Gain Your Freedom with Six Surprising Tools

Doris Helge, Ph.D. © 2012


Are you tormented by the behaviors of a “difficult person?” Over time, this situation can lower your self-esteem. If the difficult person is in your personal life, your frustration can escalate until you feel out of control. If the challenging person is in your work life, your discouragement can contribute to unhappiness, ineffectiveness and even burnout if you don’t know what to do.

Below are some of my favorite tools for calming confusion and frustration when you’re interacting with a difficult person. Notice how each tip forms a foundation for the next. You’ll regain control of your life and enjoy a bold new level of joy, success and confidence.

Human Mirror 101

Other people serve as human mirrors for characteristics we’re either unwilling or unable to perceive about ourselves. Some mirrors are easy to perceive. For example, when I’m procrastinating because I’m not fully committed to a goal or I feel inadequate, the people around me reflect my lack of follow-through back to me. They’re indecisive, unresponsive or late. Then I have choices. I can become angry, feel like a victim and blame them for my unhappiness. This is self-sabotage. It drains my energy. I feel powerless. Ouch!

Another choice is to look inside the mirror they’re providing me, clean up my act and be grateful for the service they’ve provided me. When I make this choice, I clarify my commitment to my goal. If I’m sure I want to achieve it, I secure the resources I need, boost my confidence and take steps to follow through. As if by magic, a different human mirror appears. Now the people around me are more responsive, clear and productive. Occasionally, their behavior doesn’t change but that’s not a problem because I’ve owned my personal power and I’m going forward. If I need a service they provide and it’s not available through them, I mentally thank them for the helpful mirror they provided and discover another way to meet my need.

Understanding Human Mirror 101 provides immense clarity and peace of mind. When other people’s anger or impatience irritates me, I look inside to see where I’m hiding from my own anger or impatience. “Irritates” is the key word in that last sentence. If I’m not also angry or impatient, their angst and ire don’t bother me because it’s not my issue. I just notice their emotional state with compassion or neutrality, like an unbiased referee who notices a ball player’s anger but doesn’t take it personally.

Progressive Mirrors

Sometimes the human mirror we see isn’t clear. It’s like a mirror in an amusement park that distorts a true image. When I don’t perceive an accurate mirror of my current life, I check to see if the other person is providing a “benchmark mirror.” This means they’re reflecting a challenge I’ve overcome instead of being a mirror of where I am today.

In that case, my frustration vanishes as soon as I observe their situation with detached compassion. Since I previously faced a similar challenge, I’m intuitive about the best way to help them face their issue . . . if they choose to . . . and if they want assistance.

You can easily prove the “progressive mirror” concept to yourself. Begin by noticing how often most of the people in your life make significant strides forward when you’re rapidly growing.

Impatience, Control and Trust Mirrors

Another enlightening experience when we live or work with so-called “difficult people” is to remember they are always a gift in disguise. All of us have an ego, so it’s tough to think of a difficult person as a gift when we’re upset. What works for me is to ask myself a question with a sincere hunger for knowledge. To distract my ego, I pretend that I’m an alien visiting Earth for the first time observing a human and ask myself questions like:

  • What’s really going on here?
  • Which person has the issue?
  • What do both of these people need?
  • What is each person’s positive intention?

If the issue wasn’t at least partly mine or if I hadn’t co-created the situation, I’d be observing the scenario with pure curiosity, like a visiting alien. I’d have no attachment to any outcome. I wouldn’t feel frustrated, afraid, angry or disappointed. When I’m impatient with someone else, it’s a dead giveaway that I’m attempting to control the outcome. I’m trying to feel righteous, prove my point or be right. This is a lose-lose trap, which always creates pain. I’ve forgotten to trust the inherent magic of the process of life.

Next time you’re tempted to feel frustrated because someone seems resistant to your idea or a positive change, consider the possibility that this is evidence that the situation is unfolding perfectly. Instead of exhausting yourself with unproductive frustration, enjoy experimenting with a creative new approach to your interactions. You’ll also find it helpful to enjoy a compassionate cool-down break so you can gain a fresh new perspective.

Remember Where You End and the Other Person Begins

We can be totally unaware when our behavior affects someone else like the sound of fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. We irritate other people when we expect them to change. Other people are always in charge of their own lives. If they choose to cling to a behavior, belief or action that we don’t think is serving them, that’s their choice.

All of us are sometimes “stuck.” Profound wisdom and growth are always hidden in our darkest nights, patiently awaiting our discovery. When we’re patient, most people eventually express their appreciation

Here’s an example of what hundreds of clients have told me over the years when they commented about the value of patience during their coaching process, “The last part of emerging from my dark funnel of self-discovery produced my greatest Aha. If I’d embarked on a new path any sooner, I would have cheated myself out of the last hidden nuggets of gold that I didn’t discover until I sank to the bottom of the bottom. Once I did that, I was finally ready to walk away from what wasn’t working . . . forever! Now I don’t have to repeat the same negative experience over and over again.”

Strengthen Your Sense of Self

Maintaining clear boundaries helps you easily perceive what feelings, thoughts and expectations are yours and which belong to the other person. When we’re grounded in a strong sense of self, we accept our limits with joy and relief. Any unrealistic (egoistic) pressure to change, “fix” or “save” other people disappears.

You’ll intuitively know when to use compassionate confrontation and when to enjoy floating on gentle waves of patience. Your relationship confidence and your trust about how you interact with so-called difficult people will soar when you observe the other person’s process with detachment instead of harsh judgment. You’ll breathe a big sigh of relief when you let go of the pain we inflict on ourselves when we’re angry and frustrated by a situation we can’t control.

Enjoy the Rewards of Confidence, Trust and Wonder

When other people are ready to change, they do so with enthusiasm and conviction. Their clarity, focus and passion elevate their confidence and success. Our job is to hold the space for positive change by being 100 percent present. All we have to do is notice the clues they convey with their words, body language and energy. Then we communicate in ways that connect instead of alienate.

We give ourselves freedom when we’re crystal clear about our genuine goal. No matter how angry or frustrated we are sometimes, we truly want to engage in powerful partnerships with other humans instead of organizing combat zones or struggling to gain the upper hand. With this pure win-win motive, we effortlessly allow other people to educate us about how we can most easily interact with them.

In the perfect way at the perfect time, other people change in positive ways when we understand the hidden gifts wrapped in packages covered by prickly paper. I’m continuously in awe about how flawlessly life unfolds when I encourage my ego to take a nap so I can become curious and trust the process of life.


© 2012. Excerpted with permission from the #1 Bestselling book, “Joy on the Job” by Doris Helge, Ph.D. With over 20 years of experience, award-winning, Certified Master Coach Dr. Doris, has a proven track record of helping people like you enjoy meaningful work and relationships, including powerful personal and professional partnerships. Enjoy life-changing teleclasses and videos at http://CoachingByDoris.com/videos. Download your free ebooks and see client testimonials at www.FreeJoyEbooks.com. You may reprint this article as long as it remains intact and proper attribution is given.

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