SALT LAKE CITY — I have been thinking, recently, about how difficult people can actually be a blessing in our lives, even though they often feel like a curse.
Difficult people and the lessons they facilitate can bless you, educate you and help you grow. Life is a classroom and everything that happens here can be a springboard to amazing growth, even the really hard things.
Think about some people who aggravate you, try your patience, irritate, anger or upset you. We all have some people who push our buttons, and the first step to resolving these difficult relationships is to recognize they are here as perfect teachers. When you see them as such, and you embrace your experiences with them as lessons, you will be surprised how much less aggravating they become. (Note: In this article I am just addressing how to deal with garden variety difficult people, not situations that involve abuse.)
Pick one of these difficult people to think about as you read this article. Ask yourself these simple questions:
- What could be the lesson that this difficult person could teach me?
- How could having this person in my life grow or educate me?
I promise there is a blessing there, but it might be a blessing in disguise (a really good disguise). Some of these people might be causing a large amount of pain and hurt. They might make you feel small, worthless or hopeless. It might be a real stretch to find blessings in knowing them, but if you choose to see them as such anyway, it will lessen the pain and problems to some degree.
Viktor Frankl, who wrote "Man's Search for Meaning" after being a prisoner in the concentration camps during World War II, said, "In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds meaning." If Frankl could choose to find meaning in his horrible suffering, I believe we can do it too. He also encourages us to see the difference between necessary suffering and unnecessary suffering. He said, "Unnecessary suffering is masochistic rather than heroic." When pain becomes self-inflicted, because the event is long over, growth happens as you let it go.
The important thing is to recognize that difficult experiences in your life have the potential to bless you. Here are some possible benefits or blessings that come from dealing with difficult people:
- You learn better self-control. You can become more emotionally mature and in control of your reactions.
- You can learn to be totally responsible for your own happiness and not be responsible for anyone else’s. (There is nothing you can do to make another person feel anything.)
- You learn to know your own worth despite what others think of you. You learn to love being you, despite what’s going on around you.
- You learn to own your self-esteem and not let anyone diminish you.
- You learn to depend on God or another higher source for a sense of safety.
- You learn to overcome a fear of conflict. You will be forced to learn how to handle conflict in a mature way.
- You become a better communicator.
- You learn to set and enforce boundaries. You may have to study and learn how to do this, but if the difficult person wasn’t in your life, you might never do this work.
- You learn high-level forgiveness. You have to learn to trust life, that it is always conspiring to bless you and educate you. If you get this, you won’t even need to forgive because you already see the offense as a blessing.
- You learn how difficult people are mirrors to show you things about yourself. The truth is, you see the world as you are, and difficult people you don’t like are often showing you things you don’t like about yourself. When someone irritates you, ask yourself: Is there any way that I do something similar to this myself? Could I be seeing parts of myself that I don’t like in them?
- You learn how difficult people push your buttons and bring out the fears that have been haunting you your whole life. They trigger these fears and bring them to the surface so you can work on them. You have often had this fear problem for decades, long before this person came into your life; the difficult person is just triggering this issue so you can see it and work on it.
- You learn to see defensiveness (because you feel unsafe around someone) as a clue that you are scared and think you are vulnerable and in need of defending. The truth is no one else can change your intrinsic value, and they aren’t powerful enough to ruin the classroom journey planned for you. So, you are actually invulnerable and need no defending at all. Learning to see life and yourself as safe is the most profound lesson that difficult people can teach us.
When a difficult person is bothering you, take a few minutes to read through these possible benefits again. Ask yourself these questions:
- Can I see how this person might be showing me the limits of my love, or a pain or problem that is actually there to help me improve myself or become stronger, wiser or more loving?
- How is this person the perfect teacher for me right now?
- How could this person make me stronger or more mature?
- How could this person make me more loving of myself?
- How could this person help me to see where I feel unsafe in the world and need more trust in God or another higher source for my safety?
When you feel threatened or defensive around someone, this is your clue that there is a part of you that needs reassurance that you are safe and loved and that other people can’t diminish you or your life. They can only teach you and help you grow. At least, you have the power to see them this way, with this perspective, if you want to.
When you choose to see difficult people as teachers (not jerks), you will find you have the answers and the power to rise above the fray and deal with them in a confident loving way.
You can do this.
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