Dealing with Difficult People

We are all a bunch of programs. These programs are transferred from generation to generation through genes and culture.

Some of these programs are very basic. On a deep level, we all want to survive and reproduce. A lot of our behaviors stem from those two basic instincts. We share those instincts with other animals.

Then, there are more advanced programs, like loving our family members. These programs are specific to mammals.

Primates like humans, chimpanzees, and gorillas have even more advanced programs. We form tribes and relationships with individuals other than our immediate family members.

And of course, we, humans, have many advanced programs that other primates don’t have.

We All Have Contradicting Programs

As a result, each human carries a set of programs from the most primitive to the most sophisticated. Some of those programs inevitably contradict each other.

We all have programs that derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others. Do you think that you don’t have that? You either haven’t been aware of that program, or you haven’t been in a situation where that program was triggered.

We also have very advanced programs like feeling the pain of someone that we don’t know and helping them.

Obviously, these two programs contradict each other, and all of us have these programs in us. It’s one thing to have these programs in us. It’s another to act on them.

Beyond all of these programs, we all have access to pure consciousness.

Develop Empathy and Compassion

When you have to deal with a difficult person, just realize that a program is activated in that person and that person consciously or unconsciously chooses to act on that program. And most probably, you have the same program in yourself, no matter how much you deny.

Maybe, you don’t act on that program, because you aren’t in the same situation as that person. Maybe, you don’t act on it, because you’re further in the evolution of your consciousness. But you have the same program too.

Knowing that you have the potential to behave the same way already makes a difference in your perception of the situation. You understand that person better. You develop empathy toward them. You don’t get angry at them. You feel sad for them.

Some people hurt others just because they enjoy it, but most people don’t. When people hurt others, it’s most of the time because of their accumulated pain in the past. When you recognize the pain of the difficult person in your life, you develop compassion for them.

Developing empathy and compassion for a person isn’t a weakness. On the contrary, it requires mental toughness. Not many people are able to do that.

When you feel empathy and compassion toward a person, your relationship to that person is already transformed. Think about a child that throws a tantrum instead of a grownup who acts consciously. When it’s a child that misbehaves, you will act differently, won’t you?

A Growth Opportunity to Develop Your Conflict Management Skills

The second step is to see this situation as a growth opportunity. You won’t get too far by blaming the other party. You need to take the responsibility. This is an excellent opportunity for you to develop some conflict management skills.

Teaching conflict management skills is beyond the scope of this post. I recommend the audio program: Art of Conflict Management by Prof. Michael Dues. You need to listen to that program multiple times and apply what you have learned.

Make a Decision

If you take the two steps above and the situation still doesn’t improve, you have a decision to make. Will you get out of that relationship or stay with it?

In some cases, getting out of a relationship might not be an option. For example, that person might be in your immediate family. If that’s the case, I recommend improving your compassion to a level where you don’t perceive the person to be difficult anymore.

Loving Kindness Meditation

There’s a way to improve your compassion, and it’s called loving-kindness meditation. I recommend the audio program Noble Heart by Pema Chödrön. As an alternative, you’ll find many free guided meditations if you google that term.

Developing compassion toward a difficult person isn’t weakness; it requires mental toughness. Mental toughness isn’t cruelness. It’s having the strength to not act on your most primitive instincts like lashing out on people.

Moreover, you don’t develop loving-kindness for the welfare of others. You develop it for your own wellness. Hostility is harming you. Loving-kindness improves your physical and mental health by eliminating hostility.

Getting out of a relationship is always an option. The problem with that option is that you miss a growth opportunity. The chances are high that you’ll create, attract, or experience a similar situation down the road. Therefore, it’s better to cease the opportunity in this relationship to grow.

Summary

We all carry a bunch of malevolent and benevolent programs in us. Some of us act on them, and some of us don’t. We all have the potential to act on our most malicious programs when the situation calls for it. Most of the time, difficult people act on their worst programs because of their pain.

Just knowing those facts is enough to develop empathy and compassion for the difficult people in your life. That takes mental toughness. Compassion isn’t a weakness.

The second step is to see the situation as a growth opportunity and to develop your conflict management skills.

If the second step doesn’t work, you can practice loving-kindness meditation to deal with the situation better and to preserve your health and wellness.

Quitting a relationship always seems to be a solution, but if you don’t solve your problems in a particular situation, you’ll likely experience the same issues in the future.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.

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