composed when you decline to answer an intrusive question. You have no obligation to explain why you are not willing to answer or divulge information. With certain folks, refusing to talk about something will be more challenging than with others. You can shut down questions tactfully, and decline in a respectful manner to maintain your privacy and to set boundaries.

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Effects of personal questions

Most of the time invasive personal questions leave people feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, or anxious.

Impact on Relationships

Once someone has interrogated you and crossed a boundary, you may feel differently about the person going forward.

If your coworker asks a personal question about your salary, there may be tension if they find out that you earn more than they do. It also puts you in an awkward position if they reveal what you have shared, and demand a raise from your boss.

Effects on self-esteem

Effects of personal questions

When people are asked personal questions it can negatively affect their self-esteem. Many people have things they are sensitive about, that they don’t even want to discuss with their family.

Joanie was naked by her aunt, “Have you gained weight, you look fatter?” It left Joanie feeling ashamed and embarrassed about her weight, which has always been a sensitive topic.

We never know how people are really doing, and demanding an answer to a personal question on a sensitive topic leaves people uncomfortable and negatively affects their emotional well-being.

Case studies of handling personal questions

You will probably be asked personal questions in both your personal and your professional life. Some folks will have no trouble answering while others will become tongue-tied. We have included a couple of case studies on answering personal questions.

Case Study 1: Dealing with Salary Questions

In many cultures, it is inappropriate to discuss salaries, and in some companies, it is actually a violation of company policy. A common question in a job interview is your salary expectations, so be prepared to answer the question.

Often candidates can acknowledge the question but deflect to answer in the early stages of the interview process as a negotiation tactic. You could say, “Once we’ve determined that I am the ideal candidate, and we want to move forward,  I am happy to discuss salary expectations. You have answered the question and can prepare for an in-depth answer if you are the ideal candidate.

Case Study 2: Responding to relationship status questions

Some folks don’t like to share their personal information at work and don’t want to answer are you married and do you have a boyfriend or girlfriend questions. 

You could politely reply, “I prefer to keep my personal life separate from my professional life, but thank you for asking.” That may put your coworkers off and it may be easier to give a simple yes or no answer.

Case Study 3: Handling personal crisis questions

Handling personal crisis questions

At some point in time, we all go through a personal crisis such as a divorce, an illness, or a challenging parenting situation. When you are going through a trauma, you most likely are not going to want to talk about it. If your work is negatively affected, you most likely will want to share with your supervisor or close colleagues what is going on.

You could say “I’m going through a challenging time in my personal life right now, and I’m doing my best to manage it. If I feel like my work is being affected, I’ll  be the first to let you know, but otherwise, I’d prefer to keep the details private between us.”

The best way to handle the situation is to be a hostess and direct but still maintain your privacy. Your supervisor doesn’t need to know the juicy details of what you are going through.

At the end of the day, dealing with personal questions can be challenging, but remember you are important and you have a right to privacy. You can answer questions without violating personal boundaries while being polite and diplomatic.

The role of counselling and self-care

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When you are dealing with someone who constantly tries to play the victim and you find it stressful, consider getting support from a professional. Talking to a counsellor is a great way to work through a challenging situation, and help you find some strategies to work through the person’s behaviour.

Better Help is a great resource where you can talk to a counselor from the comfort of your own home.

Taking care of your own needs isn’t selfish, and you will feel better in the long run.

Do you have any tips on what to do when people try to make you answer a personal question that you think others should know about? Leave it in the comments below.