You want to explode. You want to put them in their place. You think: Are you messing with me? You messing with me? You got a problem? The difficult person is being totally sketchy, inflicting you with their negativity and you want to get back at them for acting like this! Your chest tightens and there is this pressure inside of you that wants to burst open like a firework. The difficult person is totally out of control and you need to get them under control. You want to do this by inflicting your wrath upon them. Put them down. Show them how bad they are behaving. Get them to snap out of it and not mess with you ever again.
This is a small example of what can go on inside an individual when dealing with a difficult person. I am sure that for every person the inner feelings are varied but I think that most humans can relate to what is described above. Not everyone is relaxed and easy going. A lot of people are just really difficult to deal with. They get caught up in their anger or anxiety and behave in ways that feel unjust. Or they will stonewall depending upon how hurt and angry they are. When dealing with a difficult person (or situation) you have two choices- you can react in a way that is similar to what is described above or you can not give in to your impulses, stay focused on your breathing and unlike the difficult person you are dealing with, not react. Whatever you do……………………when dealing with a difficult person do not react.
Mindfulness is fundamentally a practice of non-reactivity. Whether a person is on a plane that feels like it is about to fall out of the sky, stuck in a job that they despise, sitting in a dentist’s chair, working in a room filled with flies or dealing with a difficult person- mindfulness practice always comes down to one thing. It is a practice for how not to react. It is a way to defend yourself against your inner, more primal instincts to freak the hell out.
How to be the bigger person? It is hard in a world where it can often feel like people are not inherently good (a lot of the time). It is hard in a world where people want to blame everyone else and get all caught up in feelings (which are often different from your feelings). It is hard to be the bigger person in a world where ultimately people want to control you and if they can’t- they get upset. Most difficult people live their lives unaware that they are going to cease to exist and that so much of what they preoccupy themselves with, when held up against the bigger picture, is so darn trivial and most often fear based. How to be the bigger person when caught up in a dysfunctional interpersonal dynamic really comes down to who has bigger self-regulation muscles.
Non-reactivity and self-regulation are the same thing. If we are not able to self regulate, we react. When we self-regulate, we respond with calmness and ease rather than in a whirlwind of what feels in the moment like very urgent emotion. When self-regulating we are able to force ourselves to smile into the pain, rather than let out an explosion of anger (self-defense). We can remain sweet rather than turning sour. The person who is able to self-regulate, knows that if they remain calm and grounded, ultimately everything is going to be ok. They know that all they have to do is not get caught up in their emotions and their thoughts about what is right or wrong. They know that it is really not a big deal and they work hard at letting it go.
At its core, mindfulness is a practice for using all of your strength to keep the walls from caving in. The walls feel really heavy and want to collapse, but by using the tools of mindfulness we are able to keep the walls from crushing us. Whether you are experiencing terribly unpleasant anxiety, an overwhelming feeling of injustice and threat or just plain indignation and rage- mindfulness practice is about being able to hold on. Hold on to staying aware of your breathing moving in and out through your nose, hold on to your sensation of your feet on the ground, hold on to your awareness of the sounds that you are hearing, hold on to your ability to remain present and not get hooked by a thought. Hold on and just let the difficult person be difficult (even though your impulses want to eradicate the person), while responding in a superficial way that does not cause you to become emotionally toxic and exhausted.
Choose to remain healthy and steady in your life. Use the difficult person as an opportunity to strengthen your mindfulness practice. Two months from now, what will matter most is that you were able to practice non-reactivity. After years of emotional suffering, I have concluded that what is most important and fundamental for human happiness and health is that we develop the capacity to remain present, free and open to the wonder of life all around us. We don’t allow the difficult person to take our focus away from what is most important- that we are alive, here and now. That this moment is it and that living this moment fully is what matters more than anything the difficult person is doing or saying. With a little practice, we all can do it.