“He gets on my nerves just by looking at him. It is amazing how different I feel he is from me; his views, values, demeanor, outlook, and almost everything else. When I sit with him, my breathing pattern alters. It becomes disrupted and short. I cannot wait for him or me to leave. I am blessed that my encounters with him do not take much time, even though they have a lingering uneasy effect that extend beyond our brief encounters.” These are common thoughts and statements we all experience when dealing with difficult people, especially those who are not casual passer-by’s but consistently are part of our daily lives and routines.
No one enjoys the negative feelings from interacting with difficult people. So how can we change these feelings? Where is the problem? It cannot be the difficult person. Even if he or she has lots of things that are wrong in them and their morals, behaviors, and demeanor. All of these things cannot be the issue. The issue is with “me;” the person having the feelings and the reactions. After all, the feelings are inside. Created not by the difficult person, but by “my” mind’s interpretation of what the difficult person stands for, and how “I” decide to react to this interpretation.
From my personal experience, remembering the following four themes can help with this positively and help manage the negative feelings and reactions.
First theme: Deepak Chopra once replied to a tweet from a follower on “How do I stop thinking negatively?” by saying “Observe how you feel when you have these thoughts.”
Second theme: A good friend tells me that I need to be more accepting and that would help. I agree. I need to accept that people are not all the same, and they cannot be “good” from my perspective. My perspective itself can be flawed, so maybe I need to stop judging and start accepting. Accepting the facts that I do not know everything, I cannot force people to change, and that I have no control over anything except maybe my choices.
Third theme: Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was caring even to those who hurt him. He used to pray for them. He had empathy. While he never accepted unfairness or injustice, but he was tolerant of those who were ignorant even if they hurt him. “Oh Lord Forgive my people because they do not know,” was what he sad when the people of Mecca hurt him. He did not pray for their distruction or to take vengeance, but he prayed for tolerance and forgiveness.
Fourth theme: Dr. Rateb Nabilsi in his talks often reminds us of the importance of our faith in God and that all he chooses for us is for our own good, growth, learning, and salvation. Even these encounters with difficult people are there for a reason. We are learning from them even if the learning is in the form of a “bitter medicine” so to speak. This does not make the hurt go away, but helps one put things somewhat in perspective.
Sometimes I struggle with my negative feelings and reactions for days. Other times, I find refuge in these four themes. What works for me is to stop analyzing why I feel the way I feel or over analyze how these ideas can help me. I just accept how I feel and respect the fact that the feelings are arising. I remember these themes. Some of them click more often than others, but they do work quite often, if not to eliminate but at least manage the reaction.
Then, I am in peace again, until the next encounter with a difficult person. If and when it happens, will I remember these themes? Will I be able to manage my reactions positively? I do not know, and that is OK too, Peace.