Dealing With Difficult People (You know…like you and me.)

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. ~ Romans 12:18

Each person must be responsible for himself. ~ Galatians 6:5

Do you have anybody in your life who is uniquely challenging? He/she may have a seemingly supernatural ability to push your buttons and pull you out of a good mood. We all have these people in our lives—and often, they’re part of our family. This can make the holiday season, when you know you’ll be spending time with them, particularly difficult.

Let’s look at a few key ways to manage how much power we give others in our lives.

One thing I’ve found helpful is the concept of boundaries. It’s a way to identify what I’m expecting others to do for me, and what I think they expect me to do for them. It actually goes beyond expecting. I hold them, or they hold me, responsible for meeting specific needs. This takes place in families quite often. Here’s what it sounds like, “If you don’t come home for the holidays, it will make me sad.” To many people that sounds reasonable. But what’s happening is that someone is holding you hostage, holding you responsible for making them sad or happy. They’re not taking responsibility for their own happiness, and not giving you the freedom to manage your own choices. We can focus so much on someone’s expectations of us that it has power over how we feel and react. 

Here are some tips on how to stop giving away your power.

1. See Yourself (and everyone else) Inside a Hoola-Hoop.

  • Everything inside your circle is your responsibility.
  • Everything outside your circle is somebody else’s responsibility.
  • What’s inside your circle? Your feelings. Your choices. Your opinions.
  • What’s NOT inside your circle? The other person’s feelings, choices, opinions. 
  • Your circle defines the limits of who you are and your responsibilities.

So, what? How is that going to help me?

When you learn to recognize that you are being held responsible for how someone else feels, it empowers you to manage the only person you’ve got any chance of managing. YOU!

  • You don’t have to wait on anyone else to change before you practice responding differently. 
  • Freedom comes from taking responsibility for your circle and all that’s in it. A sense of helplessness comes from giving that responsibility away.
  • More people suffer from trying to change or control others than any other disease.
  • Since you can’t make anyone else change, change yourself, so their behavior no longer works on you.

2. Own Your Emotions. They’re in your circle.

  • Emotions don’t just happen to us. They are created inside of us in response to what’s happening around us.
  • Emotions are as simple as A,B,C. (Remember simple and easy are not the same thing.)

A + B = C

A is an outside event. It might be someone’s behavior, or something that is said.

B is the meaning you attach to A (someone else’s actions).

C is your emotional response and the actions you take as a result.

You can’t “control” A (other people’s choices and actions), but… 

You can manage C, by learning to take responsibility for B, how you respond.

3. Adjust Your Expectations.

If you’re caught in a frustrating cycle with certain people, and the cycle tends to end badly, you probably can’t change the other person’s behavior. You CAN change your response to their behavior. Here are some thoughts on how you can manage your expectations.

  • Frustration is the gap between what you expect (what you want to happen) and what you experience (what actually happens). 

There are two ways to make the gap smaller. 

  • Create a better experience between yourself and the other person. The challenge is this requires all people involved to make changes that everyone might not be ready to make.
  • Lower your expectations. If it’s a repeating cycle, it has happened many times in the past. Adjust your expectations before you even go into the situation. Then, you’ll be able to enjoy what does happen, without comparing it to what you wish would happen or could happen if everyone acted like you think they should. 

You manage your frustration with the situation by adjusting your perspective of how it needs to go for you to be okay. 

I hope this is helpful. Take some time to think it through, pray about it, ask God for patience and wisdom, and see where all this might apply to you and your relationships. Relationships cause more pain and pleasure than anything else in our lives. Let’s learn to manage them better with God’s help. Then you can go in, ready to enjoy that family get-together at Christmas!