Dealing with difficult people

by Andrew McDonald

We all have to deal with difficult people. However, keep in mind one thing; you have to cope with them for a short time, they have to be with themselves all day long.
All of us have people in our lives who bring us down and stress us out. Sometimes the pain can be short-lived, an acquaintance who moves into and out of our lives just as quickly or perhaps a relative we only have to see at Christmas. Other times it can be longer, for example a bad boss. If we’re unfortunate, it might be someone who is a big part of our lives, for example, a close family member.
Everyone knows at least one person who the mere thought of affects their mood. A really important thing to keep in mind though is that whilst they are responsible for their behaviour, we bear the responsibility for how we react to them. If we can cut ties with them, this can be the best option. If we can’t distance ourselves from their negative influence, there are other things we can do.
A particularly powerful method of dealing with difficult people, or at least the effect they have on our wellbeing, is to try to understand them. Every living creature, including human beings, wants to be happy. Chances are a difficult person is struggling with that. This doesn’t excuse their behaviour but it does put it into a different perspective. Perhaps their words and actions are caused by their own pain. In no way does this give them a free pass on causing distress to other people but it can help reframe how you see them and how they act.
This thinking can be used as the basis for mindfulness practice. Tonglen meditation involves offering compassion to others. We start by thinking about someone we love and who makes us feel good and whilst meditating we send them good wishes of happiness. Then we bring to mind somebody we’re neutral about and go through the same pattern. Thirdly, we focus on somebody we dislike and who causes us pain and offer them positive thoughts with the hope of them being happy. We finish by doing the same towards ourselves. This can often create enough compassion to change how we cope with difficult people.
A great way of reshaping how we perceive difficult people is to see them as a challenge. If we determine to show kindness and understanding to everyone, it can help strengthen this determination if we resolve to be compassionate even with people who cause us frustration.
Of course, none of this means we should ever put up with abuse. If someone is abusive, rather than simply difficult, you absolutely should break ties with them and look for help in doing this if necessary. However, for people who don’t abuse you but do cause you difficulty, there are ways of dealing with them whilst maintaining your own well-being.

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