Think you’re too spiritual to have someone challenging in your life? Not even that one difficult person? Perhaps someone in your office, a friend, professional colleague or, most likely, a family member? Most of us have at least one testing person that keeps us on our toes, or perhaps flat on the floor! Before you try to minimise and sugarcoat Uncle Bernie’s invasive behaviour, or Jane’s put-downs, let’s get real, up-close and nakedly honest. Some people are damn difficult. As much as you’d like to smudge, bless and breathe them out of your aura, people will push your buttons and rake up your shadow. They will ignite the embers of wounding in the volcano of your past, sometimes with as little as a throwaway comment.
Let’s face it, the world has difficult people in it, and no doubt sometimes you and I are problematic too.
As much as we like to say all people are good, kind and loving, unfortunately these good people often show up as irrevocably trying. There are bullies, abusers, sociopaths, narcissists, and people who really don’t care about others, the environment or creating a better world. We’ve all met these types of wounded people. Maybe we’ve even been them at some point.
Truth is, the world is filled with wounded people, some more so than others. And unhappy people cause problems. We can often find people who are not as evolved as others. There, I said it! There are genuinely some people who have no problem stepping on others to get where they want to in life. Or who don’t understand why it’s wrong to get ahead by causing suffering to other people, the environment, or animals. People who live from a place of extreme individuation, truly thinking of only themselves.
If you’re human, you’ve been at the receiving end of games, criticism, and no doubt been baited, reacted and then regretted it afterwards. But, there are ways to eradicate drama from your life and create greater wellbeing.
The Cycle of Human Relating
The Drama Triangle created by psychiatrist Steven Karpman, is a fantastic resource for explaining most of our dysfunctional relating. The triangle consists of the archetypes of persecutor, rescuer and victim. If you’re in one of these spots, you’re fuelling drama in your life. We have no doubt all been part of this triangle at some point. Interestingly the archetypes move around the triangle. So the rescuer becomes the persecutor, the victim becomes the persecutor, or the persecutor becomes the rescuer, and the rescuer the victim. But all three positions feed and perpetuate each other, creating drama. Participants in a drama triangle create misery for themselves and others. The only way out of this self-perpetuating craziness, is to step up, be responsible and an adult in your relating. No small feat sometimes!
So how do we deal with potentially volatile situations and difficult people? We all want to walk away from a disagreement feeling good about ourselves, and not because we ‘won.’ Perhaps it’s time to redefine winning. If you can walk away from a difficult encounter with your dignity, inner calm, hair and clothes intact, you’re doing well.
The art of dealing with difficult people is really about feeling good about yourself. If you react, erupt or dump a scathing retort on a difficult person in your orbit, you will no doubt regret it. You could permanently damage a professional or personal relationship and end up beating yourself up, riddled with guilt or having to deal with an irrepressibly self-righteous relative or colleague for the rest of your days. And yes, that applies to the narcissistic boss, helicopter grandparent, vulture colleague that’s after your job, irrepressible gossip, or brutal ex-partner, and tormenting in-law. So, best to be dignified, calm and responsive when dealing with difficult people.
It’s far more powerful, and ultimately healing for all, if you can come from a place of clarity, power and a clear heart. Yup, be the bigger person. But not from an arrogant, ‘I’m better than you’ kind of a place. From a genuine desire for your own equanimity and the intention to prevent creating more problems for yourself and others.
Seven Sacred Tools
Here are seven sacred tools that could save you from escalating conflict and lighting the fires of anger within yourself and others, when dealing with difficult people and situations. I find they help me keep things in perspective, and to connect to the great ocean, instead of inhabiting the ripples on the surface of life.
1. Keep to your Own Business
You don’t have to fix, change or make everything right. This is not your job, it’s not for you to do. You are in charge of your own life, have responsibility over how you live and how you show up, that’s it. Life becomes really simple when you follow this great wisdom teaching by Byron Katie:
I can find only three kinds of business in the universe: mine, yours, and God’s. For me, the word God means ‘reality.’ Reality is God, because it rules. Anything that’s out of my control, your control, and everyone else’s control–I call that God’s business.
The presence or space you bring to a situation either magnifies the issues, or dilutes them. Bringing a peaceful, empowered, clear presence to a fiery situation can transform it. Having a heart uncluttered with hatred, anger and the desire for revenge is your best sacred weapon. This is why taking each interaction with that difficult person as a training ground for deeper empowerment, open heartedness and personal growth, is vital. If you’re being curious, open and aware that you’ve made a sacred contract to engage with life as a playground for being the best person you can be, and taking each opportunity as one for your greatest development and healing, the way you respond to situations will be completely new.
3. Focus on What is Real
It’s about realising the difficult person is trapped in a way of being, in belief systems, in hatred, in grief, in fear. You can help free yourself, and them, by not engaging with the monster of unexpressed emotion and trauma. Instead, remain connected to your own heart, inner strength and the spiritual truth, that we are all connected and, at the core, innately good. Training yourself to stop reacting to other people, and to look within to the charges igniting your reactivity, is the most effective way of dissolving ego in yourself.
4. Having Resilience
This is by no means being naive or weak. It takes great courage and strength to be able to bypass poor behaviour without taking it personally and to be able to drop judgement and keep an open heart. Dealing with difficult people does not mean accepting bad behaviour. It means responding powerfully with strength and courage, and sometimes it means standing up. But we remain victims when we react to bad behaviour, are overly influenced and impacted by someone else’s wounding, projections, nastiness, vilification, put-downs and attempts to destabilise us.
5. Clear Boundaries
It’s not spiritual to let people get away with bad behaviour. You can head off much conflict and drama in your life by having clear boundaries, knowing yourself, walking away when you need to, not letting people dump on you and having a strong respect and love for yourself. This is not about putting up with negative behaviour, it’s about transforming its effect on you. You don’t need to join someone else’s drama party and let them suck you dry because they need attention or want to dump their negative emotions.
6. Moving Beyond being a Victim
You always have a choice in how you respond to situations. Even in the most severe of places, Auschwitz, people responded in powerful ways, when they chose to help others, or bring hope to the most extreme circumstances of the concentration camp. Choice is power. Use it well. Seeing situations for what they are, with wisdom and clarity, and staying unaffected is truly the journey from the victim to the powerful one.
7. Being an Extraordinary Human
Living with an intention to have heartfelt interactions, and to spread love and peace in your wake, is a powerful way to move through the world. When you have the underlying intention in your life to grow and evolve through whatever life throws at you, you have some power. The power of choice. This can truly transform any situation you meet with. Creating a mantra as a guiding light for the way you live your life, and reminding yourself of this agreement you have with yourself, particularly during conflict, will help you stay on course and ultimately ensure you have greater happiness.
If you hold grudges and grievances against people, given some time they’ll become part of your personality. Sometimes we can become addicted to being indignant and angry; it strengthens the ego and can give the illusion of having power. We’ve all witnessed that person in the restaurant who complains about every little detail. We don’t want to be that!
Learning how to deal well with conflict and difficult people is a vital life skill that can support you to be a powerful, conscious and compassionate human being. I think it helps to be mindful of the truth of the potential for good and evil within each one of us, and to cut yourself and others a little slack too. We all have bad days, and we all have multiple personalities living inside our head. Let’s just make sure we let the good ones out, well at least most of the time, and most certainly when conflict enters our orbit, as it inevitably will.