I bet you have someone in your life that you’d call a “difficult” person. No matter how hard you try, this someone is a struggle to work with or get along with. You can’t avoid them, either, so this person is a source of pain. Work colleagues, friends, acquaintances, family members, in-laws, ex-partners, you name it…difficult people come in all shapes and sizes. For some reason they rub a sore spot in your soul, and you can’t just walk away and ignore them.
Some common tips we’ve all heard on how to deal with a difficult person include things like:
Be calm. Understand the person’s intentions. Let the person know where you are coming from. Treat the person with respect. Focus on what can be actioned upon. Get some perspective from others. Ignore.
Sure, these tips are moderately helpful. But you’ve likely tried all of that to no avail, and that’s what makes this person or situation so difficult. While those simple tips might be effective with regular people, they alone won’t work with the most challenging individuals. So something else has to give.
If you’re up for some internal transformation, try this instead.
Create an internal perspective shift.
Turn the dynamic around completely. Instead of seeing this person as a thorn in your side, imagine this person as a Teacher put on your path specifically to help you learn a valuable lesson that will deepen your own transformation on your life’s journey.*
When you feel the constriction within yourself arise (tight throat, shallow breathing, hot face), instead of bemoaning the difficulties with this person, stop, breathe, and see this person as a GIFT. You might even send gratitude to them for being who they are, and recognize they’re here to teach you something.
Maybe someone who you feel bullies you, or walks all over you, is actually igniting the fire within you to learn to speak your truth, value yourself more, and set better boundaries.
Perhaps the difficult person at work who leans on you to do the lion’s share of the work and then takes all the credit is reminding you of your own need to be more confident and vocal about your own contributions, and to promote or stand up for yourself more.
Maybe the person who always takes, never gives, or says “thank you” when you’ve gone out of your way for them is sparking your awareness about your own patterns of over-giving unnecessarily or giving conditionally.
The truth is, we all have lessons to learn that will make our lives easier and more fulfilling in the long run.
The path is long and winding, and spotted with hazards and potholes. Instead of spending time wishing these difficult people weren’t on our path, what about being grateful that they’ve shown up to shine the light on a part of ourself we are ready to transform?
Instead of spending time and energy complaining about how this person has wronged you and how you want them to change, slow down and bring loving attention to the parts of yourself that are activated. And every time you butt heads, or feel stuck, you can turn all of that extra energy inwards for your own growth.
It’s not easy. If your internal resistance against doing this is too strong, then stop. Leave it for a while, and send yourself compassion instead. Put your hand on your own heart, acknowledge how hard it is to be with this person, and just be with that until you feel strong enough to shift your perspective.
*One caveat: There really are some people who are too difficult to imagine as a teacher or a gift. If someone is abusing you physically or emotionally, then stay away and seek help, without a doubt. This practice is NOT meant to make you feel like you are causing your suffering. Also, if this practice is too hard to do on your own, seek a trusted confidant to work through this with. And timing is everything. It may just not be the right time to do this. Sometimes we can only see how someone was a teacher in the past, after the wounds have started to heal.