8 Ways to Deal With Difficult People
13 hours ago | Updated 12 hours ago
Elyse Santilli Writer and life coach at NotesOnBliss.com, your guidebook to happiness and creating a beautiful life
Teacher Ram Dass once said: “If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.”
It’s great advice. Whether it’s your parent, lover, friend or colleague, we all have people who trigger us. Something about them touches our wounds and brings out the worst in us — our pain, irritation, impatience, anger or even hostility.
Sound familiar? If so, here are eight powerful ways you can deal with difficult people who push your buttons.
1. Set your intention.
Our intentions shape our day and our destiny. If you know you will be spending time with someone who triggers you, set an intention in advance of your encounter.
I intend to feel good. I intend to stay calm. I intend to embody love and kindness.
Your intention will help guide your thoughts and actions. You can also bring your intention to mind whenever you feel tempted to slip back into old patterns of reaction and negativity.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of being present in the moment and observing your thoughts and feelings as they arise, rather than getting lost in them and confusing them with who you are.
When you are mindful, you have more control over your reactions to life. When someone triggers an emotional response in your body or a negative thought in your mind, you take a step back and observe what is happening inside of you.
Being the observer gives you the space and opportunity to take a few deep breaths, centre yourself, and consciously choose a new positive response — rather than mindlessly reacting out of habit and instinct.
3. Open your heart.
Negative emotional states usually provoke a noticeable physical response in your body — you may feel a knot in your throat or stomach, your muscles tense, or heat and heaviness around your heart area.
In that moment, you are closing off your heart centre and trapping the negative energy you feel inside of you. When you store this energy inside your being, you will continue to attract — and be triggered by — similar people and events in your future.
The next time you feel triggered and your body begins to tense up, make a conscious decision to take a few deep breaths, relax your shoulders, and imagine your heart opening — no matter how much it feels like closing. As you continue to breathe deeply, allow your feelings to rise and then fall away again, like a wave in the ocean.
4. See the gift.
Difficult people who push our buttons can be one of our greatest gifts in life. By bringing out the worst in us, they make us aware of where we need to grow. By touching our inner wounds, they bring them to the surface where they can be examined and healed.
Often we feel triggered now because of an incident in our past that we never fully healed from or released. Instead, we kept the memory, emotional pain or consequent self-limiting story buried deep within our heart and subconscious.
The poet Rumi once wrote: “Your task is not to see for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Thank the difficult people in your life, for they are showing you the barriers you may have constructed around your heart in the past to protect yourself that may now be limiting your experience and influencing what you can attract into your life.
Once you dissolve these barriers by forgiving the past and choosing to remain mindful and open-hearted in the present, you open yourself up to greater experiences of love, joy and inner peace.
5. Be wary of unexamined assumptions.
Sometimes we react negatively to people because we have conscious or unconscious beliefs and expectations about who they are and how they should act.
We may also have a hidden agenda to gain something from them to fill a void in ourselves — like love, praise or support. When they don’t provide what we seek in the form we are seeking it, we feel resentful and irritable.
In either case, there is an unexamined assumption running the show: that other people are in some way responsible for your happiness.
The truth is, your happiness is entirely up to you. No one can take it from you (unless you let them) and no one is responsible for making sure you are happy.
We are all responsible for filling ourselves up so that we feel loved and supported from within. And when we do, the people in our life will often naturally change their behaviour to become more loving and supportive towards us, because our outer world is always a reflection of our inner state of being.
Make it a habit to sit alone for five minutes each morning and imagine your heart and body filling up with love and light from above. Carry this feeling with you throughout the day.
We search the world for happiness in romantic partners, jobs, houses and bank balances, and yet we are so quick to throw it away at the slightest provocation. Start valuing your happiness like it is one of your most prized possessions — it is.
6. Practice forgiveness.
Everyone is doing their best from their level of consciousness and awareness.
Often, the people who trigger us are not even fully aware of the effect they are having on us. Even if they are aware, they may not be in a position to change their behaviour yet, simply because they are so deeply trapped in their own mind, patterns and emotional wounds.
Practice forgiveness whenever you are able to. Forgiveness does not mean condoning their behaviour. Forgiveness means seeing past their external behaviour to the light of their inner spirit, their soul, which is made of the same energy and love as your own soul – it’s just been temporarily obscured.
Don’t forget to forgive yourself too — have compassion for yourself and the challenging situation you are in, which is calling upon you to grow and be your best.
7. Be the lighthouse.
People can bring out the worst in each other, or bring out the best in each other.
The same way that a group of people meditating can have a positive ripple effect on the world, your own loving energy, peace and grace can have a positive effect on the difficult people in your life.
Many people are unable to see or change their own destructive patterns and behaviour. However, when you hold a positive space for them, staying calm, loving and present, this can allow them to subtly shift into these feelings too.
Picture yourself as the lighthouse, cultivating your inner light and love for those who need it.
8. Ask your Higher Self for help.
The book A Course In Miracles states: “Fear is a sure sign you are relying on your own strength.”
You are not in this alone. If you doubt your ability to remain calm, present and open-hearted around someone difficult in your life, call upon your Higher Self to step in and guide you through it.
You can establish the connection with a small pause and prayer: Higher Self, I desire to deal with this person in my life with compassion, patience and love. I’m not sure whether I can remain calm, so I step aside and let you lead the way. And so it will be.
Elyse is a writer, life coach and happiness teacher at NotesOnBliss.com and the creator of the Beautiful Life Bootcamp online course. She teaches people to align with their inner spirit, design a life they love, and expand their happiness and inner peace.
The Unreliable Narrator
The most powerful stories may be the ones we tell ourselves, says BRENÉ BROWN. But beware—they’re usually fiction.
MY HUSBAND, Steve, and I were having one of those days. That morning, we’d overslept, Charlie couldn’t find his backpack, and Ellen had to drag herself out of bed because she’d been up late studying. Then at work I had five back-to-back meetings, and Steve, a pediatrician, was dealing with cold-and-flu season. By dinnertime, we were practically in tears.
Steve opened the refrigerator and sighed. “We have no groceries. Not even lunch meat.” I shot back, “I’m doing the best I can. You can shop, too!” “I know,” he said in a measured voice. “I do it every week. What’s going on?”
I knew exactly what was going on: I had turned his comment into a story about how I’m a disorganized, unreliable partner and mother. I apologized and started my next sentence with the phrase that’s become a lifesaver in my marriage, parenting, and professional life: “The story I’m making up is that you were blaming me for not having groceries, that I was screwing up.”
Steve said, “No, I was going to shop yesterday, but I didn’t have time. I’m not blaming you. I’m hungry.”
Storytelling helps us all impose order on chaos—including emotional chaos. When we’re in pain, we create a narrative to help us make sense of it. This story doesn’t have to be based on any real information: One dismissive glance from a coworker can instantly turn into I knew she didn’t like me. I responded to Steve so defensively because when I’m in doubt, the “I’m not enough” explanation is often the first thing I grab. It’s like my comfy jeans—maybe not flattering, but familiar.
Our stories are also about self-protection. I told myself Steve was blaming me so I could be mad instead of admitting that I was vulnerable or afraid of feeling inadequate. I could disengage from the tougher stuff. That’s what human beings tend to do: When we’re under threat, we run. If we feel exposed or hurt, we find someone to blame, or blame ourselves before anyone else can, or pretend we don’t care.
But this unconscious storytelling leaves us stuck. We keep tripping over the same issues, and after we fall, we find it hard to get back up again. But in my research on shame and vulnerability, I’ve also learned a lot about resilience. For my book Rising Strong, I spent time with many amazing people—from Fortune 500 leaders to long-married couples—who are skilled at recovering from setbacks, and they have one common characteristic: They can recognize their own confabulations and challenge them. The good news is that we can rewrite these stories. We just have to be brave enough to reckon with our deepest emotions.
In navigation, dead reckoning is how you calculate your location. It involves knowing where you’ve been and how you got there—speed, route, wind conditions. It’s the same with life: We can’t chart a new course until we find out where we are, how we came to that point, and where we want to go. Reckon comes from the Old English recenian, meaning “to narrate.” When you reckon with emotion, you can change your narrative. You have to acknowledge your feelings and get curious about the story behind them. Then you can challenge those confabulations and get to the truth.
I’ll walk you through it. The next time you’re in a situation that pushes your buttons—from a breakup to a setback at work—and you’re overwhelmed by anger, disappointment, or embarrassment, try this practice.
Engage with your feelings.
Your body may offer the first clue that you’re having an emotional reaction; for instance, your boss assigns the project you wanted to a colleague, and your face begins to feel hot. Or your response may involve racing thoughts or replaying the event in slow motion. You don’t need to know exactly where the feelings are coming from; you just have to acknowledge them.
My stomach is in knots.
I want to punch a wall.
I need Oreos. Lots of them.
Get curious about the story behind the feelings.
Now you’re going to ask yourself a few questions. Again, it’s not necessary to answer them right off the bat.
Why am I being so hard on everyone?
What happened right before this Oreo craving set in?
I’m obsessing over what my sister said. Why?
This step can be surprisingly difficult. You’re furious because Todd got the project, but it may feel easier to steamroll over your anger with contempt: Todd’s a brownnoser. This company’s a joke. Getting curious about your feelings may lead to some hard discoveries: What if you’re more hurt than you realized? Or whatif your attitude could have played a part? But pushing through discomfort is how we get to the truth.
Write it down.
The most effective way to become truly aware of our stories is to write them down, so get your thoughts on paper. Nothing fancy—you can just finish these sentences:
The story I’m making up…
For instance, you might write, I’m so peeved. I feel like I’m having a heatstroke. She thinks I’m incapable. I want to hurl a stapler.
You can be mad, self-righteous, confused. A story driven by emotion and self-protection probably doesn’t involve accuracy, logic, or civility. If your story contains those things, it’s likely that you’re not being fully honest.
Get ready to rumble.
It’s time to poke and prod at your findings, exploring the ins and outs. The first questions may be the simplest:
1. What are the facts, and what are my assumptions?
I really don’t know why my boss picked Todd. And I didn’t tell her I was interested in the project—I figured she knew.
2. What do I need to know about the others involved?
Maybe Todd has some special skill or she has me in mind for something else.
Now we get to the more difficult questions:
3. What am I really feeling? What part did I play?
I feel so worthless. I’m failing in my career. And I don’t want to ask for anything because someone might say no.
You may learn that you’ve been masking shame with cynicism, or that being vulnerable and asking for what you want is preferable to stewing in resentment. These truths may be uncomfortable, but they can be the basis of meaningful change.
Figuring out your own story could take 20 minutes or 20 years. And you may not make one big transformation; maybe it’s a series of incremental changes. You just have to feel your way through.
If you’re thinking this sounds too hard, I get it. The reckoning can feel dangerous because you’re confronting yourself—your fear, aggression, shame, and blame. Facing our stories takes courage. But owning our stories is the only way we get to write a brave new ending.
Brené Brown, PhD, is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work and the author of Daring Greatly. This essay is adapted from her new book, Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution.
“What stories can do…is make things present.”
courtesy O Magazine