“If you remain strong and true to yourself the rest will come with naturally”
Everyone has a person, or persons, in their life who are difficult. What attributes they have that make them difficult vary widely, but the basic issue remains the same; they suck the joy right out of our days, and we want nothing better than to get away from them as quickly as possible. From excessive whiners to the coworker who thinks using humor to cover up hateful words makes it okay, here are some sure-fire ways to deal with the difficult people in your life.
1. It’s not about you
Don’t take responsibility for other people’s words or actions. You are only responsible for what you say and do, and everyone else has this same responsibility. That acquaintance with the bad temper, or that coworker who spends every day lamenting about how miserable their life is has no reflection on you as a person. They’ve chosen to walk through this world the way they do, which is entirely on them. Even if you find yourself being blamed for their negative behavior, don’t let your resolve waver. They are who they choose to be, and that’s not your fault.
2. They only have power over you if you give it to them.
This was an extremely difficult one for me. I enjoy positive feedback, and I’m naturally a people pleaser. When people are mean or negative, my default was to feel badly because they were unhappy with me. If someone is unhappy it must be my fault, right? It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.
There are times you will make mistakes, and you should always own them and fix them, and apologize. But when you haven’t done anything wrong and people treat you poorly, you don’t have to accept how their words or actions make you feel. They are responsible for what they say, you are responsible for how you react or ideally respond. Choose not to give them power over you, and to respond in a way that respects who you are and your personal truth. They can only make you feel bad if you let them, and your self-worth is not measured by anyone’s opinion of you.
3. You can walk away
There is nothing that says you have stand there and deal with someone who is being hateful, negative, or verbally abusive. You’re an adult with a mind and a life of your own. If someone is being difficult or hateful, just walk away or hang up the phone. I try to let them know that I’m leaving with a kind word, but some people are so difficult that walking away without a word works just as well. Remember that silence can be golden. If the difficult person is someone you have or have had an ongoing relationship with, it’s a little harder to walk away.
While you don’t owe anyone an explanation, I find it best to be upfront so they’re not left wondering why you suddenly disappeared. A simple text or email saying, “We’re both in completely different places in our lives and I feel like I need some space,” will suffice. It sounds really hard, but I’ve done it before and I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. There’s absolutely no reason to waste energy on a friendship that causes you stress and is likely to be dishonest. Not only do you deserve to surround yourself with people who make you happy, but the difficult person in your life deserves the same. We can be nice without pretending to like someone we simply don’t like. The reality is that we don’t all like the same things or the same people, and that’s perfectly okay.
4. You don’t have to engage them
If you encounter a person who is trying to bait you into a negative conversation or situation, remind yourself that you don’t have to engage them. If someone is trying to drag you into gossip, or is expressing an opinion that you don’t agree with, you don’t have to join them. You don’t have to answer, and you don’t have to be a part of their agenda. Negative people love to suck others in to back them up, and to give them more power. It’s no surprise that the people, or groups of people with the most negative agendas tend to be the loudest. Like walking away, steer the conversation elsewhere, don’t join the conversation, or continue as if you didn’t hear them.
I usually like to be straightforward in these situations, especially if it’s someone I must have a working relationship with. I’ll say something like, “I think politics are very interesting, but I prefer to keep my opinions to myself, it saves a lot of friendships.” But there are some difficult people that enjoy debating, and letting them know you don’t agree only adds fuel to their fire. With those people, and they’re easily spotted as they’re always engaged in heated debates, I generally just avoid the subject altogether.
5. Choose Compassion
It’s said that everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Keeping this in mind, try to remember that some people are difficult because their lives are difficult. It can be hard to separate these people from those who are just naturally difficult or negative. Because of this, I try to always be compassionate, even as I’m making it clear that I’m not interested in their words and actions. Everyone has had a situation in their life that brought out the worst in them. If they’re a stranger, I try to assume that they’re typically a nice person who is having a bad day. I think back to times in my life when I was overwhelmed, sad, emotionally drained, etc. and I wasn’t at my best, then I try to respond in the most compassionate way possible. Even if their actions don’t deserve your kindness, you deserve to walk away from a situation feeling good about how you acted.
6. Stand up for yourself
You are your biggest supporter, your most important advocate. If someone is making you feel uncomfortable or unhappy, stand up for yourself! Let them know that you won’t take responsibility for their issues, and that you’re not the cause of their struggles. You don’t have to be mean, but be firm. You are not a doormat, you’re not a servant, and you’re not less important than they are.
You are important, you make a difference in this world, and you matter. So set healthy boundaries and stick with them. Don’t let them make you feel defensive, but let them know, in no uncertain terms, that you know your self-worth and their opinions and negativity will not change or affect who you are.
It’s hard not to, but don’t take a difficult person’s actions and words personally. Their behavior is not a reflection of who you are, but a reflection of who they are. Accept that you can’t change them, and you take away their power to change you. Instead of focusing your energy on negative people, focus on putting into the world what you hope to get back from it. You truly get what you give, and so give this life your all and don’t worry about the rest.