Why is it so hard to evade all the nudniks in our lives?

The disproportionate presence of women on the “difficult” list is was thought by the researchers to reflect women’s more-intensive role in the family.

January 23, 2018 21:20
2 minute read.

Girl with a headache. (photo credit: INGIMAGE)


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Almost everyone has someone in his life who’s a pain in the neck and causes a lot of stress and tension. They may include family members and colleagues at work, so it’s hard to avoid them. Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and the University of California, Berkeley joined together on research to find out who these people are and why we can’t easily cut the cord.

“The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates,” noted Dr. Shira Offer of BIU’s department of sociology and anthropology, who co-authored the article with Prof. Claude Fischer of UC Berkeley. They have just published their findings in the American Sociological Review.

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Their research was based on data from the UC Network Study, which collected data about the social ties of more than 1,100 adults in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Respondents in the survey were asked to provide the names of people to whom they were connected in different ways, for example those with whom they socialized, in whom they confided and from whom they would ask for help in an emergency. They were also asked to name and describe the people in their lives they found demanding or difficult. The “difficult” comprised about 15% of all the people named by respondents.

Close kin, especially females and aging parents, were most likely to be listed as “difficult.” These are people with whom our lives are so complexly intertwined, said 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.”

The disproportionate presence of women on the “difficult” list is was thought by the researchers to reflect women’s more-intensive role in the family. This provides more fuel for tension and conflict. Non-relatives described as friends were less likely to be described as difficult, while those described as co-workers more likely to be named as difficult.

Finally, the study examined which kinds of interactions seemed to characterize a “difficult” relationship. Providing support to other people, but not receiving support from them, such as caring for a parent in decline, was a major source of difficulty in these relationships.

Overall, their study highlights how normative and institutional constraints may force people to retain difficult and demanding connections in their networks.

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