Do you have a difficult person in your life? Do you feel like it’s hard to just “cut the cord” and move on?
A new study published in the journal American Sociological Review may shed some light on why this happens. The findings are clear cut: Difficult people are often the people you are stuck with, either because you need them or because you can’t ignore them. In other words, they are usually members of your family or your coworkers.
“The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates,” says Dr. Shira Offer of the department of sociology and anthropology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, who co-authored the article with Professor Claude Fischer of the University of California at Berkeley.
Their research is based on data from the University of California Network Study, which collected data about the social ties of over 1,100 adults in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.
Survey participants were asked to list the names of people with whom they are connected in different ways — for example, people with whom they socialize, in whom they confide, and from whom they would ask for help in emergency situations.
The respondents were also asked to identify and describe the people in their lives that they feel are demanding or difficult. The findings show that around 15 percent of the people they had originally named were also labeled as “difficult.” Close kin, especially female relatives and aging parents, were most likely to be listed as “difficult.”
“These are people with whom our lives are so complexly intertwined,” says Offer. “Many are close family whom we need and even love; others we just can’t escape. Social norms do not allow us to simply walk away from them, however much this might be tempting to do sometimes.”
The greater number of women on the “difficult” list is best understood as reflecting their more intensive role in the family, providing more substance for stress and conflict. People who are outside of the family, such as friends were less likely to be called difficult while co-workers more likely to be considered difficult.
Finally, the researchers looked at what types of interactions were more likely to characterize a “difficult” relationship. Providing support to other people, but not receiving support from them — for example, taking care of an ailing parent-was a major source of difficulty in these relationships.
Overall, the new findings highlight how normative and institutional constraints may cause people to feel they must maintain these difficult and demanding relationships.
Source: Bar-Ilan University