You probably have people in your life who make you feel just downright happy when you are around them.
They are easy to be around, they share your interests, they are kind and thoughtful, and you respect them. Let’s call them your “happy people”.
Most of the people you choose to be in your life, your friends for example, should be happy people, don’t you think? I mean, hey, why chose friends who aren’t friendly?
(Just as an aside here, I’d like to remind you to take really good care of your happy people. Be a happy person right back at them. These folks are to be nurtured and treasured.)
As much as we want happy people in our lives, it often happens that difficult people appear in our circle to gum up the works. In fact, some of those difficult people can be right in our own families.
Lots of times they work with us, or they are the parents of our kid’s friends, or we are put with them in some situation or circumstance that is unavoidable. And sometimes, darn it, we do choose them and hang on to them for some ungodly reason that makes no sense, at least on the surface.
There are various levels of difficulty with difficult people, but they all have the capacity to stir us up and bring out our worst traits. Let me rephrase that.
We allow our peace of mind and equanimity to be challenged when interacting with a difficult person.
Because that’s the truth of it, isn’t it? Difficult people can push our buttons, but only if our buttons are turned on.
Granted, it is no easy task not to get sucked up and twisted around by unpleasant, negative types. It happens to me all the time.
Sometimes the difficult behavior comes in the form of a comment or look so subtle that you don’t realize you’ve been sliced to the quick, until you feel the sting. I am always, always taken by surprise by this under-the-radar approach, and it makes me so mad that I can’t respond to passive meanness without looking small myself. I’d rather they be overtly rude and loathsome.
Let’s face it, it’s easy to get along with easy people. But it is so very hard to be the person you want to be when the weight of a negative personality is dragging you down.
This is a task, and I mean a real task, of proactive decision making on your part. You have to start with the decision that you will be the person you want to be in spite of the behavior you encounter and the feelings it stirs up.
I’m not suggesting that you just belly-up and take it. But I am suggesting that there are ways to prevent difficult people from pulling you into their sphere of unhappiness and boorish behavior.
These are hard things to do. They take self-reflection and a willingness to deal straightforwardly with very uncomfortable situations. If you are reading this post, you probably aren’t someone who just sweeps problems under the rug.
If you want to manage your difficult people and reclaim some peace of mind, I present these ideas for your consideration:
1. Know Thyself
Define in writing the person you want to be. What are the elements of your character, integrity and values that you want to reflect to the world in your words and actions? Now, define how you’d like that person to respond when faced with the difficult people.
Have a mental character study available that you can step into like a suit when the occasion arises. You might have to “act” the part if your reactive feelings start to take over.
2. Let Go of Certain People
Remember the part about choosing your friends? Well, you can also choose to let them go. If someone is truly draining you or hurting you and is not attempting to correct their behavior, then by all means, let them go. This does not have to be a dramatic production.
Depending on the circumstance or person, you can let them fade out of your life or you can kindly tell them that you need a break for your own well-being. They probably won’t take it well, but are you surprised? That’s one of the reasons you are letting them go. This is an unpleasant task, but it won’t take long.
3. Have The Uncomfortable Talk
There are some people in your life who are difficult, but you are not ready to let them go. You want to give them a chance, but realize that people generally aren’t mind readers. You have to tell them you have a problem and how it can be fixed.
Remind yourself of who you want to be and how you’d like to be treated if you were the difficult person. Speak from the heart about your feelings without attack or blame. Give the person the opportunity to correct the behavior. It may take time, and you must decide how much time you are willing to give.
4. With a Boss, Prepare and Protect Yourself in Advance
One of the worst situations in the world is having a boss who is difficult. You are already in the inferior position with the boss/employee dynamic. Couple that with a boss who is degrading or lazy or unethical, and you have the makings for one of the most unpleasant relationships of your life. How you navigate this without either losing your job or losing your self-esteem is quite tricky.
If your boss is unethical, consider getting out as soon as possible, even if you have to deliver pizzas for a while. A job is never worth compromising your integrity. If your boss is mean or lazy, and you feel you have to stay in the job, then arm yourself with a calm and steely reserve.
Don’t respond to baiting or sarcasm — in fact, silence speaks volumes. Walk away if necessary. If comments or behaviors are untrue or degrading, calmly correct untruths or state that you cannot accept being spoken to rudely. It’s never a bad idea to document these behaviors for your own protection. Working for someone you don’t respect is a chore and drags you down. Eventually you should leave.
5. Keep Your Distance
If you have a difficult family member or relative, it is quite hard to remove them from your life completely. Letting this person go might mean letting go of other people in your family whom you love and want to see. But you can limit the time you spend with certain people.
Stay in a hotel rather than in a family home trapped with the difficult person. Spend time with other family members or engaged in a project when you are around them.
Proactively decide how many times a year you are willing to see this person and for how long.
Communicate your decision to others in your family whom your decision might impact. As hard as this may be, limiting exposure to this difficult person empowers and strengthens you during the times you are around them.
6. Visualize a Barrier
Think about an invisible, unbreakable wall between you and the difficult person. Visualize their negative words and actions bouncing off this wall like arrows on a stone fortress. They simply fall to the ground.
Now visualize that same wall absorbing all of your negative reactions. When you feel anger or hurt in response to this person, imagine the wall absorbing those feelings and making the barrier even stronger. Behind the wall you are calm and peaceful.
7. Feel Empathy for Them
This is hard to do for someone who is genuinely a real pain. But accept that this person is doing the best they know how to do in the moment. People are where they are on the ladder of introspection and personal growth. You can’t drag them up the rungs. They must want to climb it themselves.
People are complicated and have layers of hurts and disappointments that hold them back. Bad behavior is usually just a symptom of a deeper wound. Have empathy for that.
8. Find Ways to Stay Centered
Practice activities that help you stay centered and calm. Meditate regularly, practice yoga, exercise, walk in nature, listen to peaceful music, breathe deeply.
Practicing peace is the best proactive thing you can do to help you stay centered when you encounter a difficult person. Build up your reserves of calm and you won’t be as quick to react.
9. Build Up your Pool of “Happy People”
Seek out and nurture relationships with people who fill your cup and enliven you. The more people you have like this in your life, the more emotional and mental support you have as a barrier between you and Mr. or Ms. Mean.
If your life is generally happy and fulfilled, then a few bad apples won’t spoil the whole bunch.
10. Seek Help if Needed
I have a few friends whose parents are the bad apples. Oh my, this is such a difficult dynamic.
We all need our parents to be kind and supportive and loving. But when they aren’t, it’s nearly impossible to let them go completely. The pain can be deep and scarring.
Sometimes only a professional can help you navigate these murky waters. Seek this help willingly so that the pain from this dysfunctional relationship doesn’t infect your “happy people” or your own soul.
Dealing with difficult people is never easy, but it is an unpleasant task well worth the investment of time and emotional energy.
When you set boundaries or even let go of people who do not support and nourish you, you reclaim a part of yourself.
You discover energy and well-being that allows you to evolve into the best person you can be – for yourself and those around you.
Read more from Barrie Davenport, a life and career coach, at Live Bold and Bloom, her blog about fearless living.