Difficult people are like the termites of the human spirit. They can be eating away at the tender parts of you for months on end before you notice, and then, suddenly, at a work meeting or a family dinner, you lose it. You might scream something unkind or have a temper tantrum much like the two-year-old on Nanny 911, or even do something drastic like start binge drinking again after a few years of sobriety. Unfortunately, living on earth as a homo sapien requires dealing with other homo sapiens — unless you want to isolate yourself and watch Dr. Phil all day long. So having some techniques in mind, especially during the holidays and other times of vulnerability, can help you arrest their damage before your structure crumbles.
1. Identify Your Landing Pad for Difficult People
Termites don’t eat healthy wood. Depending on the kind of termite, they either like moist, soft fibers or dry, parched wood. If you think about it, difficult people like to go for the damaged spots as well — not intentionally, of course (most of the time). We all have weak areas: tender patches that haven’t been fully healed from traumatic events or hurtful conversations, or remnants of childhood baggage. Those holes provide the landing pads for difficult people. But if we are aware of our own vulnerabilities, then we can relax around our coworker who degrades us at company meetings, or our brother-in-law who makes fun of our diet — because we know it’s not really about them. It’s about our own insecurities.
The other day, when I was I was fighting through a terrible case of stuck thoughts triggered by a difficult person, it occurred to me that it wasn’t about her at all. A comment she made simply fell into the chasm opened up by my biggest childhood wound that is still rather exposed — that if I don’t “fix” a person, or make her feel good about herself, something terrible is going to happen to me. That was the message I got back when my brain was forming synapses as a kid, so whenever I feel as though I’ve disappointed someone or caused him or her pain, I experience a peculiar kind of anxiety and OCD — remnants of childhood baggagestill left in the front hall.