How to Cope with Overbearing People

You know them as bullies, busybodies, prima donnas or manipulators. They always figure prominently in other people's complaints or gossip. The world revolves around them despite all logic and fairness. But what if you're part of that world? What if this overbearing person is your boss or coworker, your housemate or family member, or even your partner? If there are reasons why you can't walk away from the situation, you'll need a coping strategy.

Overbearing people can see you as a tool or extension of themselves, which you most certainly are not. Defend your individuality by quietly establishing your territory, whether it's your own room, desk, journal, time block or friends. If setting overt boundaries invites unwelcome confrontations, find your privacy in quieter ways. You may have to improvise frequently to maintain that inner space.

Living a dual inner life will require two lists of priorities. One list is yours alone, including measures for your own wellbeing and sanity, and the overbearing person never has to know about it. The other list belongs to the world that revolves around him or her, including ways to "make yourself useful."

Always agree, but follow a doctrine of constructive engagement. Even if you're dealing with an opponent on their terms, you still deserve to get something out of it. Modify their ideas with helpful suggestions that also work for you, always assuring them that you have their best interests at heart. That's not a lie if keeping the peace is in everyone's best interests.

Once it's clear that you're a valuable member of someone else's team, they might give you a long enough leash to start taking some initiative. They might ask you to "own" a project, but be flexible, because ownership goes only so far, and you still might not be truly independent.

Steps 1-4 have mapped out a psychologically difficult path, and it may not be for everyone. That's why you should know when you've had enough and when it's time to leave the relationship. This is not a decision to be made lightly, especially after you've invested so much in coping.