How to be around difficult people and not be miserable

I know you read the title of this post and automatically had at least one person come to mind. We all have difficult people we deal with on a regular basis. The 1.0 version is to simply stay away or reduce the amount of time you spend with that person. That probably sounds like a great idea for some of you, but for others, you know there is no way that is an option as you either work with that person, it is a family member, or it is someone who truly love, care about and want to have a better relationship with in your life.  They are just so damn difficult sometimes!

Enter version 2.0. If you are not going to be able to avoid them, you need to find a way to keep yourself sane and take the stress off yourself and others involved.  Because lets be honest, relationships can be flippin hard, even when the person is easier to spend time with. And when they are difficult, it can absolutely be stressful, frustrating and take a toll on your mind and body.

Here are my 2.0 methods for facing difficult people. As a reminder, it is often a work in progress.

Own it. Instead of playing the victim role with difficult people, find the light in the situation.  By playing the victim role we make it all about us. “This negative person in my life is making me miserable, draining my energy and ruining x,y, & z.” Instead of putting the focus on yourself, make the focus about bettering the relationship or situation. Think about what you can do to on your end to bring positivity and learn from it. This is NOT a cop out, but does take responsibility for your own actions and reactions.  It is actually way harder and if you can even entertain this idea, you are half way there.

Don’t try to change people. It is so tempting to want to change a persons difficult behavior, but people will only change when they want to change. And the more we try to change someone, the more they will subconsciously (or consciously) resist.  So in the meantime shift your focus and find some workarounds and tools to help deal deal with the person and more importantly, to help change the way they make you feel.  Don’t let difficult or negative people bring you down. They want you to be on the angry train with them because misery loves company! So jump on your own train and make it a happy one!

If you don’t like something, change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit

Do not take things personally (even when it is). Difficult people can be quite critical, rude and negative at times, or all of the above. Realize that their actions and comments have more to do with how they view themselves, and less with how they view you. Maybe the situation IS personal but if you act on it with negativity and anger, the person will quickly learn they can depend on you for a reaction. And that is exactly what they want. A reaction to prove they have gotten their point across. Say what you feel and mean what you say but when you can temper your emotional response, it keeps you on the high road, it keeps you working to make the situation better, and keeps the tone rational.

Use the benefit of the doubt. Everyone is simply doing their best even though you have to dig very deep and be completely open with this concept. It may not translate to your best but that person is showing up authentically in any given situation. Is your co-worker snappy with you? Maybe they have something going on at home. Is your parent nagging you? Perhaps that is their way of showing love and concern. Your spouse throws something back in your face, maybe that is his or her own insecurities coming out in blame and anger. We all handle situations differently, and everyone is just doing their best in that very moment based on the way their lives have been shaped and the perceptions they have.


Do not assume all thing to be true.The ironic thing is, we are doing the same thing. If someone is short or abrupt with me I automatically think I did something wrong and tend to take things personally. If someone is being passive aggressive with me or makes an off hand comment about the way I act or do things, I assume the worst of the worst about myself and make the situation all about me (victim role). When we make assumptions we are acting out of our own insecurities. We do not know the actual facts and are creating stories in our heads of what may be happening. Do you see the pattern? They are acting difficult because of their own insecurities and I am taking it in a certain way because of mine. We are all the essentially the same.

Have compassion. Brene Brown talks about this in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and refers to it as recognizing common humanity. Feelings of not being enough and suffering are common to us all. People act the way they do because they feel unworthy. But that is ok we have all been there too, feeling unworthy in our own ways. When you can view it from this perspective there is no need for judgement. They are acting not good enough in their own way, as we are actually not good enough in our own way. When you view a difficult person with compassion, it changes the whole perception.

Let go of resentment. When we are upset about others actions or harsh words we often hold onto that anger and rage, and while it burns inside of us and can negatively affect us, it really doesn’t hurt the other person as much as it hurts ourselves. Let go for your own sake, not theirs.

Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. ~Carl Jung

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