It’s almost that time of year when families gather for the holidays and work parties require everyone to try to get along. It’s when we dread having to see that uncle who always finds something to complain about or we try to avoid that coworker who only wants to brag about her kids and never asks us how ours are doing. Whether it’s at work, in our family or in our daily interactions, difficult people seem to be everywhere.
This week I’m going to discuss the truth about difficult people, why we feel the way we do about them, tips for dealing with difficult people and a fun exercise that will have you laughing instead of dreading.
The truth about difficult people
I know this is going to sound crazy but….difficult people do not exist. I can hear you now saying “Are you crazy! You’ve never met my brother!”
The reason I say with complete conviction that difficult people do not exist is because our labels of people only exist in our minds. Our labels are not facts, they are thoughts.
Hopefully you’ve been following my blog and you now have a sense of the Manage Your Mind Model. In the model, a person is a neutral circumstance until we have thoughts about them. It is our thinking that makes us believe people are difficult.
They may behave a certain way but our thoughts about their behavior are what label them difficult in our minds (for help with the model sign-up here for the free “5 Simple Steps to Reduce Overwhelm Today”).
The truth is that when we think someone is driving us crazy because they are “difficult”, we are giving our power away. How we feel has nothing to do with other people. They are never the cause of our feelings.
No one has the power to make us feel anything; only our thoughts have that power.
My personal example
Many years ago, before I knew how to manage my mind, my former mother-in-law used to drive me crazy. In my opinion she was selfish, irrational and controlling. I believed she was a difficult person to be around and I had all the proof in my mind to back up my opinion.
However, in this scenario, the only fact was that I had a mother-in-law; that’s it. Everything else was my thoughts about her. Those thoughts were optional and were within my control. Those thoughts created my feelings about her. For a very long time I felt horrible being around her and felt powerless to change the situation.
So why do we get triggered around certain people?
Our brains are programmed to be efficient; to unconsciously think, feel and act in habitual ways. That is the job of the “lower brain”. Our “higher brain” is for processing, organizing and learning new things.
For example, when we are learning to drive a car we need to use our higher brain’s power to learn the new skill but once we’ve practiced enough, the lower brain takes over and makes it easier for us to get from our house to the store without having to consciously think about every step.
The lower brain is our default mechanism. It has stored all our practiced thoughts, feelings and behaviors about people, places and things. The lower brain chooses default thoughts unless we override it.
Over the years we have stored many different thoughts and beliefs about people in that lower part of the brain. Those programmed thoughts are what get triggered when we’ve had a history with someone or we are reminded of someone or something we’ve dealt with in the past.
Someone may act in a way that triggers unconscious thoughts which then create certain feelings and actions without us being aware of what’s happening. We may not even realize why someone annoys us but if we look closer with the help of the Manage Your Mind Model, we can find a connection between our feelings and the thoughts creating those feelings.
Tips for dealing with difficult people
Awareness is the key. When we have thoughts like “She should” or “He shouldn’t” we can be sure that we are being triggered by unconscious programmed thoughts. Being around “difficult” people is a great opportunity to shine a light on the unconscious thoughts that are running the show.
The truth is that everyone gets to behave however they want to behave. They are allowed to be rude, judgmental, inconsiderate, too talkative, angry, etc. What matters is how we choose to consciously think, feel and act toward them. That is within our power.
No one has the power to make us think, feel or do anything. No one needs to change in order for us to feel better.
That is the best news ever! We get to choose how we want to feel ON PURPOSE!
By now you know that our feelings are created by our thoughts so once you recognize you are being triggered by someone, you can stop, write down the thoughts you are thinking in that moment and see which thoughts are creating your feelings.
Again, it is NEVER the person that is making us feel the way we feel – it is only our thoughts about the person and our thoughts are within our control when we choose consciously.
If we feel annoyed – our thoughts are creating that feeling
If we feel angry – our thoughts are creating that feeling
If we feel hurt – our thoughts are creating that feeling
We take our power back when we take full responsibility for how we feel and act instead of placing blame on other people. We can even look forward to being around “difficult” people because it gives us an opportunity to work on managing our minds.
A fun exercise
I learned about this fun exercise years ago from life coach, Martha Beck. She called it “Dysfunctional Family Bingo” and it goes like this:
- Before you go to an event where there will be a difficult person or people, begin to anticipate the behaviors that have been upsetting in the past.
- Make a list of the “dreaded behaviors” that the difficult people seem to always exhibit (list 24 if playing Bingo; 9 if playing Tic-Tac-Toe)
- Make a “game board” with a piece of paper, placing the 24 dreaded behaviors on a Bingo grid with “Free” in the middle box or placing 9 dreaded behaviors on a Tic-Tac-Toe board
- If you can find someone to play with it’s even more fun; make sure you have the same items on your boards but in different places on the individual boards
- Bring your game board with you and while at the event, secretly mark the applicable box on your board when the difficult person behaves in the expected way
- Check in randomly with your playmate to see how close either one of you are to winning Bingo or Tic-Tac-Toe
This may sound silly or maybe mean, but it really helps to look forward in a playful way to behavior that would have triggered old programmed thoughts.
I can tell you first hand that my favorite Christmas gathering with my former mother-in-law was the year I beat my husband playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo together. We high fived when she ignored our children and I secretly couldn’t wait for her to complain about where she was sitting so I could mark that box on my board and silently announce “Bingo!”
- “Difficult” people don’t actually exist
- Our lower brain’s default mechanism gets triggered when we are around people we describe as “difficult”; consciously choosing our thoughts overrides the lower brain
- No one needs to change in order for us to feel better and that is the best news ever!
- Choosing our thoughts on purpose is how we take our power back
- Having a fun exercise as a tool can help change how we handle being around “difficult” people
Who are you giving too much power to? I hope you choose to take your power back and use it to create a wonderful life instead.
If you’d like to explore your resistance to the difficult people in your life, please feel free to schedule a free strategy session or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can get to work together.