There Are No Difficult People
People are not difficult to deal with IF you use the right movement…
Did I really say that there are no difficult people? Amazing as that may sound, that’s exactly what I said. What about the obnoxious ones or the know-it-alls? What about the people who won’t stop talking or those who create constant emotional drama? Can there be any doubt that extremely passive and withdrawn people are impossible to be with, as well as those who make a hobby out of attacking anyone and everyone?
While all these characterizations certainly represent interesting challenges, it is my position that none of these traits are the final determiners of whether someone is difficult. The ultimate test is your capacity to be open to the full range of possible responses that you are potentially capable of. Your capacity to respond with great flexibility depends on where you are in relation to the five movements of life; moving toward, away, against, up and down. It is the life task for each of us to learn all five of these movements, and use the one that bests suits a given situation with a particular person. Too often many of us robotically select the same movement, regardless of what the situation call for.
An example of this occurred in a state hospital where several therapists were trying to get a patient who talked in word salad — mixing isolated words together — to make sense. After a short period of time, each doctor gave up frustrated and exhausted as the patient continued his word salad rhetoric. Then another doctor who had been listening to this stepped in, but in contrast to the others he made no attempt to get the patient to make sense. Instead, he totally joined in the word salad style of relating for hour after hour with the patient. Finally after five hours the patient turned to him and said “When are you going to make sense, Doc?” All the other therapists were shocked that this patient, who they declared as a totally difficult and impossible could respond like that. In truth, it never occurred to them to join his behavior.
Before proceeding further let me share with you the nature of the five movements:
Moving toward – This consists of moving toward someone and expressing a particular need, such as “I want to be with you” or asking for something such as “Can you hold me?” It would be hard to take care of yourself without this movement.
Moving away – This involves moving away from someone and creating a physical space for yourself, where you can support your limits and take care of your own needs. “I need to be alone right now,” “That is all the time I have to listen.” Without the freedom to do this, you will build up resentment and fail to take caOpposing – In order for your “yes” to have meaning, you need to have the ability to say “NO”, so that you are able to define your boundaries when you are presented with something that doesn’t fit you. “It is unacceptable for you to smoke in this room.” Many people who are pleasers do not have the option of this movement, so they need to suppress these feelings.
Moving up – To be able to move up allows you take the higher road in so called negative situations and open yourself to various spiritual qualities, such as compassion, unconditional love and acceptance, empathy, and deep trust. All of which are necessary in reaching higher levels of being in the world.
Moving down – This movement has the worst reputation and the least respect, yet it truly separates men from little boys and women from little girls. To accomplish this movement you need to be able to express feelings of inadequacy, disappointment, powerlessness, insecurity, awkwardness, confusion, and helplessness as authentic expressions without any judgment or sense that these are problems. They need to be seen as acceptable aspects of your humanity, which is quite a challenge for most of us since we tend to see them as unacceptable problems.
As I previously stated, we typically favor one or two of these movements and disregard the rest, resulting in us adopting the same movement regardless of the different situations we confronted with. So some people act passive and withdrawn even if the situation calls for a very different movement. Thus, they lose their flexibility and default to expressing only familiar responses. The same is true for those who always need to act superior no matter who they are with. They fail to realize that if you go one up with puffed up little boy bosses, it will be a costly disaster.
If you selectively and consciously use the movements mentioned above in challenging situations, then you will be able to transform what happens in dealing with difficult people into successful outcomes. Below are some examples of categories of people who are typically seen as difficult.
Puffed-up people – There are many times you will run into people who have a need to act superior and want to instruct, lecture, correct, blame, and label you. By far, the most effective way of dealing with this person is the movement you try to continuously avoid and that is going one down. This includes expressing disappointment, confusion, inadequacy, powerlessness and insecurity as the movement of choice. So if the boss says you are continuously failing him, respond non- defensively by saying that “I really hear that I am not able to satisfy you” with no judgment or emotional reaction. This will create a dilemma for your boss, in which he has to agree with you or his only other choice is to affirm you. In either case you win, since you are no longer a reactive player in his game.
Compulsive invasive people – This person will be constantly invading your space and smothering you with words, questions, or needs. Assuming that you have tried to talk logically or politely to avert this to no avail, it is time for you to use an opposing movement with a very clear no message. It would sound like, “I am not available to listen right now.” “But I need to talk.” “I hear that, but I am not available.” “What about just for ten minutes?” “No, I am not available.”
High emotional drama people – This person will personalize every word or gesture and use it to magnify any emotional moment. You will feel like you are walking gingerly through landmines in hopes of not setting off the explosions. If any of these emotional missiles strike you, you will be defending yourself constantly. Using the moving away movement and increasing the distance between the two of you will minimize any damage. By moving to a suitable emotional distance, you will become more of an observer and no longer absorbing all this energy in your body.
Extremely distrusting people – Let’s say you are with a partner who has great difficulty trusting any intimate expressions and you are becoming exhausted in trying to prove that you love and care for him. Each attempt seems to be discounted and has no impact. This may be a time for you to move up and tap into your unconditional love and acceptance and stop all ways of proving your love. When your partner says that he or she doesn’t trust that you care or love them, you merely say, “I understand what you believe about me,” and just look at them lovingly saying “I love you” as you effortlessly hold that position. Of course, they will express doubt as to your sincerity, but you are to remain calm and make no change in your statement or your loving feeling. You will just hold your loving container as long as they remain in disbelief.
So I hope I have provided you with a new way of looking at people and the challenges that they present, along with showing you a greater variety of ways of approaching them. You need to remember to look at the five movements that are available to you in a given moment rather than becoming fixated on the other person’s behavior. Then after choosing the movement that you sense would be most effective, make a commitment that you will sustain that movement as long as the other person remains in their position. Do not change the movement until you feel in your body that the “difficult” person has made a real shift in their attitude or behavior. Even if they make no change, you are no longer reactive and have taken care of yourself. Each time that you are able to adopt this new flexibility, your sense of empowerment will greatly increase.