Do We Really Need Difficult People in Our Lives?

The world is full of difficult people, so much so that an Amazon search will bring up 139,538 results just from typing “difficult people” as a search in the Books category. That’s as of right this second. By tomorrow, that count will probably be something entirely different.

“Difficult” is probably “anyone who doesn’t agree with us,” whether for political, religious or work-related reasons! Or for no reason at all. They’re just disagreeable and sadly, can’t see any beauty, any joy, anything worthwhile in life outside of those things in our nation that we do have to worry about. The dictionary definition of “difficult” includes: hard to deal with, manage, or overcome. It also adds other uses of the term.

Some people exited the womb with a crappy attitude and kept it. And no, it probably isn’t the mother’s fault, not unless she was a drug addict or drank even a small amount of alcohol during the first trimester of carrying the child. (And today everything is an illness, not an addiction, but I won’t get into that argument.)

In any event, everyone blames the mother when a child turns out to have behavioral problems, and we need to stop doing that. Outside of genuine, not newly invented, mental illness, we choose the way we act and the words we speak, even when we are reacting to someone else’s bad influence because we haven’t yet had the chance to learn any other way of being, or we elected not to change ourselves when classes were presented.

A child brings inherited traits from his or her family lines, not just eye and hair color, stature and personality, but talents, too. And according to the poet William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), a child comes into this world trailing clouds of glory (beginning at line 59 of his joyous Ode to Immortality), which is as wonderful a heritage as any human can have, no matter the culture he or she is born into. And then something happens to us after we hit this mortal realm – the influence of the people around us. As the boy becomes a man, and the girl, a woman, they start acting the way the people around them act.

At first we scream and cry when we want something or are in pain or soaking wet. Most of the time, but not always, someone else comes to our aid and our needs are met. As we get a year or two older, we are expected to start reaching for what we want ourselves, not to mention repeatedly grabbing for things that would harm us and getting our hands smacked for it at any age.

There are many different personalities just among those we know, and some unfortunate individuals never get past expecting the world to wait on them hand and foot. They would like everything handed to them on a silver platter, instead of taking advantage of education to better themselves. Communities can provide people with the opportunity to learn.

What a waste of human potential when we don’t stretch and learn new things, when we don’t really want to be independent, to the extent our mortal bodies and minds will let us. But families are also responsible for encouraging their kids’ dreams, instead of ripping them to shreds. A child should never have to hear: “Ain’t nobody in our fam’ly ever went to college. Where you gettin’ them fancy ideas?” Can you hear the inferiority complex shining through? Where is the love for the child? Where is the pride that he wants to make something of himself instead of turning into a lazy good-for-nothing?

Everyone is different. Endless iterations of personality tests exist but the basic personalities are: sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholy and choleric:

  • Sanguine – friendly, chatty, popular and scatterbrained – an exhausting party waiting to happen
  • Phlegmatic – relaxed, diplomatic, a good mediator, just wants peace — please
  • Melancholy – a thinker, loves details, sometimes paralyzed by over-analysis, dislikes change
  • Choleric – dominant, decisive, arrogant, impatient, often rude but can get things done

Most of us fall into one of the above categories and have at least a dash of a second, making it a challenge for others to read us. Yet you can guess which personality makes for the most difficult people in our lives?! Yup, choleric.

However, the other personalities can get on our nerves almost as often. How many times have we said, sometimes within earshot of the person, “Would you just chill out?!” or “Make a decision for crying out loud!” or “Do you even care?!”

When you consider the different members of a team at work or in a volunteer situation, each brings his or her own strengths and a weakness or two. But heaven forbid they should all be the same personality, be difficult in the same manner, or all want to be in charge. Daily migraine headaches would be on their way, and for some of us, that’s just about what we’re dealing with in at least one area of our lives: men who hate women, black-and-white thinkers, women who betray other women instead of supporting them, relatives who refuse to be happy at a family member’s success, or anyone who can’t handle their own supposed authority.

The life mission of some people is to make everyone else miserable, often without realizing just how miserable they themselves are. We can’t change them. We can only change the way we react to them, and sometimes, that means walking away if our own sanity and/or safety is at stake. It may mean hiking out of an abusive relationship or leaving a heavy-handed corporate culture that is never going to change.

As Reinhold Niebuhr (1892–1971) entreated in his Serenity Prayer: “Lord, grant me the wisdom to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

As much as most of us dislike dealing with difficult people and can resent being told how to deal with them (which too often boils down to ignoring their tantrums, humoring them, or letting them have their own way), the world would be a more difficult place if everyone were the same. One author has expressed some excellent solutions for dealing with those who don’t fit our mindset or our lifestyle: People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them The Keys.

A difficult person is anyone who stresses us out. Are we going to change the way we react to them or avoid them altogether? Just loving them isn’t always a practical approach to take, so the solution will be different for each one of us.


Disclaimer: My blog posts are statements of opinion only. I am not in the business of giving financial, legal, medical or any other type of advice. See Terms of Use and Disclaimer for further disclaimers.

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