Dealing with Difficult People

5 02 2012

By Julia Indigo/@juliaindigo

… at least, those you can’t summarily dismiss from your life!

Lucky me! I’m in the midst of a deepening friendship, with someone who is outwardly completely different than me. We’re different ages, races, ethnicities, we don’t speak the same language (though she speaks mine quite well), and if you saw us out together you’d probably look twice. We share gender and profession, and a direct manner of speaking. You never have to look for subtext in our words. We say what we mean. We’re also at the same level of emotional development – maybe. I say maybe because I have a feeling that she’s more emotionally mature than I am.

No, actually, I’m sure she is.

But I digress.

The other day we had a long lunch, discussing a particular situation in one of our lives… a situation with an emotionally manipulative and immature person, but one that is dear, and will remain close for some time.

How do you deal with that?

We talked about the situation and batted around various methods of dealing with the person. In that process, we came up with three attitudes that one can intentionally bring to any interaction with a difficult person.

COMPASSION

As my friend said, “We are all stuck in this hard life.” I hadn’t thought about it this way before, but life is definitely not easy. Time moves forward inexorably, and it’s easy to be swamped by the environment. Whether it’s being caught driving in a hailstorm, acquiring a damaged car in the process (as several of my colleagues were on Friday night), or finding oneself old and almost friendless, it’s easy enough to be caught unawares as the world passes you by. Decisions made in better times turn out to have been wrongheaded, decisions made by someone else impact you negatively, and you struggle.

At times it’s easy to put oneself in another’s shoes and see what their life is like, but whether or not it is, one can always choose to approach another with compassion for their humanity.

ACCEPTANCE

In my own interactions with a particular difficult person, I realized that the true struggle between the two of us was the desire on both our parts that the other change. Neither of us accepted the other as we were! There was no end to this difficulty, until I decided that the other was fine just as they were. After all, who made me the judge of anyone else!

There is a wonderful passage in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous concerning acceptance. I’ll quote a bit of it to give you a taste of its wisdom.

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.
I respectfully suggest that you go read the whole thing… it’s not very long.
And here’s the kicker from my experience, and it’s HUGE:
Accepting someone as they are frees them to grow, if they so choose. Because beating someone over the head with a stick that reads ‘you aren’t okay until you do X’ guarantees that they will armor and defend themselves, and resist changing!
It was only as I accepted the other as they were, that our relationship changed from one of almost constant dissonance into the relative peace that we experience today.

RESPECT

Many, many years ago I had a rough relationship with a colleague. It was obvious to me that he did not respect me, and it grated. Our work relationship was fraught, and it affected everyone around us (I hope I used ‘affected right! Let me know in the comments if I didn’t!).

Then something happened which is as fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. I was at home, and in a flash I realized that I didn’t respect him, either. That realization pinged my value system – and I made the decision to respect him from then on, no matter how he treated me.

Can you guess what happened?

The very next time I saw him, before I spoke a word to him, before there was any interaction between us AT ALL… he changed. It was as though my decision went through the ether, and affected him (that word, again! AAUGH!), and he treated me differently. He treated me with respect, and to this DAY our relationship is friendly. No, actually, it’s not friendly, it’s close. He’s retired now, but every time we see each other it’s a hugfest.

I wish I could say that I bring these three attitudes to all my interactions in my daily life, but that would not be true, as I am a work in progress. Blogging about it is yet another way to cement it into my consciousness, and perhaps, just perhaps, the people who I meet from now on will experience me as more compassionate, accepting, and respectful.

How do YOU deal with unpleasant and difficult people in your life? Do you consciously bring these attitudes, or other positive ones, to those relationships? Please share, I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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5 responses

6 02 2012
Karen McFarland

You are a busy blogger Julia. Great post. Dealing with difficult people. Boy that is an understatement for a lot of us. But you are so right. Acceptance is key. Can we really change that person? Not if they don’t want to . We need to work on ourselves first. 🙂

6 02 2012
Julia Indigo

I really enjoy blogging! I had a personal blog for many years, but now it’s taken For My Eyes Only. But I never had the habit of blogging steadily, or on a schedule. I don’t do schedules very well.

Another part of acceptance is self-acceptance! Until you accept yourself as you are, you’ll never have the stamina to change, IMO, YMMV and all that.

19 02 2012
Clarisse

Great Post Julia. I have only just started following you and came across this wonderful and sobering post. There is a difficult person in my life right now and I’ve given everything I have in me to try and better things but I will surely take your advice and be accepting of who he is. Perhaps then we will get somewhere positive if we start accepting who we are.

19 02 2012
Julia Indigo

Thank you for commenting, Clarisse, and good luck to you.

1 01 2013
Looking back on 2012, my personal journey « Julia Indigo

[…] friend who was working with us from time to time stayed with me, and I loved her company. I learned a lot from her! She continued to stay with me off and on through the beginning of […]

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