Working with Difficult People


“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.”

- Pema Chodron

Lately, I’ve found myself in conversations with people, and the common theme seems to be working with difficult people. A friend was telling me about a story in which this woman she works with is an incredibly friendly person, everyone seems to love her, and yet she has a feeling that something’s off. Whenever my friend speaks of a personal success, this woman seems to act incredibly passive aggressive. When my friend is struggling, this woman is just the opposite and is seemingly supportive. She was describing situations in which she felt silly explaining to me because it seemed like she was being petty or even making up things that weren’t even there.

Yet, I completely understood. I’ve been there.

There always seems to be a person now and then with whom we seem to struggle to find common ground, often feeling that something is just “off”. It seems we finally come to an understanding, and then, BOOM, something happens that feels as if the rug has been pulled out from under us. Is this just us? Are we missing the boat? And then, the storm passes, and we feel we are back on level ground. Yet, it continually feels like a roller coaster ride.

It always seems like an obvious solution - just ditch the drama, right?

Sometimes it’s not that simple.

Often, we are attracting the drama without realizing it. Until we can recognize our part in the drama, it will always follow us.

These types of people can seem like the most comforting and strong people to you at times, and you may even wonder how you would function in your life without them. However, consider the times they are strong. Only when you are weak? What about when you succeed? What about when you are strong? Does this person complement you or bring you down?

Some people are only attracted to you when you are down. Some people are only attracted when you are angry. And equally, some are only attracted when you are in the limelight. They need your power to give them strength. They feed off of what you are feeling. And when there is no source for their power, they leave.

And what do you receive from them?

It’s also important to acknowledge what benefit we get from their friendship, from comradery with them. What do you get when they are in your corner? Validation? Comfort? Security?

When we can let this dependency go, we can not only free ourselves from this relationship, but also from the need of approval from others and begin to look within ourselves.

Avoid the blame game.

It’s not simply the other person’s fault for the tension; it just isn’t going to work. People will come in and out of our lives, and some who are compatible with someone else, just won’t mix with you.

Equally, you don’t need to accept unhealthy behaviors in your life. There are so many life events, even traumatic, that can happen to a person. These greatly impact a person, how they treat themselves, how they treat others, and how they view the world. If for whatever reason there doesn’t seem to be a peaceful solution to being in the situation or with a particular person, it might be an opportunity for self-care.

It is of no benefit to conduct a blaming session of how the other person causes so much havoc in your life, but instead an acknowledgement that at this moment, with these experiences you have both had, and your differing perspectives, there may not be a peaceful reason to continue choosing to be with this person. We cut the ties of the relationship without blame, without resentment, because with those, there is still an attachment and we are not truly free.

When we are ready, we can learn from others.

I have a tendency to be absolute in my categorization. Either every thing, every person, every situation, is either all good or all bad. And yet, that really isn’t the case. There is a saying that has been coming up a lot for me lately. “Take what you need, and leave the rest.”

Most of life – any person, place or thing we encounter – it’s not ALL bad. There can be good found in even some of the darkest places. However, most of us are too busy, too scattered, too defensive or scared to trust ourselves to recognize the positive in the things, events and even people, that we disdain the most.

When we are ready, we may be able to find the silver lining in the people, places or things, in our lives that give us the most challenge. And equally, the silver lining might just be the self-knowledge that you are OK without that person, place or thing, and you can simply move on.


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