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Dealing With Difficult People

By Cynthia Bailey—Rug


          Everyone has to deal with someone who is difficult—the person who knows which buttons to push to get a reaction out of you.  The person who makes you want to strangle him or her at the very mention of his or her name.  That person can be a co—worker, a neighbor, or someone closer, such as a spouse or family member.  If you feel hopeless, that there is no way to deal with this person, think again.  It is possible to learn to deal with your button pusher, while helping him or her to grow…


          There are several kinds of buttons that can be pushed.  The following is a list of several of them:


·         Someone who doesn’t respond to you, or blatantly withdraws.  This person may also act as if your feelings don’t matter.

·         This person’s actions make you feel as if any love you felt for him (or her) is diminishing.  The good news of this situation is that this can be a sign that you once had strong feelings for this person, which means the relationship can most likely be repaired.

·         This person makes you feel as if you have no power—as if nothing you say or do can affect him.

·         Someone who brings out your worst—anger, vengeful feelings, short temperedness, etc.  If you don’t like who you are around this person, it’s time to make a change.

·         If the relationship with this person affects your other relationships (for example, making you handle other relationships poorly).


A person who routinely pushes these buttons is difficult!  Relationships should give love, support, safety, encouragement, forgiveness and more.  I am not saying that if someone commits actions mentioned above that it is necessary to end the relationship with this person.  But, it may be necessary to make some changes in the relationship. 


          Before making changes, I encourage you to try to be objective and analyze the relationship.  Are you overreacting to this person’s actions?  Is a question to ask yourself.  If you can’t be objective, then talk about it to a safe friend—someone who will give you honest feedback. 


          Also, keep in mind this person is different than you are—he thinks and feels differently than you do.  He was raised by different parents, and probably by different rules than you.  He has had different life experiences than you have.    All of which contribute to the person he is today.  He may indeed be a dysfunctional person, but he may simply be different than you are. 

            Ask God to provide you with clarity—am I the problem or is he?  Although your first reaction may naturally be to assume he is, sometimes God works through other people to bring things out of us that He wants to deal with. 

If you realize that your difficult person is indeed the problem, and you aren’t overreacting, don’t give up hope.  There are things that can be done no matter how challenging the person is.  You can stop enabling.  What that means is don’t remove consequences—actions have consequences, and if someone does something wrong, they should face the consequences!  It will be a chance for growth.  Don’t cover the sinful behavior to friends or family.  Enabling also means hiding the sinful behavior from friends or family.  Reacting emotionally and blaming yourself are other enabling behaviors.  If you react too quickly, the person will say things such as, “See how mean you are to me?  You make me do *fill in the blank*!”  Chances are, you will react to that by saying either to yourself or out loud, “You’re right, this is all my fault, I’m sorry.”   Which only allows the bad behavior to continue, and frees this person of responsibility for his actions.


You may realize your difficult person is fairly selfish, and comfortable living in this dysfunctional way.  Even then, don’t give up hope—change is still possible, although it may take some time.


One final note before we continue onto learning how to change this dysfunctional relationship: you are probably wondering why you “let” this person get to you so much.  Take heart, dear Reader!  It means you have the beautiful ability to love deeply!  Not to allow someone’s hurtful actions to get to you is abnormal!  To be so cold and uncaring isn’t how God created us.  He gave us a heart with which to love Him and other people.  Also, God is hurt when people sin (see Ephesians 4:30 which says “And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God in whom ye were sealed unto the day of redemption.”).  If God is able to feel hurt, why would we, who He created, not be able to feel it as well?


     Regarding changes in this dysfunctional relationship, first you must always remember that you can’t change anyone but yourself.  No matter what you do, even if you do everything right, this person may decide not to change.  Some people don’t have any desire to grow or to improve themselves.  So if, God forbid, you put forth your best effort and things don’t change, do NOT blame yourself!  You tried your best, which is what matters.


     To begin to make changes, you need to use your own resources.  God is your best resource, your greatest ally. He understands how you feel, and truly wants to help!  Matthew 23:37 says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her!  How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”  Let Him help!  Ask Him to heal this person, to help you to deal with the person as He wants you to, and to show you what He wants you to learn from it.  He may want you to help this person learn and grow—be open to that possibility.


     Next, your life is a valuable resource!  Be open and honest.  Show that you and God are the only ones responsible for your happiness, and you aren’t dependant on the difficult person.   If you have been so focused on this person, begin to have a life again—start doing those activities you once did that have nothing to do with that person.  Do things without this person, and in time he will start missing you.  This may even encourage the person to face his own issues.  And, with your time apart, you will learn and grow, you may even realize you have issues of your own to deal with.  This will all help you to relate to this difficult person in a mature, healthy way.  By you becoming a more mature, stable, honest, reliable person, you will be a great role model for your difficult person!


     Safe people in your life are another great resource!  They will encourage you when you need it, listen when you need to talk, and keep you grounded.  They will give you a sense of normalcy you didn’t have with your difficult person.


     Your attitude will make a big difference in this situation.  If you want what is best for the difficult person and the relationship, and help this person to face truth rather than avoid it, you are being truly loving and supportive.  Although this may not seem fair to you at the time remember two things: first, this is an investment that hopefully will pay off in the future, and second, God always has been there for you when that relationship was one sided.  Give the difficult person freedom, too—freedom to make his own choices, good or bad.  Facing truth in a challenging situation isn’t easy, and sometimes that person may be draining to you both.  Sometimes the person may need a break from you, and sometimes you may need one from him.  One thing I have learned is there are people out there who gain their strength from certain others in their life rather than God.  Try not to resent this—it is all that person is capable of at the time.  But, remember to replenish yourself after interacting with the person through time with God, pampering yourself, relaxing however you like.  And, pray that God will show this person where he needs to gain strength.


     Stating your needs to the difficult person in your life is ok—we all have needs.  Role-play first may be best, if done with a safe person.  Remember to keep your voice even, to admit your own shortcomings, remind this person of your love, and affirm the good in him.  Also remember to refocus if he shifts the topic of conversation.  And, be sure to give him time to speak as well.


     Never make idle threats.  Always be willing to follow through on consequences.  For example, if you tell this person, “If you can’t speak civilly to me, I’m going to hang up this phone” hang up the phone if his conversation doesn’t change!  Don’t give a threat of consequence with no follow through!  Consequences force change. Consequences protect the future—they aren’t about revenge for past mistakes.  They are a healthy part of life that encourages us to grow.  This may be very painful for you to do at first.  If you are uncomfortable, discuss this with the safe people in your life before putting consequences into action, and encourage their feedback.  You probably will also need to run to these people when you feel guilty over the consequences.  Let them know you need them more than usual at this time.  Also, during this time, constantly ask God for wisdom and guidance in dealing with this difficult person.  Prayer is truly your biggest aide, even greater than your safe people.  Don’t forget too—encourage your difficult person when you see progress, as that will encourage the person to continue on the right path.  When this person is genuinely sorry for hurting you or others, it is a huge breakthrough!


     In this difficult relationship, you may have to continually restate boundaries, and repeat talks you feel you’ve had a hundred times.  Show appreciation for the good, as well as encouraging the good.  Even small changes are progress, and should be recognized!


     If this difficult person resists all your efforts, however, don’t be discouraged.  This person has helped you to learn and grow.  Refocus on the good times you have shared, and the good parts of his personality.  You have others in your life who are loving, safe people to be thankful for.  Enjoy them.  You also have a loving Heavenly Father who treasures us far more than we realize.  Remember, neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall separate us from the love of God, in Christ!  (Romans 8:38—39)

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