It is true that difficult people drain our energy, put us on edge, and arouse in us uncomfortable feelings of frustration, impatience, anger, and sometimes – sadly– even the desire for revenge.
I was taught that the best way to deal with annoying people is to ignore them. When my children were small, I told them that when we meet such people, we should just walk away.
But from a spiritual perspective I have seen another possibility. Tolerance. Compassion. Self-awareness.
I've been thinking a lot lately about the best way, the highest, most compassionate way to respond to difficult people. First, I don't ignore them. I don't walk away from them. Instead, I allow myself to be touched by their neediness; and patiently listen to their questions and complaints. Saint Susan? No, a human being present with that negative energy without judging it, recognizing the gift in the difficult encounter.
I can show compassion because I recognize the suffering, fear, confusion, and pain that is behind the annoying behavior. I can accept the presence of difficult people in my life and have compassion for them, recognizing that these individuals can be my spiritual teachers, showing me what I might be reluctant to learn on my own.
I ask myself, "What is it with this person? What exactly is he or she doing that upsets me? And why is this such a big deal for me?" I try to objective about this, and not judge either the person or myself for my reaction. I simply observe the dynamics of the interaction.
Then, I try to make a shift in perspective. I try to see how this person may be forcing me to push past something I resist admitting about myself. What qualities does this person possess that I would like to eliminate in my own being? This is the tricky part!
I think that the most powerful option for dealing with a difficult person is our own personal growth. Inner change inevitably leads to outer change. I have learned to take a deep breath, shift my expression into a smile, and say this little prayer when I find myself face-to-face with a difficult person:
"Well, OK, here comes another one! If there are any helpers around me now, I ask you to guide me, stay with me here. This person has been sent to me for a reason. Help me to know what it is, and help me to practice tolerance and compassion."
And you know, it works! The negativity is diffused and I am usually gifted with an ahah! moment I might have missed if I had hurried away from the encounter in silence and judgement. Our world is full of suffering, fear, confusion, and pain. Annoying behavior is the symptom, not the cause. The difficult person is a mirror for what we can change in our world and in ourselves. Inner change will lead to outer change. With a breath, a smile, and a moment of compassion.
May you be blessed!