Some people are just plain difficult. And there are all kinds of difficult people – those who complain constantly, those who disagree with everything, those who always have a problem and no ideas for solving it. There are people who are always late, always right, or always busier than everyone else. Then you’ve got those who can’t seem to let others just be happy and those who know everything about everything and those who seem to so simply refuse to be happy themselves.
Everyone can be difficult at times. Sometimes the difficult people in our lives are easy to love because they are our children or significant other or best friend. Sometimes you have a difficult person in your life who you wish you could never see again.
But loving these people as human beings has a profound effect on your own level of happiness.
Believe me, I am no expert or pro at this. This is a very new idea to me and something I’ve been working at for the last few months. But I can tell you, when you begin to look at difficult people with a loving heart, it does wonders for your view of them – and for your stress level.
Today, as part of my series, 14 Days of Learning to Love Your Life, I am going to share with you some tips for learning to love difficult people.
The first thing I want you to do is start a new page in your journal and think about yourself. Are you ever difficult? Maybe you don’t see yourself as difficult but you know that others do. Maybe you feel misunderstood. List the ways in which you can be a difficult person, or ways that other people may see you as being difficult. Now list the reasons why you are difficult in those situations.
Maybe your spouse finds you difficult on budget issues because you are a stickler, and maybe your reason for that is that you know firsthand the desperate feeling of not knowing if you’ll be able to afford groceries for the week. Or maybe your children find you difficult because you don’t allow them to eat sugary sweets like their friends, and of course you know that you only have their health and wellness at heart. Maybe your boss finds you difficult because you always disagree with him, but you know that this is because you have extensive experience and education in your field and know the best solutions.
Take your time and make your list.
Now make a list of every difficult person you encounter on a regular basis. Leave some room between them, because next I want you to write down some specific ways that they are difficult. Now take some moments to take some cleansing breaths and clear your head. Start with an open mind and an open heart. Think about why these people are being difficult in these situations.
Just like before, no negative words or phrases are allowed. “Jeff from work is difficult because he always leaves his dirty coffee mug in the sink. He might do this because he is a bachelor and dirty dishes don’t bother him,” is just fine. As tempting as it may be, don’t add to the end of that “But that is no excuse for being inconsiderate of others!” Just write the reason, from the other person’s perspective.
When you know you are going to be in the presence of a particularly difficult person, give yourself some time to prepare beforehand. I like to do a mini-meditation where I calm myself and allow myself to think about that individual with a loving heart. Even if it is a coworker or distant acquaintance, you can still have a loving heart toward them. This doesn’t mean you are in love with them or that you even have to be friends with them. Simply that you approach them as a fellow human being who deserves love and kindness. At the same time, think about the possible ways that person may be difficult when you see them and think about why. Or think about the last time they were difficult and why that might have been. Work hard to look at the situation purely from the other person’s perspective.
One of the most impactful pieces of advice I’ve read came from The Ultimate Happiness Prescription by Deepak Chopra: give up your need to be right. When I first read this I couldn’t even wrap my head around how that is possible. When you know you’re right, you know you’re right! How can you possibly let it go when you know you’re right?! But as I kept this in the back of my mind, I began to see this as a form of choosing our battles. Sometimes you are better off just letting it go.
You may be thinking, “Well some people are just difficult for the sake of it” or “Some people are just plain mean or negative and there is no reason for it”. How can you possibly find a reason for their being difficult??
I want to share something personal with you. I was a mean kid. I made fun of and teased people, I got mad if my friends didn’t agree with me, I even went so far as to slap one of my friends when I was about 10. I was always argumentative. I was also a smart kid, and I knew it. So I always argued when I JUST KNEW I was right.
But you know what? I didn’t know I was being mean. In fact, I only recently realized it since I’ve been an adult.
And if any of those people I was mean to tried to think about why I was being mean, they would have probably struggled to think of a single good reason. And I am not saying there is a good reason. But there is a reason that may help it make sense.
You see, I was raised in a house where mean-teasing was the norm. I was made fun of daily for my appearance or for the things I liked or for the way I felt. And if I got upset, I was met with an annoyed “It’s just teasing!” response. This went on from the time I was a small child until I was about 14.
And I guess I took that with me into the world. It makes me tear up thinking about it today, all of those people I might have formed lifelong friendships with if I had been taught how to treat people with love and kindness.
So I am not saying that it is ok, or that there is a good reason for people being difficult. I’m just saying that there is some reason that you may not see or understand, and that I believe that difficult people don’t want to make you dislike them. Quite the opposite, in fact. I believe that, deep in their hearts, everyone wants love and kindness. They just may not know how their actions are affecting others or they may not understand why YOU find them difficult.