If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished? - Rumi
I often see memes on Facebook and blog posts that advise you to stay away from negative people, remove difficult people from your life, and surround yourself with happy people. I can understand this perspective because it's encouraging and uplifting to be around positive people.
But isn't it limiting to try to create your "happy bubble" and forget the rest of the world?
And, it's not always possible to eliminate every single "negative" person from your life. Even if it were, it wouldn’t bring you genuine, lasting happiness. True happiness comes from developing the capacity to go beyond pettiness, preferences, and personal desires.
- How will you grow your love and compassion if there’s no one that rubs you the wrong way?
- How will you learn to set healthy boundaries if there’s no one pushing your limits?
- How will you develop patience if there’s no one trying to get your goat?
This does not mean you should be a doormat or accept abuse. Sometimes, the appropriate action is to step away. But let's not wall ourselves off from everyone in the world who happens to be struggling in their own way.
Stretching Your Love
At an earlier time, I used to feel constantly annoyed by a restless woman in my Tai Chi class. She could barely stay still for a moment. While the other students rested relatively motionless during standing meditation, she swayed back and forth. During the 108-movement long form, she would flail her arms about like an expressive modern dancer. When we stopped to hold the form for a few moments, she would repeat it several times, dramatically flapping her wings once again
She reminded me of the archetypal “class clown,” desperately seeking attention. She didn’t hesitate to make jokes during the long-form, which we had previously been practicing in personal silence while flowing to serene music. She even spoke back to the teacher, seemingly without a second thought.
One day, I arrived early and set out a pair of giveaway shoes. Apparently, she didn’t realize they were my shoes. She wanted to know why I didn’t take them. I explained that I have a high arch so they don’t work for me. In response, she suggested I get an insert. I looked at her and said clearly, but without a charge, “I don’t need help with this.” She backed off in a friendly way.
Her comment may seem innocent or well-intended. But knowing her intrusive ways, it made sense to set a boundary to this conversation - for her benefit as well as mine. Who knows, I may have ended up with the very same uncomfortable shoes.
Yes, I felt annoyed. But, I decided in my heart that I wouldn’t hold her ways against her, be rude, or ignore her. At the next class, I made a point to say a friendly hello and ask how she was doing. I also offered my support whenever I noticed she felt stretched by the physical challenge of the long form.
I’m not a saint by any means. I’m just learning to practice loving-kindness in my own small way. It’s through practice like this that you can begin to extend your circle of love beyond your favorites. Which, paradoxically, brings you more ease and contentment.
6 Ideas for Relating with Difficult People
Rejection isn't the only way to respond to someone you perceive as difficult. It depends on your own degree of strength and emotional immunity.
1. If you’re fragile, it might indeed be best to remove yourself from a difficult relationship. But you can do so with a kind heart, wishing others the very best rather than aggressively slashing them from your life with glee.
2. In loving-kindness practice we begin with sending love to ourselves. You can’t truly love others without loving yourself, whether they’re your preferred people, relative strangers, or people you dislike. Once you feel loving-kindness towards yourself, it naturally begins to flow towards others.
3. Sometimes conflict occurs as a sign to move on. Only you know in your heart if that’s the case. But again, you can keep kindness in your heart as you close one door and open another.
4. You’re responsible for your own psychic hygiene. Practice grounding and then clearing and filling your aura with love and goodness every day. You’ll feel less effected by other peoples' shenanigans.
5. Instead of running with the crowd, when you feel strong enough, have the courage to be kind to unpopular, odd, or challenging people. You might make their day, learn something unexpected about them, and may even enrich yourself.
6. Be grateful to everyone. You will learn some of your most powerful lessons in relationship to others, especially the difficult ones.
None of the above means you should put yourself in harm's way or suffer unnecessarily in a relationship.
We all want to be happy and no one wants to suffer. It’s on this deeper level of understanding that you can find common ground with others. Always remember that difficult behavior can be a confused way to seek love, happiness, and validation.
So don't just reject difficult people without taking a moment to consider that they might be wounded too. Start by working on strengthening your own self-love. Then slowly you can become an unlimited source of love for others - friends, strangers, and even enemies.
You may need to leave an unhealthy relationship, but the quality of feeling you hold in your heart will make a difference in your own well being. The healing may take time, but if you hold anger in your heart indefinitely, it will only erode your own happiness.
What are your thoughts on responding to difficult people? How do you stretch your love to include people that feel testy? I would love to hear. Just scroll down to add your thoughts.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends. With love, Sandra