The Difficult Ones

Disclaimer – this post is written about the challenging people in our lives. About the overbearing boss, the difficult coworker, the moody relative, the judgmental neighbour. It is not referring to cases of abuse, serious bullying or violence, or trying to solve them.

Someone asked me recently for my thoughts on the difficult ones. On how to handle it when we encounter people who are spiteful, underhanded or just plain horrible to deal with.

I believe that there are a few elements to this, so I’ll break them down a little…

First of all – we are selfish

Let go of negative connotations around that word, because it’s just how we’re wired. I’m not saying that we all behave in a selfish manner, but rather that our motivations are based on our own needs and perceptions. And rightfully so.

A lot of our actions flow on from this, whether they seem self centered or altruistic to others. For example I might donate money to help someone less fortunate – even though my action is giving, the motivation for doing so comes from self-actualization, or more simply, it makes me feel good.

A negative behavior is the same – if I act irritated at a friend it is about how I feel. She may have acted in a way that triggered that feeling in me, but that is my perception. Hers may be different; therefore that irritation is based on myself more than her.

In short, your actions and feelings are yours – they’re ultimately about you. Another person’s actions, feeling and motivations are about them.

It stands to reason that in a diverse world with billions of people we will encounter those that seem kind and those that seem unkind. We will encounter those we love, those we hate, the bullies and manipulators as well as those that warm our hearts.

The problem is that they’re all behaving and perceiving selfishly and so are we. So we make it about us. And it’s not.

Likewise they perceive our actions and reactions to be about them, but they’re not either. Conflict has a habit of feeding itself this way.

A wise woman I know with dark skin was once asked if she experienced racism. She said no, then explained “But if I’m not served first at the counter, I think they’re busy, not that I’m black. If someone is rude to me I think they’re having a hard day, not that they have a problem with the colour of my skin.” She didn’t make it about her, because it wasn’t. So she saw the best in situations instead of looking for the worst.

If we can remind ourselves, as our hackles rise, that another’s words or actions are not our doing, then we can change the outcome with our own perception. It’s not our fault or our flaws, so take the hurt out of it.

Be selfish enough to act with kindness, because it feels good to you and to others. And while you endeavor not to make mountains of molehills, not to take blame or hurt that’s not yours – still be selfish enough to surround yourself with people who will treat you kindly. You deserve that.

We all speak different languages

It’s easy to miss when the words all sound the same, but we do.

Years ago I worked with an older lady who was bullying me in the workplace. I hadn’t expected that experience at all and was shocked and hurt. Going to work was like walking on eggshells and I often ended up in tears. Until one day two things clicked – 1) it wasn’t about me, my presence just stirred something in her and 2) the language she spoke- craved -was that of affirmation. She was fighting me because she felt threatened and my defending myself just confirmed that threat to her.

So instead of retaliating I made an effort to soften and to use her language.  I affirmed her strengths, I made a point of noticing what she did well, I asked her to share her tips and things she had found worked. When I thought about her I focused on the positives. Within the week not only had she apologized for how she’d acted, but she’d become a friend. She turned out to be a great support.

Most people’s fight is actually a shield for something. Sometimes it’s just about showing that we’re not armed.

There’s been the neighbour that put down our house, whose guard dropped when his insights were acknowledged, and his choices affirmed as well as our own. The acquaintance who attacked my parenting choices, whose insecurities acted as such great weapons, but fell away when they saw there was no judgment in our differences. The spiteful boss who feared for their power, who became an ally when they saw I had no urge to take what was theirs.

I’m not suggesting you become a pushover. I’m saying that there are many kinds of strength, many kinds of wisdom. And sometimes the greatest strength is to choose to be soft.

I’m suggesting that you take a little time to read people. To take notice of what language they speak.

Because you can keep fighting the difficult ones, but your fight just builds that shield of theirs into a stronger weapon. 

When you meet someone who speaks with hatred, find the dialect of kindness to undo them. When you meet someone who speaks to hurt, listen to what is behind their words to find what has hurt them.

And if someone is just plain cruel – walk away. Regardless of their language, you do not need to have that conversation.

It’s about energy

Some believe that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. That we either have something to teach them or them, us. I think there’s some truth in this. Sometimes our clarity, strength or kindness can be enough to change someone’s path completely. Sometimes the challenge they provide can be enough for us to find how clear, strong or kind we are.

But some people just seem to have more than their share of difficult ones, of harder situations, while others find themselves surrounded by more of the good stuff.

Everything is energy, and ours is made up of our perceptions, experiences, and what we surround ourselves with. If you have a difficult person in your life, or one who continually drags you down they are influencing your energy as you connect with them.

Aspire to surround yourself with people who lift you higher, but when circumstances don’t allow it (due to family, work, where you live etc) just choose not to engage anymore. Shift your focus and choose not to give so much of yourself to them.

Seek out more of the people whose energy DOES lift you higher, and connect there. It might be a close friend of someone you pass in the shops. Take the opportunity to feel the good wherever you find it. Notice kindness wherever you can. You’ll begin to attract what you’re looking for, and as you disconnect from that which doesn’t work for you you’ll begin to notice it less.

So in the end…

Don’t take on negativity that isn’t yours. Take time to read people and speak their language occasionally.  Surround yourself with the good stuff. Life is meant to have a lot of happy in it – if it doesn’t, then it’s a reminder to take a step back.

You deserve to be treated well. You deserve to laugh often. You deserve kindness that blows your mind. 

Copyright Nirvana Dawson 2012