Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

Difficult People: Love Them, Don’t Reject Them

Toxic People: Love Them, Don't Reject Them

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

 

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21 Comments

  1. I am learning how to deal with toxic people now….family that has a way of bringing negativity. And I am putting into practice some of your tips…loving myself, compassion for the other person, and boundaries have helped. I love this….

    ‘True happiness comes from developing the capacity to go beyond pettiness, preferences, and personal desires.’

    • Donna,
      I’m so glad you’re finding a good way. I appreciate how challenging this can be. It takes so much courage to be willing to move in this way.

  2. A well written article Sandra!
    You are right when you say that we shouldn’t run away from “pettiness, preferences, and personal desires” or someone we perceive as “toxic.” I do believe friction or difficult can makes us stronger. This is why I counsel people to “work it out, you’ll be alright.”

    Some people are labeled “toxic” when they are not. I meet people who are challenging but they are not “toxic.” The push our limits and rub us the wrong way. These people will ALWAYS be in our lives…and they make us better!

    In my opinion, a toxic person seeks to hurt you. I’ve seen them in friendships and romantic relationships, child abuse, co-worker environment and the like. I was in a toxic relationship for a long time and wasn’t aware till it was almost too late. I loved, forgave, and blamed myself. It was an unhealthy situation.

    Eventually, I did what you recommended. I walked away, wished the person well and got help. Sometimes walking away allows other who are stronger to step in and provide the needed support to the “toxic” individual. “Toxic” people can be redeemed. In my scenario, I wasn’t the one to provide the help.

    Ultimately….you are absolutely right, “Be grateful to everyone. You will learn some of your most powerful lessons in relationship to others, especially the difficult ones.” I’ve learned. I’ve grown. And continue to love again!!

    • I’m glad you’ve been able to walk away from a relationship with a person acting our in toxic ways and not feel embittered. Your words show us how this is complex and a simple meme can’t cover the best action in full. I think the key as you suggest in your comment is to let go with love – although that can be quite a journey too. I’m also glad you mentioned that we can grow through working with difficult people, and that every with the “toxic” label is not necessarily so.

      Thanks for sharing your experience so honestly.

  3. Hi Sandra, great and compassionate post. As a teacher of adults, I have only encountered a few really difficult people. each of whom gave me the gift of realizing my own strength and maturity. Strangely enough, they were all male bullies who I had to stand up for for the sake of my class. I am not good at doing things like that so it really pushed me into a realm where I had no experience and where I was extremely uncomfortable. But I handled each of them well and with respect which is more than they offered me. As I said, they each showed me that I could handle difficult people and do it well.

    • Hi Jean,

      You’re so courageous! What an empowering story and a great illustration of how dealing with difficult people can make us stronger because sometimes we just can’t avoid it. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. I love this, Sandra. Such gentle, loving wisdom. I agree with your advice for us not to reject “toxic people” without considering their wounds. They are most often wounded people in need of kindness the most and can also be valuable teachers to us in our own personal growth. Extending compassion and understanding to them does not mean we have to like them! 🙂

    • You’re so wise, Debbie! You’ve been through so much and yet you’ve emerge like a brilliant jewel, shining a bright light for all of us.

  5. I strongly agree with the idea that we need to practice loving-kindness in ourselves as part of relating successfully to others. I know sometimes the things that ‘trigger’ me in other people are the qualities I dislike the most in myself.

  6. Mary Ann

    Sandra, a timely article for me. You speak of grounding and clearing your aura. How does one do this?

    I am grateful for your wisdom and love of sharing.

    • Thank you! To explain it very simply, you can ground yourself by walking on the earth barefoot or by imaging a cord of light extending from your base charka into the center of the earth. I don’t think clearing your aura can be explained simply, but you can imagine white light cleansing you and filling up a bubble around you. Good luck with this!

  7. Hi Sandra…

    I think the word ‘toxic’ in terms of people is really about the behaviour they exhibit. And I do think there are times when we need to extricate ourselves from behaviours that cause stress or heartache.

    Relationships, be they intimate or just in passing are wonderful mirrors…a feedback if you like…showing us where we could use a little more loving kindness. For ourselves and others. And I do think it’s possible to release people in our lives and still see them through the eyes of love.

    • You’ve said this so perfectly, Elle. That’s exactly the differentiation I feel we need to make. It’s the behavior that is toxic and in many case that can be healed, but of course not always. I agree sometimes we need to extricate ourselves as you suggest, but we can as you say aspire to still see the person through the eyes of loving-kindness.

  8. I am so much better at this than I used to be. First I do try to stay away from toxic people although as you say this is not always possible. Now i can be grateful for the lessons of compassion. i know sometimes if i can’t remove myself from a negative conversation i now choose to be silent, do hooponopono 🙂 in the past i would have argued forcefully. Well said Sandra

    • That’s wonderful, Suzie! What a remarkable level of self-control you’ve attained. And what a beautiful way to contribute to a negative conversation. Thank you so much for adding this.

  9. Thank you Sandra

    Such a wonderful reminder to always act in love no matter what anybody else decides to do.

  10. Great post, Sandra. The last several years, I’ve tried to remember that people all have their own problems and issues, and not to take them personally. Some of these “difficult” people are now good friends, because I’ve learned to see past behaviors that are off-putting.

    • That’s so amazing, Christy, that some of these “difficult” people are now your good friends. What a positive testimony to the power of change our perspective!

  11. Sarah E.

    How timely for me personally. My pre-yoga guided meditation focused on forgiveness as the intention for the day. Being inspired by your words, I am now wondering how to discern when it is better to just back away or when it may be appropriate to challenge, especially when many are effected by the negative actions or attitude of an individual.

    • I’m glad for the synchronicity, Sarah. It think the decisions to back aware of challenge depends very much on the situation and where you’re at personally. And, of course, it can vary dramatically from one situation to the next. I think checking in with our heart is one of the best ways forward.

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