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Archives / 2015 / January


Book review: Toughest People to Love: How to Understand, Lead, and Love the Difficult People in Your Life— Including Yourself

Peter Swanson


The author draws upon his expe­rience as a pastor, seminary professor, therapist, and church leader to challenge the reader to think differ­ently about very difficult people and to explore new ways of relating to them.

He observes that leaders often complicate the process of interacting with perplexing people by demanding repentance, devising fix-it strategies, or offering insights to straighten them out. What is needed, instead, is a broader vision, a recognition that many times people are the way they are because of the events that shaped their lives and by the ways in which they responded at those crucial turn­ing points in their stories.

With this larger perspective comes the recognition that, although people can make changes if they are ordered to change, deep change goes beyond mere compliance demanded by an authority figure. This occurs when people are invested in making self-chosen change in order to further a shared vision that they embrace.

This calls for a significant shift in thinking on the part of leaders. They need to move away from a command­and-control posture to one in which relationship becomes the essential means of partnering with people to achieve success.

In order to get the most out of leading relationally, two things are necessary. Leaders need to address their own counterproductive ways of relating that interfere with relationship building, and they need to understand how to relate in healthy ways with both amiable and difficult people.

Despite a natural reticence to do so, leaders need to examine their lives to become better acquainted with themselves and to discover the extent to which the wounds of childhood, which everyone suffers to one degree or another, complicate their adult relationships. They need to understand how securely or insecurely they were attached to their primary caregivers and how their early relational com­plexities are reflected in healthy or maladaptive interaction patterns.

With a deepened awareness about how relationships work and informed by their own experiences, leaders can give their attention to understand­ing three categories of the “toughest people to love.”

Individuals with personality dis­orders are among the most broken people among us, and interacting with them can be the hardest thing leaders do. Yet, there remains in them a dim reflection of the image of God. And He appeals to leaders to love and care for them as well.

Without delving into the clinical complexities, the author provides practical insights that assist leaders in interacting beneficially with per­sons who are beset with narcissistic personality disorder, borderline person­ality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, or histrionic personality disorder.

Persons with addictions are partic­ularly challenging to relate to because lies, deception, and manipulation are deeply engrained survival tactics that they use. The author suggests a threefold approach that addresses the immediate behavioral issues, root causes, and family-related matters.

DeGroat also provides valuable coun­sel about dealing with those he refers to as fools—simple fools, self-consumed fools, and sinister fools. This includes wading “into the murky waters of rela­tionship” with some and protecting one’s self and others from dangerous fools.

This spiritually insightful book is about the essential role that leaders play in cooperating with the Holy Spirit’s efforts to restore the image of God in people. This book eloquently articulates that, through the uplifting influence of their leaders’ godly relationships, even the most difficult people can find deeper meaning in their lives, enjoy greater fulfill­ment in what they do, and, by following their leader’s example, can learn how to relate more winsomely with others.

—Reviewed by Peter Swanson, PhD, associate professor of pastoral care at the Seventh-day Ad­ventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, United States.

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