Another Perspective On Difficult People


A Different Perspective Isn’t For Everyone

Do you find that you have difficult people in your life? Do they cause you distress? Do you find yourself focusing upon the negative things they bring into your life and wonder what you do to cause them?

There is another way to look at difficult people.  A confronting, but very helpful one if you can embrace it. It is not for everyone. The starting point for a different perspective on difficult people is being open to the viewpoint that it is good to have difficult people in your life. Difficult people do several positive things for you. They:

  • Contribute to your personal growth
  • Reflect back issues for you to heal
  • Are people to be honoured by you

Difficult People Contribute To Your Personal Growth

Wouldn’t it be nice if your relationships with others existed solely to help you be happy, to meet your needs and to keep you safe? Unfortunately, people who are happy and content are not usually motivated to grow. Difficult relationships are often the one that help forge our character and contribute the most to our personal growth. So, although you may find periods of happiness and contentment in your relationships, the major relationships in your life also exist to test you, stretch you and provide you with incentive for growth. These relationships occupy your thoughts, play upon your emotions, make you yearn, force you to compete or rebel and provide you with reasons to grow and be more.

I learned the hard way the truth of the belief that difficult people contribute to your personal growth. Several years ago I became quite ill. I had a thriving career, was doing lots of travel, raising two young children without the help of childcare and effortlessly achieving every major goal I set myself. All went well until my husband and I decided to get life insurance. Well … the medical for life insurance resulted in me finding out I had some nasty stuff growing inside me that required surgery, time in hospital and a lengthy recuperation.

As I was lying in the hospital bed after the surgery – thinking about anything I could to take my mind off the pain … I started to think about life and what it had brought me so far. I focused upon the hardships and the difficult people that had come my way. I waded in self pity and thought about all the things that had happened to me and how unfair life had been. I did a really good job for a few days of digging a deep well of despair to wallow in.

And then as often happens in life’s darkest moments, the light went on. It struck me … that each one of those difficult people I had encountered in life had served me well:

  • The difficult first boss … the one who stole money out of the cash register and blamed it on me … he taught me the value of honesty, of watching what other people in your workplace are doing and having in place good procedures.
  • The partner I supported financially for years while he refused to contribute, taught me the value of good personal boundaries and that I didn’t need to do things for other people for them to like me/love me.
  • The person who abused me when I was a teenager gave me the drive and motivation to make my life better.
  • The boss from my early accounting career … the one who swore at people who made errors … taught me the value of checking things closely and being pedantic about making sure things are just so.
  • My boss from my lecturing days at University … the one who tackled a colleague in the hall outside my office, held her on the ground and wrote something rude in permanent marker on her forehead … taught me a lot about appropriate ways to treat people in the work place.
  • The friend who made up rumours about me … taught me the value of keeping my own counsel.
  • The friend who told me I wasn’t reliable and always cancelled out of engagements at the last minute … she brought a character defect to my attention. One I wasn’t proud of, but one I needed to change.

They were all people I had found difficult to have in my life. At the time they caused me distress. They caused me angst. They made me soul search. They made me grind my teeth and get angry … and … they all contributed to my personal growth and the strength of character I have today.

So to each one of these people who had been difficult in my life, I made the time to write a letter. I wrote each and every one of them a letter thanking them for the wonderful positive difference they had made in my life. I didn’t mention even once how difficult I had found dealing with them to be. I just thanked them and told them the wonderful positive things they had contributed to me and my character.

And the responses I got from them were amazing. It stunned me to know that some of them had been totally oblivious to the fact that I may have thought them difficult. Some of them were just very touched by what I had said and wished me all the best.

You could try it for yourself one day. The feeling of relief and release it gives you is amazing.

Difficult People Reflect Issues Back To You

Have you ever heard sayings like:

  • Life is your mirror
  • Life never gives back to you more than you give it
  • What you see is what you give

I have found over and over again that these sayings are true. Life comes with a warped sense of humour. I find that there are lessons I need to learn in this journey called life and that the way I seem to be nudged towards learning them is by having people who display the very traits I need to overcome step up and stand in my path.

These people show me a shadow side of myself that I need to acknowledge or a character trait I could consider healing. Once I see in that other (difficult) person what it is that is making them difficult … and locate it in myself … this type of difficult person seems to disappear from my life.

How about some examples:

  • The boss at the University who was very politically incorrect and quite abusive to female staff members. What did he show me? Well he showed me that I was quite abusive to my female side. I treated my male logic side with great respect, but walked all over my intuitive female side and didn’t treat it as though it was worth knowing at all.
  • I had a female colleague who continually harped on and on about the tragic things that kept happening in her life. She was such a pessimist that I used to run and hide whenever I saw her walking down the corridor. She showed me that although I wrapped it up with a dry and wry sense of humour that I had a similar pessimistic attitude. I changed my attitude, she took a job elsewhere and I now have only positive people in my life.
  • In a particularly funny example, I found myself sitting on the train next to two gentlemen who were on their way to the Magistrate’s Court for an assault charge (Man #2). The conversation I overheard went like this:
    • Man #1: I bet ya a bucket of beer a fortnight ya won’t go to jail.
    • Man #2: Naaa, reckon I will.
    • Man #1: No, I bet you a bucket of beer a fortnight you’ll just get a slap on the wrist and a fine.
    • Man #2: I dunno mate I’m worried. I reckon I might ‘go away’ (to jail) this time. I’ll leave me wallet with ya in case I do.
    • Man #1: What’s the worry mate? If you go away, it won’t be the first time and it sure won’t be the last. You know the drill. But I bet you a bucket of beer a fortnight that won’t happen.
    • Man #2: You know mate I hope you’re right, but I won’t bet you. A person has to draw the line somewhere and I draw the line at gambling. I might bash people, but I don’t gamble.

By this point I was biting the inside of my cheek to stop myself from laughing. I knew that what this difficult man had just shown me was an incongruity in one set of my beliefs.

Every time I run into a difficult person I ask myself what reflection I am meant to take from their behaviour. It is a challenging, but ultimately helpful way to view the difficult people who appear in your life.

Difficult People Are To Be honoured

Only those souls who love us the most are prepared to help us learn our truly mammoth lessons and endure our negative response while we do. When I finally understood this concept, it changed the way I saw those people who had taught me the harshest of life’s lessons. Those people who hurt me the most, I realized were among my greatest teachers and I became grateful to them and the lessons they helped me learn. I had to honour the role they played in the person I had become.

The next time you encounter a difficult person, see if you can:

  • Remove yourself from the drama of the difficult situation; and
  • See the person and the situation in a very different light.


Learn what you can, smile at the lesson and move forward with life.