By Linda G. Ritchie, Ph.D.
Imagine a life in which everything always goes your way. There are not problems, no money worries, no health concerns – and no difficult people. There is no job insecurity, no traffic jams, and everybody treats you as if you were wonderful. You can eat what you want and buy anything you desire. Make a wish and it will come true.
Most of us have found ourselves longing for this state of being at some point or another. People work to retire hoping that they can then have a life that resembles this dream-like situation. Others resort to drugs or alcohol to create the illusion that they live a hassle-free life. However, the truth is that none of us ever really achieve a state of nirvana. This is actually a good thing because it is life’s challenges that provide us the opportunity to grow. If we were never challenged, we would never grow and would therefore never really be fully alive.
Difficulties are an essential part of life and dealing with difficult people is something we all experience. Difficult people give us opportunities to learn, to adapt, and to achieve wisdom. Dealing with difficult people forces us to feel discomfort, to look within, and then to learn to alleviate it by acquiring a more diverse set of responses.
Try this exercise. Write down a list of the difficult people in your life. Beside each name, jot down four or five adjectives which describe why the person is difficult for you. One item in your list of people might look like this – “ Jim: self-centered, controlling, manipulative, untrustworthy”. When the list is finished, go through all of the adjectives and see if there are any that repeat themselves. For example, you might see the word “controlling” frequently in your list. Now you have learned something about yourself. You need to learn how to handle controlling people. Developing the skills necessary to deal with controlling people without letting them upset you and negatively impact your mood would be of great value to you and would make your life easier and more enjoyable.
Learning to handle ourselves effectively with difficult people is a challenge we all face. None of us are immune from interactions with people who have the capacity to make our lives miserable. When a difficult person drives you to distraction, try thinking about the situation in a different way. It is not our place to try to change other people – it is difficult enough to make changes in our own lives! The basic idea is to look within and to understand that it is we who are experiencing the difficulty.
There are a number of techniques that can be used to reduce the uncomfortable feelings these difficult people may bring up for us. Working on this with a professional therapist can yield a world of new insights and clues for solving problems more flexibly.
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