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Dealing with Difficult People - Four types of people a chaplain may dread most

Most of the people I deal with as a chaplain are quite pleasant. But others really push my buttons. You know the type. You may have been thinking of them just a minute ago. Some may be patients at a medical scene or members of their families. Others could be among the first responders we serve.

In the New England Journal of Medicine article Taking Care of the Hateful Patient Dr. James E. Groves writes about the types of people physicians most dread… dependent clingers, entitled demanders, manipulative help-rejecters, and self-destructive deniers. Chaplains might make the same list.

Dependent Clingers

Chaplains and anyone in ministry deal with the dependent clingers. They always want your help. They tend to take an inordinate amount of your time and energy. And as Dr. Grove says, they tend to evoke aversion on our part. This can be challenging for someone called to bring a compassionate face to the mission of their department. Ultimately, their care requires us to set boundaries to protect ourselves and our personal lives. Without those boundaries, they will zap all that is good within you.

Entitled Demanders

Entitled demanders expect you to do things for them their way, right now. Sometimes they justify demands by insisting, “I pay my taxes.” Dr. Grove says they tend to evoke a wish to counterattack. Counterattack is never an acceptable option, but we can set some limits. Being taxpayers doesn’t give them the right to be rude to you and the people of your department. I have found speaking in a calm voice and explaining what we can and cannot do tends to help immensely. Don’t get angry. If you can, empower them to get the answers or services they are looking for. At times you may need to walk away from the entitled demander and let someone higher up the chain of command deal with the situation.

Manipulative Help-Rejecters

Manipulative help-rejecters tend to evoke depression in us by sharing their pessimism. They don’t really want the help you can give. They may not want help at all. They just like bringing us to their pity-party. As a chaplain I look for creative ways to work in partnership to find solutions. Try to get them involved with the solution. Ultimately, don’t let yourself get caught in their trap.

Self-Destructive Deniers

I tend to deal with these a lot as a chaplain. They chose to live a self-destructive lifestyle but refuse to acknowledge it as the source of their other problems. They tend to point fingers at everyone else besides themselves. I have found that dealing with them takes lots of time and a trusted relationship. As they trust you more, they will allow you to talk about the full range of issues in their life, including the ones they have brought on themselves.

I have found that as a chaplain the greatest thing I can bring to people who fit into any of these categories is the same: grace. I have found a little bit of myself in all four of these people and I’m very appreciative of the grace that has been given to me.

Chaplain Chris Wade

President South Carolina Public Safety Chaplains Association

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