How to Deal with Difficult People

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Star Cry by Josh Keyes

“In every room, there is a squeaking thing we can all do without.” -Abraham Hicks

We all have people we clash with. This is a fact of life. Even if no one can ruffle your feathers, chemistry is real and our varied personalities don’t always mix well. Sometimes, they can cause an undesired reaction, or even an explosion.

On top of that, our egos sometimes try to convince us that we need other people to behave a certain way in order for us to be happy. Our egos might even attempt to control or manipulate others into doing what we want, and especially, our egos insist on us being right.

Our ego convinces us that gossip is worthwhile, and encourages us to compare ourselves to others, either to feel inferior or superior, all things put a wet blanket on your interaction with others.

Think of your ego like a very scared, wounded cavemen who on the exterior is full of bravado. He wants to keep us safe from harm, but his efforts are misguided, and often cause the very harm he’s trying to avoid in the first place.

A lot of times, when we clash with other people, butting heads, or feel our blood boil beneath the surface, it’s our egos doing the work, not our souls. But ego-free isn’t an option for most of us, and learning to shed parts of our egos is for another entire blog post. In other words, we need our egos. We should love our egos, and they are part of us, but we also need to learn to treat them like children and sometimes, keep them in check. 

Let’s be real, most of us have people we feel challenged by who we can’t cut out of our lives. Maybe it’s coworkers, family members, mutual friends, or neighbors. It’s way too easy to let these negative interactions or people ruin your whole day if you don’t get your own vibration in check, and challenge your perspective.

When it feels like You’re Losing People

I’ve found as you become more yourself in this life, the people you once held close can fall away, and it can feel lonely at times, especially at first. It feels this way because if you go from people-pleasing all the time, being a chameleon and changing your true colors to appease one social circle to the next, to honoring your true self, some people aren’t going to like it, and are actually going to prefer the old you.

When you stop relying on others to build your self esteem and approve of you, you may find some people might prefer your former ways, and reject your true nature, preferring the chameleon version that they believe serves them instead. People fear change.

The good news is that the people who reject your true self aren’t people you want around anyways. These are people who will drain your energy. Let them slip away, and know that their absence allows for an open seat in your life for someone who is a better match.

In my shedding of my former people- pleasing self, I’ve had my fair share of head butting with coworkers, family members, and friends. I’ve had to report sexual harassment to HR, and ended up leaving quite a few jobs.

Unfortunately, no matter how many times I left a job, the same problems followed me, as did fear and anger, which I realize now was my ego trying to protect me, control my surroundings and others, and resulted in me taking everything very personally.

It’s Never About You

In retrospect, it’s always clear that, dude, it wasn’t about you. Literally everything people say and do is about them, their world, their fears, their insecurities, their desires.

While  most people would feel violated and upset in similar situations, I wish I could get back those days I spent agonizing over these differences, filled with fear, and wasting my own precious time.

I realize now that the universe was trying to drill in me the same lesson over and over again, and I kept running away from it, not wanting to face the cards, and so I continued attracting these situations to myself by fearing them, and thinking about them all the damn time, and trying to stuff them away.

Once I learned to handle the situation, instead of trying to control it or run away from it, I stopped having these same experiences. Essentially, once I let myself experience the discomfort, accept it, and focus on something else, I stopped experiencing it. Once I stopped feeling fragile and like a victim, I wasn’t one. 

As I face new challenges that pop up, they repeatedly appear until I learn the lesson, let go, stop trying to control the situation, stop assuming, and get my head out of my own ass.

It’s a like a funny, not-so-funny-in-the-moment, super-funny-in-retrospect trick the universe has up it’s sleeve when it wants us to learn something. It happens every single time. Think of a problem that keeps coming up in your life, popping up in different ways. Have you really faced the music in this arena and done the work to heal and move on?

Maybe my perspective shifted enough that the situations that used to bother me so much don’t even register to me anymore. Then again, my boundaries, and confidence, are much more clear as well, and I have full confidence in myself to deal with what comes my way, and to know when to ask for help.

People can sense these things: confidence, security, boundaries. If you don’t have them, you’re an easier target. The good news is, these are all things you can learn.

Why so serious?

Oftentimes, the situations that fire us up and press our buttons have to do with our fears, and things that wounded us in childhood or in our past, that we haven’t fully healed from. Sometimes, this can be a life’s work, but understanding these wounds and how they play out in your life and interactions with others can help you check yourself before you wreck yourself… or somebody else.

A good therapist helped me understand the root of my fears, and realize the ways in which I could manage my fear and anxiety, and feel more empowered in my own skin. I started meditating, and doing things that made me feel empowered.

I started trail running, creating more, motorcycling, took some self-defense classes and I started my own business. It helped, and I began to step into my own power, and see those past experiences with a fresh set of eyes, and a new bag of tools.

I no longer felt like prey, always on the defense, easily wounded, and I started having these really vivid dreams about mountain lions teaching me to hunt, to stand up for myself, and generally step into my power. I still have regular dreams of big cats to this day, reminding me of my power. 

The biggest gift I gave myself was my own self-empowerment. Taking self defense classes and knowing I could handle myself in a dangerous situation. Meditating to clear and discipline my mind, and utilize the beautiful resource that is our own intentional breath. I also realized I was capable of running an independent garden design business, and making more money than I had ever made before, simply by defining my worth and asking or it.

It felt really good, and it boosted my confidence, and this changed how I showed up in the world, and I stopped attracting situations that made me feel weak and powerless, because I chose instead to create things that made me feel empowered. It worked.

People Pleaser Detox

After the detox period of being a people-pleaser, you get used to being your true self, you find yourself happier, more authentic with others, and more interesting. The right people begin to gravitate towards you, and life feels less lonely. There can be a period that feels lonely, however, as you let toxic people fall away from your life. 

Even if you are the most grounded, giving, kind person in the world, there are going to be people who do not like you, or who you do not click with. This is an unavoidable part of life, and this is ok! It’s like having our favorite foods, and foods we can barely stomach a lick of: it’s just chemistry, and a lifetime accumulation of experiences, familiarity, pain, memories, likes, dislikes, assumptions, etc. and our complex human brains cannot really help the reaction we have to certain foods or people.

You may not like olives, but you know that olives aren’t evil, or inherently bad, and they may take someone else’s pizza to the next level. Maybe you have a coworker who is an anchovy or an olive, and you really can’t stand anchovies or olives- they ruin the whole pizza for you. But you can pick them off, and ignore the taste, or order your half of the pizza olive and anchovy-free. Stop focusing on the olive residue, and appreciate the cheese, the sauce, the herbs, the perfect crust. Or, don’t eat the pizza, sit with your hunger and make your own pizza when you get home. 

While you can try to design your life to avoid all people you don’t click with, moving every time you get a neighbor with a penchant for staring into your open windows, or letting his dog take a crap on your lawn, or changing jobs every time a coworker acts rudely to you, your life is going to be a lot harder, and you’ll be spending loads of your precious energy on trying to control people and situations that are simply out of your control. That energy could be much better spent improving yourself, enjoying your life, accomplishing your g goals, and giving to others.

That energy can be better spent ordering a pizza, cleaning your house, doing some stretches, going for a walk, or clipping your toenails.

Honestly, if you don’t like someone, don’t give them power over your day. Do the opposite. “Living well is the best revenge.” You literally gain nothing when you stew over the actions of others, so why not move on and do or think or talk about something that feels better? If you don’t, you’ll make yourself sick.

Plus, nobody really wants to hear about it. It makes for pretty boring conversation, and casts you as a victim. You’re better than that. Move along, and find something better to do.

Acceptance

Why not learn to live with the full rainbow of people that color our world instead of swimming upstream and fighting to change others, or change their perspectives of us? A rainbow isn’t as beautiful if it was only in our favorite color.

You can choose to use the opportunity of interacting with difficult people to work on maintaining your own energy, to become less reactionary, and more empathetic. It truly is an exercise in not taking things personally, and you will be a much stronger person if you can learn to live with difficult people.

Seven Steps to Keep Your Vibration High While Dealing With Difficult People:

1. Don’t Take it Personally

If you haven’t read The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz yet, go get yourself a copy, or listen to it for free on Amazon.

“Don’t take it personally” is one of the agreements, and definitely one to live by, even if it’s easier said than done. Everything is a practice, and the more you do it, even if it’s done poorly, the better you will get, and the more you will learn.

No matter how it feels, you have to understand that what people do is never about you. Your ego tells you it is, and your ego will convince you people are out to get you, etc. etc. But even if someone is slandering your name, green with envy, and writing nasty things about you with permanent marker in a public restroom, it reflects the relationship that person has with them themselves.

“What Sally says about Susie says more about Sally than it does about Susie.”

How someone treats you reflects what’s going on inside of them. Of course, we all make mistakes, and have to know when to apologize, but if someone doesn’t like you, it could be that your face reminds them of an abusive family member, an ex, or it could be that they are just tormented inside, and for whatever reason, they believe treating you poorly will make them feel better.

They are misguided in their actions, but they really are just trying to feel better. It’s a sad state to be in, and as most people know, hurting others does not feel good. It might make you feel smug for a second, but it is not fulfilling, and does not bring you peace or happiness.

Honestly, most of the time, we are such a blip on other people’s radars. Even the worst internet or real life troll is not as obsessed making our lives miserable as it may seem. People are really and truly worried about their own stuff, paying their bills, their relationships, their flaws, their failures, their insecurities, their pain, their dreams, their dinner plans, why that person hasn’t texted them back, and if they have enough toilet paper to last them until tomorrow.

Half the time, when someone treats us poorly, it’s that person’s bottled up frustrations coming out at the first moving target, which happens to be us.

Know in your heart that it’s not about you, it’s about them, and don’t take it personally. Your ego wants you to take it personally, because your ego is a really scared caveman who does not want to be eaten by a sabor tooth tiger.

You have to tell that caveman to go back in the cave, curl up by the fire on the bear skin rug, and take it easy. Forgive your ego, he’s only trying to protect you, but comfort him, tell him it’s ok, and send him to bed with a blankie.

Think about the people you’ve been inclined to criticize—It’s often because something they do creates a painful, insecure or otherwise unpleasant reaction in you.

It’s ok if it hurts, you can let yourself feel hurt, but don’t dwell on it. You can watch a gory scene in a movie, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable, and acknowledge it, but you certainly don’t have to post up in your sleeping bag, make popcorn and play it on repeat all night. Just focus on the next scene.

Don’t. Take. It. Personally. Because it’s not. What people do isn’t about us. It’s about them. Every. Single. Time.

2. Empathy

When you learn that nothing people do is ever about you, but instead about them, you are much more free to be empathetic to their situation.

We all go through our own pain. Every single one of us, without exception, and so many of us are excellent at hiding it. You never know what someone might be going through.

Put simply, hurt people hurt people. No one who is feeling great, high on life, full of self esteem with love in their hearts and a skip in their steps goes and tries to ruin someone’s day. It just doesn’t work that way.

We all understand that life can be hard, and we’re all doing our best to navigate through it using the best tools we’ve learned so far. We all experience pain, heartache and disappointment. Again, no one who is fully satisfied and full of joy hurts another intentionally. Life does not work that way, so try to feel empathy for those who drive you crazy.

People that hurt people deserve your empathy because when we act this way towards others, it’s like a neon sign saying “I’m hurting.”

This is not to say you have to put up with unacceptable or abusive behavior, but if you can empathize with a real asshole, you’re so far ahead of the game.

Honestly, you’re only hurting yourself if you don’t, so it’s a win-win. Save yourself the headache, offer them some much needed empathy and kindness, and carry on. You’ve got better things to do.

3. Kindness

Being kind costs nothing.

Even if your kindness isn’t met in kind, you can go about your day knowing you did your best, and that you did the right thing. Fighting fire with fire never works, unless you want a freaking forest fire.

No matter how difficult it may be, if you can find it in your heart to empathize with someone, you can find it in your heart to be kind. This can be smiling, saying good morning, offering help, a listening ear, giving a small gift, a compliment, or even your patience. Maybe it could even turn the relationship around. People are complex, and can surprise you. It takes a long time to really know someone, and our assumptions can be way off.

4. Ignore

It’s not ideal, but sometimes it’s just what you have to do.

Don’t engage with people you know aren’t going to reason with you. Don’t engage with abusive people.

You don’t have to like everyone. You can show people respect and decency, but you don’t have to give everyone everything you’ve got.

It’s ok to be introverted and selective about where you spend your energy.

5. Boundaries

Know them, have them, exercise them. If you are a recovering people-pleaser, boundaries are hard, but they can really bring so much peace to your life. Give yourself the self-respect you deserve (and we all do) to cut off, say no to, and walk away from behaviors that make you uncomfortable and cross a line.

Learn to say, “don’t talk to me like that.” Learn to make eye contact and say, “I don’t answer personal questions at work,” or “I like to keep my personal life private.” 

Keep it simple, stand up straight, and speak slowly and calmly. You’ll keep getting better, and you might even surprise yourself with the witty responses you can come up with that get your point across. 

This is going to vary for all of us, and while you can’t control people, you can state what is and isn’t ok to you, and you can walk away, or change the conversation. This will take practice, like anything, but you write the rules to your life, and boundaries are one of them. There’s no reason for people to physically or emotionally harm you, invade your privacy, etc., and at the end of the day, you’re the one who has to say no, change the conversation, make a change, or walk away.

This might be awkward at first, and may always be a little uncomfortable, but you will learn to do it with more grace. Practice makes perfect, or at least good enough. 

6. Check Your Energy

Oftentimes, the hard truth is that the way others treat us is a reflection of the energy we are bringing to the table.

You can’t walk into a room of strangers, cold, closed-off, judgmental, and expect to make a splash as well as a handful of lifelong friends. Check your ego and your energy at the door. What are you bringing to the table?

Usually, you can find this out by observing what is being reflected back at you. While this isn’t the case every time, it’s worthwhile to check in with your own vibration, and see if you can elevate it around those who irk you, and see if that changes the dynamic.

Sometimes we think we need to set a boundary when really we just need to accept that people are different than us, and we can instead choose to not let something bother us. 

7. Create Respite

Sometimes, you just need a break, and ways to create respite, whether it’s at work or family gatherings. Along with setting boundaries, allow yourself to take a break, go for a walk outside, sit in a room alone and meditate or listen to music.

Personally, I find dancing always changes my mood and gets me out of my head. Go for a drive, visit a waterfront, or even go meditate in the restroom for a few minutes. Stretch, make a mini gratitude list, daydream about your next vacation. Do what you have to do to take a break.

Conclusion

Difficult People are part of life. Without them, our best friends, our partners, and our favorite townies wouldn’t be as magical. Part of the human experience is feeling pain, and so many of us are doing our best to deal with trauma, disease, grief, and mental illness.

Find it in your heart to empathize, cut yourself some slack, be yourself even if others don’t like it, give kindness where you can, and always remember that in creating our lives, it’s important look inside to see what you are bringing to the table.

We wouldn’t experience joy without the bleak periods, and we wouldn’t grow wiser without them either.

Remember that life is full of varied experiences, and isn’t meant to be joyful all the time. Life is complex, and difficult people are part of this equation. They make the joy that much sweeter.

Wishing you luck and love in your relationships and interactions, and remember, always forgive yourself for not being perfect. None of us are.

 

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