The Gift of Difficult People (we are not separate)
Can we be honest and real here? We all have difficult people in our lives.
They are the people that push our buttons. They are the finest specimens of our pet peeves birthed into pure form.
They speak in a way that makes your eyes squint or move in a way that sends a shudder down your spine. Maybe they express opinions that make your eyes tear up. Sometimes your fists clench as your jaw tightens. Your heart beat quickens as your palms sweat.
They make choices that we harshly judge and sometimes even openly criticize. We might even participate in arguments with them. Perhaps in an egotistical attempt to sway them to the “right way”... our way.
Sometimes before they even mutter a word, our eyes roll at the anticipation of whatever stupidity, arrogance, or prejudice will inevitably escape their mouths.
These interactions fuel a feeling of righteousness. We might believe we are the right ones and that they are most definitely wrong. That our way is a better way, and they should see that.
Maybe it isn’t even THEM as a person... it is just whatever words came out of their mouth in a snap shot in time that seared into an open wound or struck a nerve. Or it can even be more simple and mundane - have you ever judged someone for wearing “inappropriate clothing” or looking different? Be honest...
These situations and judgments can make us feel sick. Angry. Confused. Ashamed. Embarrassed. THEY make us feel terrible.
But, in reality, it is never the people that make us feel that way. It just isn’t.
THEY cannot control how WE feel.
Let’s get real.
Now I am sure you have felt these ways at least once before... even if you wish to not admit it. My truth is, I know that I get very passionate and righteous about specific topics that are my “hot buttons” such as human equality. I am guilty of bullying, ranting, righteously declaring my superior morals, and allowing my own arrogance to cloud my heart in the name of “showing them their way is wrong.” If you have been on the receiving end of my Jameson and Guinness fueled soapbox rants on marriage equality, you know exactly what I am confessing about. It isn’t pretty, but it is important for me to be honest here. Can you be honest, too?
My truth is - I judge people for their closed mindedness. I immediately assume that my moral compass is better calibrated than theirs and I mentally declare that we are fundamentally different on every moral level. If there is even hint of intolerance of any kind, this is their fate. You get the idea.
Now the immediate and obvious issue with this habitual pattern that I developed is that my mind immediately closes. Yep. The EXACT behavior that I am criticizing is exactly what I am doing. As much as my righteous, ego-driven mind searches, I cannot find a legitimate “excuse” for why my judgment', intolerance, and closed mind is any different than the closed mind, intolerances, and judgments I am condemning.
Now that the picture is painted on my reactiveness to these people, my own behaviors, and the way in which I interpret how “they make me feel,” let us carry on to find the gift in these relationships and interactions.
I continue to do so much work on myself - to be a more loving, open, honest, generous, and peaceful person. This means internally and then externally. Yoga, The Work of Byron Katie, meditation, self-observation, tons of reading... all of these things support me and help to shine light on the darker parts of my human existence that I wish could be swept under the yoga mat and covered up with some loud printed hippie pants. But since we are being honest and real, the truth is I can be a total asshole. and I bet so can you.
When I really step outside of my judgments, my ideologies, my habitual patterns... I can see more clearly that the difficult people I encounter and am in relationships with are not wrong, not a problem, and certainly are NOT making me feel any particular way. The reality is that they are teachers. They are mirrors. They are reflecting back to me something that I really do not like, and do not wish to see about myself. Typically, their closed-mindedness simply reflects back my closed mindedness. And that is a hard pill to swallow. It is ME. Not them. We are not separate.
Yes, we might be closed minded in different directions on the same spectrum. But the point is not about their differing beliefs. I can easily disagree with people on so many topics, never becoming emotional, and not harshly judging them or thinking they are “terrible people.” And certainly not engaging in an argument or allowing myself to feel any different than my baseline of contentment and general peace.
I never feel badly after those disagreements. and I definitely wouldn’t even classify those people as difficult. I am not saying that everyone must agree with me all the time in order for me to stay a sane, calm member of society. Just ask my husband and friends!
What I am trying to say is that the liberation I discovered was in my own reactiveness to these seemingly difficult people and situations. When it comes to my “hot buttons” I turn into a monster in my mind. It is my judgments that make me feel so emotional. Not the other person’s statements or beliefs. It is me. Not them. We truly are never separate.
The gift in difficult people is that there is a constant reminder that we are not right. We are not on the only path of this life. No one can control your emotions - Just as you cannot control their ideas, beliefs, behavior, or what they wear. Be truthful and try to see yourself in the reflection of the difficult people or their qualities deemed undesirable... and then be kind when you can identify some similarities. Take a deep breath and try to see that we all contain the same potential - for both “right” and “wrong”... for actions and beliefs on all ends of every spectrum.
When you stop your harsh judgments and open your mind back up, you experience freedom. And that freedom creates more space for understanding, love, honesty, openness, generosity and peace. You create the space for the realization that none of us are separate.