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By Sally Kempton

Fran's cottage on the Oregon coast should be the perfect meditative retreat. The only worm in her apple is Larry, her landlord, who lives on the property. Larry is an acerbic critic of just about everything””the government, the art world, drug companies, and Fran. He can't believe she's so clueless about simple practical matters. Only an idiot, he tells her, would plant petunias without putting gopher wire around them, and that's just for starters.

Yes, he'll bring her groceries from town, and help her diagnose the weird noises in her car. But he also walks into her house uninvited, and doesn't understand why she minds. After all, they're neighbors, aren't they?

It's not that Larry is a bad guy, and Fran knows him well enough to know that he's harmless. But nonetheless, she feels crowded. She doesn't want to move, yet her landlord's presence hangs over her house like a dark, critical cloud. Worst of all, his irritability magnetizes her own irritation, so she often finds herself talking to him in the same harsh tone he uses with her.

As a conscious person doing her best to follow a spiritual path, Fran feels ashamed of herself for not knowing how to deal with Larry. You might feel that way too, when difficult people show up in your life. Yet the truth is that few of us ever get through life without encountering””often in our intimate personal space””more than one person who is staggeringly difficult for us to handle. Whether it's a manipulative friend, a prickly co-worker, an absent-hearted lover””some form of relationship stress seems to be part of the package we signed up for when we enrolled ourselves in the school that is life on this planet. If we don't have a few challenging people in our lives, we're probably living on a desert island.

So, how do you deal with a situation like Fran's without moving away, being harsh or wimpy, or putting that person out of your heart? How can you explain to your friend who keeps enlisting you in service of her dramas that you don't want to be part of her latest scenario of mistrust””yet still remain friends? How do you handle the boss whose tantrums terrorize the whole office, or the co-worker who bursts into tears and accuses you of being abrupt when you're just trying to get down to business?

More to the point, what do you do when the same sorts of difficult interpersonal situations keep showing up in your life? Chalk it up to karma? Find ways to resolve them through discussion or even pre-emptive action? Or take the truly challenging view – the view held by Jungians and many spiritual teachers--that these people are reflecting your own disowned, or shadow tendencies? In other words, does dealing with difficult people have to begin with finding out what you might need to work on in yourself?

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One Response to “What Do You Do with Difficult People?”

  1. bara

    get a dog, i have learned to change my energy because my dog does not like to be around neg energy.

    article was brillant.

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