Into every life some difficult people must come. These are the people who make you feel small, stupid, and powerless. They’re the ones you assume you should have a relationship with, but you cringe every time you come in contact, or communicate with them. Somehow they have a way of making you feel like YOU are the crazy one. But somehow you still have to deal with difficult people.
Your difficult person might be your boss, your coworker, a sibling, an in-law, or even a parent. It might be a friend or classmate you developed a connection with before realizing how difficult the relationship would become. Whoever it is, they feel like a thorn in your side and you wish they would just go away.
A difficult person is not simply someone who needs your help. Here are some characteristics of a truly difficult person:
- Refuses to take responsibility for their own life, feelings, and behavior
- Turns simple challenges into major drama
- Continually expects you to rescue them from their own problems
- Makes you feel guilty if you don’t do what they demand
- Blames you for any problems in the relationship, while demanding you stay connected
- Responds to any help you provide with a demand for more, even if they voice appreciation at first
- Has an answer for everything, and makes sure you realize that you don’t
- Makes you feel confused, anxious, or “crazy” after interacting with them
If you’re a Christian, you may feel trapped by the idea that you’re supposed to love everybody, even the difficult people. And that’s true. But remember, even Jesus didn’t spend His time indiscriminately. He chose who would receive the gift of His time, energy, teaching, and miracles. If someone is not willing or able to receive what you have to give, you may not necessarily be required to continue to offer it.
Love and like are two different things. Be very careful before deciding you are God’s gift to a difficult person. That could be true, but it’s more likely He has someone else in mind. Someone else may be able to interact with that difficult person and not feel guilty or crazy. And we’re also not talking about minor children: as a parent you ARE God’s gift to them even through the difficult times.
I’ve known lots of challenging people in my life, but only two would I truly call difficult. If almost everyone in your life is difficult, perhaps you need to take a closer look at yourself. But that’s a post for a different day.
Here are some skills to develop and choices you can make in dealing with a difficult person.
- Don’t play the game. If they make a move in a certain direction, simply refuse to make the corresponding move they would expect or demand of you. If on Friday your difficult boss hands you a stack of work to be done over the weekend, simply respond, “I’ll give this my full attention first thing Monday morning.” If your difficult sister calls to endlessly complain about her husband, say “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now: I’m just putting dinner on the table.”
- Choose how much you interact with them. A friend of mine had a difficult mother who could make her feel crazy with every phone call, even from her nursing home. My friend learned to let her mother’s calls go to voicemail when she had to, and to take a friend with her when she went to visit. You have a choice about how much to interact, or whether to stay connected at all. About 5 years ago I had to say Goodbye to one of the difficult people in my life, permanently.
- Get some outside perspective. Part of the nature of a difficult person is that they can make you question your own thinking, your own sanity. You need someone outside the situation to give you honest feedback about both the reality of what’s going on, and what choices you have in response. A godly friend, a safe spouse, a wise pastor, or a Christian counselor can help you see the truth, and encourage you in choosing what to do next.
- Share information carefully. If you choose to, or for some reason absolutely must, continue a relationship with a difficult person, be very cautious about what information you share with them. Knowing details of your life gives them more power over you. You don’t have to be deceptive or secretive, but by being difficult that person may be giving up the right to know everything about you. “No” is a complete sentence: you don’t owe them an explanation.
- Continue to seek God’s perspective. God’s opinion of you is the only one that really counts. So if He doesn’t think you’re small, stupid, and powerless, then you’re not. Feast your mind and heart on His Word. Continued growth in spiritual maturity is the only way you can fully respond with healthy love and not anger, bitterness, control, or dependency. It’s the way to get over false guilt and grow in your ability to not be defined by someone else’s craziness.
You’ve got a job to do for God’s Kingdom. Don’t let one, two, or a handful of difficult people derail you from moving forward on the mission God has for you to do.
Your Turn: Do you have a difficult person in your life? What are you doing to manage that relationship? Leave a comment below.
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