Dealing with Difficult People: Is it Me?

Last month, I wrote a post on dealing with difficult people, about how we should have more understanding toward those people. We’re so quick to attack, judge, and cut them out of our lives that we don’t think about the positives that those people bring to our lives. Eventually with this series, I will discuss how to specifically deal with these people that frustrate us and make our blood boil. For now, I want to talk about you.

As much as we hate to admit it, we may have a part to play in our difficult relationships. Relationships are always a two-way street, and very few of us can say that we have perfectly handled a situation. Just like we hate to hear it, I hate to be the one to tell you that you may be at least partly responsible for the conflict. I’ve totally been there, the proudest person in the bunch telling you to own your mistakes. But sometimes the truth hurts. Sometimes you need to look within before you cast the blame on someone else.

Paul tells us in the book of Romans to live at peace with everyone as long as it depends on you (12:18). I praise God that we have the ability to control ourselves. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. However, that implies that we cannot control those around us. We are only responsible for ourselves. We can’t control if a family member treats us poorly, but we can control how we react. I can’t control a cutting remark from my friend, but I can control whether or not I retaliate with a cutting remark.

Think of a difficult relationship in your life, whether it’s at work, home, school, or in your family. God has given us people to sharpen us, but the sharpening process definitely hurts sometimes! But think of the last conflict you two have had, maybe even the reason why you’re so upset with him/her. This time, don’t focus on the bad that she did to you. Focus on your actions. You may not have instigated her insults (or maybe you did), but maybe you reacted in a way that wasn’t exactly holy.

The other aspect of the phrase as long as it depends on you means that you have to give it everything you’ve got to save the relationship. Obviously, if she’s toxic, you need to create some distance, but don’t make excuses and claim that you’ve done everything you can. If you need to apologize, apologize. If you need to show more love, show more love. Do whatever it takes on your end to make it right. The rest is up to her.

On the other hand, even if you start to see things from her perspective and see where you’ve also messed up, don’t excuse her behavior. Mental and emotional disorders are becoming more common these days, especially because they’re easier to diagnose now. The difficult people in your life may not be hurting you maliciously (as in, with the intent of hurting you), but if they hurt you, you still have a right to be upset. She may have suffered abuse as a child or may be carrying the weight of narcissism or OCD or ADD as an adult, but even if her disorder caused you pain, you cannot continue to tolerate the behavior. Metaphorically speaking, whether she hit you with a baseball bat because she was trying to swat a fly or because she was trying to hurt you, it hurt you! Deal with the pain, and help her by explaining your boundaries (I’ll talk more about this Wednesday).

Remember what I said about self-control? Well, I have great news for you. Your marriage does not have to suffer because of your difficult relationships. You have the choice to let that difficult person drag down your marriage. I don’t know why you’d want to let it drag down your relationship, but if you do, and it does, it’s your responsibility now. That would be your fault, not hers (the difficult person).

You and your spouse are both adults, so you get to decide what you bring into your marriage. Your parents don’t decide for you. Your teachers, college professors, bosses, whatever, don’t get to decide what you bring into your marriage. If your difficult person is a work relationship, you don’t have to bring him home. You can drive and pray and sort through your feelings before you make it back to your spouse. You don’t have to take out your anger on your spouse.

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash


The Blessing of Difficult People

On this past Marriage Monday, I discussed the first step in dealing with difficult people, and that is to develop sympathy toward them, because they are human. Since then, I’ve thought about how my life would be different if I didn’t have difficult people in my life. When I read my journal from a couple of years ago, I remembered meeting a handful of people that rubbed me the wrong way and attacked my character. Looking back, I realized how they actually helped me more than hurt me.

Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Think about that visual! Although the people who love us help us to mature, those who are different from us allow us to grow as well. Those people who “rub us the wrong way” are inadvertently rubbing off our mess and making us more like Jesus.

They help you gain a new perspective, which makes you question everything. I specifically had one person who I had kept at arm’s length. When I read my journal a few days ago, the memories flooded back to me about my experiences with her. One thing that she consistently did, unknowingly I’m sure, was give false testimony about me. Those who know me know that I am joyful and childlike (not childish), and I always prefer to look at the positive side. One day, I wrote in my journal that she had told me I complained too much, which is not true. She also told me one day that my joy made her depressed because she could never have what I have, which is also not true. However, although she attacked the very core of my being, instead of crumbling, I examined my heart to reflect on what I was portraying to others. Sure, I thought I was joyful, but maybe to her I complained. Maybe I desired to be childlike, but I was more rigid than I thought. Was my joy annoying? Her attacks made my reflect on my actions and attitude, which is a Biblical practice that God wants us to do on a regular basis.

They keep you humble. Difficult people remind you that you are not perfect. None of us are perfect. You want to be around the people that sing your praises all day, but trust me when I say that you also want to be around those who think you have plenty of room for improvement. At one point, this person called me out on my pride. I had a lot of pride, and I honestly still do. She helped me to see what I needed to change about my life. She also consistently reminded me how much I need Jesus, as her threats and accusations constantly kept me on my knees in prayer.

They help you to show Christ’s love. Jesus commands us to love our enemies. It is easy to love those who love us back, but what about those who don’t? (see Matthew 5:43-48). When I’m around difficult people, I close myself off and don’t want to show love to them. However, that’s not the way God calls me to live. Instead, I need to be honest with God and accept His help. God knows our hearts; He knows when we don’t love those around us. When we’re honest with Him, He equips us to love them through His everlasting, unfailing love. His love puts my love to shame.

Without those difficult people in my life, I would have never grown, at least in the ways that I have. I’ve had people criticize my writing, attack my joy, and call me out for my pride. I can’t believe that years later, I’m still thinking of the people that have hurt me, and the ways they have blessed my life. My experience with difficult people from my past also help me with the people I have in my life now. These people that I’ve lost contact with did their worst to me, and yet I’m still here and I’m still thriving. If I was able to learn to love those difficult people in my life, if I was able to “survive” every attack they threw at me, I am able to love and endure the people who surround me now. No matter how condescending, negative, and criticizing some people are in my life now, I can be confident that God is my defender and that He will grow me even through these difficult people.

If you have difficult people in your life, pray about how God can use them to grow you. Now, please understand that difficult is not abusive. If someone is being abusive to you, run. Do not endure his/her toxicity. However, difficult people are more annoying than hurtful. Allow God to reveal His love through you as you deal with these people that get under your skin.

Photo by Victor Benard on Unsplash