By Paula Lau
I think many of us falsely envision some sort of material/physical break between the old year and the new. How naïve! This is particularly true because one thing that carries over into a new year (no matter how well we start) is our old relationships.
My youngest son was telling me about some trouble he got into at school. He apparently teased one of the little girls in the class and, as a part of his apology, the teacher made him give her a hug. Zachary looked at me in exasperation and said, “I can’t wait till I forget that thought.” As a therapist I watch people wanting to “forget that thought” especially when it comes to dealing with difficult people in their lives. I think for most of us, a simple wave of a magic wand would be the preferred method of dealing with ill mannered, rude, evil or down-right ugly people. “Walla — you’re gone!” No mess. No worries.
When it comes to difficult people and situations, I always ask people, “Can you get away from the situation?” Now admittedly, this is the chicken-hearted way, but hey, I like chicken. Many times people do have an option of limiting or cutting off their interaction with hurtful people. I’ve heard over and over again, “But it’s my mother, sister, dad…etc.” Yes, but if they are hurting or negative in a toxic way, you have permission to say goodbye. There is no mandate anywhere saying that just because you’re related you have to put up with their mess. But if this person is in your life to stay (for instance, an ex you share custody with, a co-worker or how bout that teenage son or daughter?) then you can take steps to maintain a healthy level of sanity and wake up each day knowing that you are not throwing gasoline on the fire.
Avoid out and out war: There is no better way to stir up hard feelings and acts of revenge than fighting tooth and nail. As much as you are able back away, back down and maintain your peace. Compromise whenever possible and be careful which battles you choose. You only have the strength for limited engagements so conserve your energy.
Maintain professionalism at all times: If you’re on the job or at home, never, never, never allow yourself to be drawn into a screaming match, profanity or physical assault. People cannot engage their brains when angry. This is a fact of physical science, not just my opinion. Your blood literally does not reach your brain. So do whatever you have to de-escalate yourself including putting yourself in a time out, walking away or even changing jobs if necessary.
Look for opportunity to seek peace: As a counselor, I am always amazed at the ability of the mind to both hurt us and help us. If you are in a difficult situation with someone do your best to try and understand why they may be acting that way. Seek counsel to find out how you might be able to “clean up your side of the street.” After all, the only person that you have the ability to change is yourself. Maybe there are things you could do differently to help resolve the situation in a positive manner.
An old Yiddish proverb says, “Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough but not baked in the same oven.” There are no easy answers when it comes to working with difficult people especially when you’re pretty sure they are “half baked.” However, you can actively take a role and not feel victimized by them in the future.