Dealing with Difficult People

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One of the things that can end up taking up a lot of our head space and distracting us at work or when we’re trying to get to sleep at night is when someone’s really upset us or made us angry.

The thoughts can go round and round again: I can’t believe they said/did that! They’re so out of order! He/she is such a *******. And we like to rehearse in our minds how we’re going to convince them that they are wrong and we are right.

What it comes down to, is not accepting someone as they are, which is an absurd thing to do. It’s as absurd as going up to a tree and shouting at it, “Can you not! Can you stop being like that?!”

We don’t look at an oak tree and wish it was a fir, or an elm and wish it was a chestnut but most of us frequently wish people were different in some way. A tree can’t stop being a tree. It just is a tree.

Very often, what you don’t accept in someone else is a reflection of something you don’t accept in yourself. If I’m really honest with myself, things that I find most irritating in others are things that I do.

Because we can’t see other people’s motivations it’s easy for us to assume there are deliberately trying to aggravate us, but when we’ve upset someone, we know that wasn’t our intention.

If you start with the belief that everyone is trying to be happy and to be appreciated by other people, it becomes much easier to be forgiving of people’s behaviour. There was someone at work who I used to find extremely irritating, because he was always deliberately causing arguments and making polemical statements about immigrants or people on benefits.

When I focused on wishing for him to be happy, as part of my meditation, it helped me to realise that he didn’t mean to annoy people, he wanted to be liked and get people’s attention, he just wasn’t very skillful at it! Almost overnight I felt much more relaxed around him.

Another metaphor I find helpful is that when someone is aggressive towards us it is like a dog with its leg in a bear trap. It’s not snapping and snarling because of anything we’ve done, it’s just suffering. Hurt people hurt people.

Many times I’ve got fixated or how wrong or annoying someone is for how they talk to me or what they ask from me. Then I realized that what the situation was revealing was my own fear of setting boundaries and telling people what I don’t want or like, in case they reject me. When someone upsets you it’s actually a wonderful gift, because it reveals a part of yourself that needs healing.

So next time you’ve got someone’s words and actions swirling around in your mind, and you’ve created a very narrow sense of this annoying person, try this. Take a moment to imagine them being as happy as they could possible be. It might feel inauthentic at first, or like they don’t deserve it, but over time you might see the situation with a fresh perspective, and that will be liberating for both of you.

If you’d like help dealing with difficult people in your workplace or school, get in touch for a taster session.

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