A Mindful Response to Difficult People

Difficult, even toxic, people are a fact of life. We can … and sometimes must … avoid the most abusive. But we may still find that we have to deal with difficult coworkers, bosses, family members or neighbors.

Reviewing an old journal, I found my younger self listing the self-destructive ways that I was dealing with difficult people. I was:

  • Draining my own energy by being upset.
  • Thinking about how people were not behaving as they “should” be.
  • Trying to appease people in ways contrary to God’s will.
  • Saying half-truths and lies to keep the people off my back.
  • Rehearsing and re-rehearsing upcoming conversations.
  • Later, thinking about what nasty things I could have said to them.
  • Spending time and energy trying to stabilize myself after I was shaken by an encounter.

Christian mindfulness does call on us to handle toxic people differently. We need to look at ourselves in prayer to see if we are the cause of any of the unpleasantness. After we have dealt with anything that’s our fault, we can alter our behavior to make dealings with the person easier. Here are five ways that I have changed my approach.

  1. Accept that this is a difficult relationship with a person who has emotional problems. Accepting this frees us from hoping the person will behave in a different way next time.
  2. Tell the truth. Instead of trying to appease by lying, tell the person the truth. That doesn’t mean attacking them. It means using “I statements” about how they make you feel. “I don’t want to go to lunch with you because I tend to get nervous and anxious around you.”
  3. Do not respond to them … in words, writing or online comments … until you are calm and centered.
  4. Pray for them every day. Jesus asked us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
  5. Ask for the gift of mercy for yourself. Eventually you may be able to see this person as Jesus does. That will give you compassion.

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