It seems there are two kinds of people in the world: loving-kind people and difficult people.
The loving-kind people in our lives affirm us. They nurture and inspire us. They don’t always love us perfectly, but we trust they have our best interests at heart. They’ve got our backs when we need them.
Difficult people are more challenging.
They often surprise-attack us with their words; their insinuations, their blunt, angry and unfiltered brashness.
Our first reaction when confronted by such tough individuals is disbelief, even anger. Really? We wonder. Is this really happening to me? Why does this person need to be so harsh, so critical?
We might also launch our own verbal counter-attack back at the person, attempting to use anger and rage to defend and protect ourselves.
At other times we point the finger at ourselves rubbing our noses in self-loathing. Maybe it’s my fault, we question. Maybe I am what they say I am. Maybe I am really a bad person.
Responding in these typical fashions does nothing to resolve the tension between the other individual and us. It only compounds the hurt. Suffering.
Perhaps a healthier way of dealing with difficult people is to shift our perspective.
Instead of responding to our attacker with disbelief, anger, or self-loathing we might focus on what they’re teaching us, what virtue we’re being invited to develop as we deal with such bitter people.
To accomplish this shift, we might need to initially acknowledge that this person is indeed acting like a miserable child. It is what it is, we remind ourselves, yet we don’t have to like it.
Then, instead of taking their barbs and internalizing them, we can allow ourselves to affirm silently: I didn’t do anything wrong. And if I did, I’ll correct my behavior. I’ll make amends if I’ve over-reacted.
Finally, we ask ourselves the simple freeing question: What is this person teaching me?
Is it acceptance—accepting life on life’s terms?
Perhaps it’s compassion—having empathy for the other person by giving them the space to whirl without getting caught in their tantrum, their tirade.
Perhaps they’re also teaching us resilience. I can and will live through this experience. I’ll walk away if need be, and leave their bullish behavior behind or I’ll stay and lovingly hold my ground, standing in my own power like Jesus did when confronted by the Pharisees.
By discovering how the difficult people in our lives are inviting us to grow, we learn the art of holy detachment. We gain wisdom. We discover we’re more patient, compassionate and resilient then we thought we were. We surprise ourselves by increasingly handling these no-win situations with love and kindness.
In the end, difficult people invite us into the messiness of life, the complexity of relationships. And by shifting our perspective, instead of being our enemies and judges, difficult people can become our teachers.
Who are the difficult people in your life right now?
How is your experience with them inviting you to grow?
How are they your teachers?