Dealing with difficult situations (and people)…


Sometimes life is challenging. To quote, with a few substitutions, a popular phrase of the 80’s… stuff and people happen. But have you noticed that despite all of this stuff and people happening, some people seem to move through life effortlessly, while others move through it as if they are climbing Mt Everest without the right equipment? I propose that both groups are subject to the same challenges, and the difference between the two groups is the way they respond to life’s challenges.

Making life easier…

So how do some people respond to life’s challenges, including difficult people, to make life easier for themselves and others? Here are a couple of ways…

1. Accept the challenges, don’t deny or fight them. One of the best ways to get a skull fracture, or at least a really bad headache, is to bash your head against a brick wall. Most people do not want either. So why do many people do exactly that when it comes to facing life’s challenges? Perhaps its confidence, or deep seated resentment stemming from past events, or maybe we just don’t know any better? Bottom line, we can make our lives, and the lives of those around us, much easier if we simply accept and take responsibility for meeting the challenges life sends our way. No amount of anger or denial will resolve most challenges. The quicker we can accept our situation the quicker we can work to change it for the better.

2. Automatic self-soothing. People who seemingly coast through life tend to be able to automatically sooth, or calm, themselves in the face of conflict or adversity. This is a behavior that can be learned, and can ultimately become automatic, in even those of us who tend to be a little more reactive. Using techniques such as meditation to calm the mind, breathing to relax in tense situations, recognizing when we start to get worked up, journaling to log “hot thoughts” (cognitive distortions), and even regular exercise and good dietary habits can all make a difference in anxiety levels and reactivity.

3. Assume a 3rd party perspective. People who personalize situations and problems have much higher stress and anxiety levels than those who don’t. They are also much less effective at navigating life’s problems as they are generally more easily overcome by emotions… in other words, they are more reactive and emotional, and less able to think through and resolve issues rationally and calmly. It is sometimes useful to disassociate from the event or problem, viewing it from a 3rd party perspective. In this way the situation may become less threatening, and you may be able to deflect some of the negative energy and avoid the tendency to take the situation personally. With practice you will get better at viewing problems from an objective third party perspective, and will become more effective at navigating life’s challenges.

4. Don’t confuse the problem with the person. Barring truly natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, etc., most of life’s problems are caused by people. These problems can be physical (car wrecks), interpersonal (you just don’t like him), or some kind of disagreement. When a person, including yourself, is the culprit you must separate the problem/opinion/situation from the person. The two are never the same, even when the person is acting like an ass. All people have inherent value, and good as well as bad qualities. Thus, if we can look at the person as having value as a human being, and focus on their good qualities, we can minimize the complexity of the problem. When we lump the two together we complicate the problem enormously by allowing interpersonal conflict and distorted thinking to enter the equation.

Learning to respond differently to life’s challenges is difficult and sometimes demoralizing. However, with concerted effort and some tenacity anybody can do so. And the payoffs are huge: better problem solving skills, improved adaptability, improved relationships, greater peace of mind and confidence, and much less stress. In short, life becomes more enjoyable.

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