Are there people who constantly discourage you, tell you that you’re not good enough, and generally make you feel terrible about yourself?
These are what I call difficult people. And we all have some of them in our lives.
I was reminded of this today when a new course student emailed me saying:
“I have difficult people in my family that I have to deal with every day, and doing so drives me mad! I often lose my temper in the process. What can I do when these difficult people try to start trouble? How do shield myself from their negative behavior? What if I can’t completely get away from them?”
I have to confess: there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with difficult people. However, I’ve successfully used a number of strategies in my own life, and over the past decade Angel and I have also helped hundreds of students deal with the difficult people in their lives. So I do have a pretty darn good idea of what works.
Today, I want to answer our student’s inquiry publicly, and review some practical, peaceful ways to deal with difficult people – ways that don’t involve yelling, temper tantrums, and unnecessary stress…
Focus on solutions, instead of a person’s problems and difficulties.
Where and how you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you zero in on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you shift your focus toward actions that can improve your circumstances, you create a sense of self-efficacy that yields positive emotions and reduces stress.
The same exact principle applies when dealing with difficult people – fixating on how stressful and difficult they are only intensifies your suffering by giving them power over you. So when someone in your life is being difficult, stop thinking about how troubling this person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling their behavior in a positive way. This makes you more effective by putting you in the driver’s seat, and it will greatly reduce the amount of stress you experience when you’re interacting with them.
Set healthy boundaries and communicate compassionately.
There’s no question about it… oftentimes difficult people are going through a difficult time and are genuinely distressed, depressed, or even mentally and physically ill. Do your best to be kind and compassionate – not because they’re nice, but because YOU are.
With that said, however, you still need to separate their legitimate issues from how they behave toward you. If you let people get away with anything because they are distressed, facing a medical condition, or depressed, even, then you are making it too tempting for them to start unconsciously using their unfortunate circumstance as a means to an end. This is where setting healthy boundaries comes into play.
A few years back, I volunteered at a psychiatric hospital for children. I mentored a boy there named Dennis, a diagnosed Bipolar disorder patient. Dennis was really difficult sometimes, and would often shout obscenities at others when he experienced one of his episodes. But no one ever challenged his outbursts, and neither had I up to this point. After all, he’s clinically “ill” and can’t help it, right?
One day I took Dennis to a park to play catch. An hour into our little excursion, he entered one of his episodes and began calling me profane names. But instead of ignoring his remarks, I said, “Stop bullying me and calling me names, Dennis. I know you’re a nice person, and much better than that.” His jaw literally dropped. Dennis looked stunned, and then, in a matter of seconds, he collected himself and replied, “I’m sorry I was mean, Marc.”
The lesson here is that you can’t help someone by making unwarranted pardons for everything they do simply because they have problems. There are plenty of people who are going through extreme hardships who are not purposely difficult to everyone around them.
So you must show kindness and compassion, while also understanding that you can only act with genuine kindness and compassion when you set healthy boundaries. Making too many pardons and allowances is not healthy or practical for anyone in the long run.
Dedicate ample time every day to self-care.
You do not have to neglect yourself just because others do. Seriously, if you’re forced to live or work with a difficult person, then make sure you get enough alone time to rest and recuperate. Having to play the role of a “focused, rational adult” in the face of persistent negativity can be exhausting, and if you’re not careful, the negativity can consume you.
Difficult people can keep you up at night as you constantly question yourself:
- “Am I doing the right thing?”
- “Am I really so terrible that they speak to me like that?”
- “I cannot BELIEVE he did that!”
- “I am so hurt!”
Thoughts like these can keep you agonizing for weeks, months, or even years. Sadly, sometimes this is the goal of a difficult person – to drive you crazy and bring you down to their level of thinking, so they’re not wallowing alone. And since you can’t control what they do, it’s important to take care of yourself so you can remain centered, feeling healthy and ready to live positively in the face of their negative behavior when you must. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Dealing with Difficult People – 12 Quotes that Bring Peace
If you’ve been feeling drained by your regular encounters with a difficult person, I urge you to gradually implement and practice the strategies I’ve outlined above, one at a time. Then, as you’re doing this, proactively remind yourself NOT to engage in this person’s negative behavior. Don’t get sucked in…
Keep your composure. Keep your inner peace.
Do so by reading the following quotes (compiled from our book and blog archive) to yourself daily, until they become deep-rooted in your consciousness.
- The greatest stress you go through when dealing with a difficult person is not fueled by the words or actions of this person – it is fueled by your mind that gives their words and actions importance.
- It’s OK to be upset. It’s never OK to be cruel. Rage, hate, resentment and jealousy do not change the hearts of others – they only change yours.
- Forgive others, not because they deserve forgiveness, but because you deserve peace. Free yourself of the burden of being an eternal victim.
- Stay positive when negativity surrounds you. Smile when others refuse to. It’s an easy way to make a difference in the world around you.
- Gossip and drama ends at a wise person’s ears. Be wise. Seek to understand before you attempt to judge. Use your judgment not as a weapon for putting others down, but as a tool for making positive choices that help you build your own character.
- Always set an example. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because YOU are. And do your best to be thankful for rude and difficult people too – they serve as great reminders of how not to be.
- The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion and kindness. Life is too short to argue and fight. Count your blessings, value the people who matter, and move on from the drama with your head held high.
- Don’t expect to see positive changes in your life if you constantly surround yourself with difficult people. The great danger of being around difficult people too often is that you start to become like them without even knowing it. So be mindful of the daily company you keep. (Just because you are kind and respectful to someone, does NOT mean you have to spend extra time with them.)
- Remember, what others say and do, and the opinions they have, are based almost entirely on their own self-reflection. Don’t take things personally. Instead of getting angry over the words of others, choose to be mindful and choose to grow stronger, one way or the other, because of them.
- Let the opinions of others inform you… don’t let them limit you. Don’t let anyone’s ignorance, hate, drama or negativity stop you from being the best person you can be. If you find yourself constantly trying to prove your worth to others, you’ve already forgotten your value. Take a deep breath, and do what you know is right.
- If you really want to be happy and peaceful, then stop being afraid of being yourself, and stop thinking about what others think of you every second. There’s nothing selfish about giving yourself enough space for self-care. We can’t give what we don’t have. Experience life on your terms and you’ll be life-giving to others.
- Make it a daily ritual to work hard in silence, to do what you have to do, and to ignore the drama, discouragement, and negativity surrounding you. Let your success be your noise in the end. (Angel and I build quiet, life-changing rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Please share this post with others who you think will benefit from it, and also share your thoughts with us in the comments section below. If you’re up to it, I’d love it if you shared an additional quote, reminder, or strategy that helps you be mindful and peaceful when you’re dealing with difficult people.
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Photo by: Simon Wijers