4 Tips for Dealing with Difficult People in Your Life

Napkin with ideas to resolve conflict.

I have some difficult people in my life, and I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. Family members who call too often, friends who want to see you more often than you want to see them, co-workers who leave you dreaming of a new life with a new job.

If you’re going through mesothelioma, it seems to me that this reality may create even more chaos in your life. Maybe your in-laws take such good care of you that you feel like you can’t breathe. Maybe an overbearing neighbor always seems to be knocking at your door. Or maybe you’re just having a bad week. Even medical staff and overprotective caregivers can get on your last nerve sometimes.

I’ve always had difficult people in my life. Some — like family members — bring issues year after year, creating a horrible cycle of insanity. It seems like every holiday creates yet another period of difficulty. Other people are with me just for a short time, yet still leave me feeling exasperated.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve learned a few important lessons on how to function even with these people in my life. I hope the lessons I’ve learned will help you, as you journey forward.

Take a Step Back

About six weeks ago, I was at my wits’ end with some family members. I couldn’t stop thinking about the craziness — too many phone calls, too many emails, too many text messages. I needed a solution, and I needed one right away.

I was at lunch with a friend and mentor, and she provided a simple yet genius solution: “Why don’t you take a break from them?” she asked. I was intrigued by the idea and asked her what she meant. She suggested I email these family members and let them know how I was feeling (overwhelmed) and tell them that I would not be responding to their communications as quickly as I normally did.

I went straight home, drafted an email and sent it to my friend to approve. In the email, I went one step further than she had suggested. I requested all communication be via email for a while.

Whatever it is that is leaving you frustrated with the relationships in your life, it may be time to take a step back. This may mean limiting communications, taking a weekend trip out of town, or reworking your regular schedule to include some alone time.

If setting boundaries is new to you, check out the book “Boundaries” by John Townsend. It definitely changed my approach to relationships, and I think it could help you too.

Live Your Life

After sending the email to my family, I didn’t hear anything (by email or any other avenue) for a couple weeks. At first I was a bit miffed that they were choosing not to communicate at all, when all I had asked for was email communication. But then I realized that I had made my bed, and I needed to sleep in it.

I suddenly felt quite free to live my life as I wanted to live it instead of always focusing on how my family was communicating (or not) and how they were feeling about my communication. I have made more of an effort to schedule activities with my friends, and I’m looking into adopting a dog after I lost my sweet Joey last year.

Show Humility

In addition to difficult family situations, I have a co-worker who has left me feeling frustrated beyond belief — and in tears — on many occasions. I finally made an appointment to go in to see my counselor to discuss the situation. (I used to see him regularly, but now I just go in when I need to.)

He had a bold, yet simple solution: Apologize and show humility. He quoted Philippians 2:3 to me: “In humility value others above yourselves.” Suffice it to say, I was not happy with his advice. And yet, the next week, I did apologize to my co-worker for failing to show her the respect she deserved as my supervisor. It did wonders for our relationship.

Then, I saw a quote on Facebook that reaffirmed my counselor’s wisdom. It read: “Humility is the shortest distance between you and another person.” That stopped me dead in my tracks. I knew that I needed to continue to show humility in the relationship with my co-worker.

Reach Out When You’re Ready

As Memorial Day approached this year, I emailed my family (who are local) to try to see them on the holiday. Several days passed without a response, so I decided to send a text to follow up. I ended up seeing just one of them on the holiday, and that was not without more difficult conversations.

I’m not sure if or when I will feel comfortable resuming text messaging or phone calls with my family members, but I think you’ll know when it’s time to reach out to the difficult people in your life. Maybe schedule coffee or brunch as a point of reconnection. I find that having difficult conversations can be easier at a restaurant (and not in a family member’s kitchen).

It’s important to remember that taking a step back does not mean never stepping forward again. It just means you need some time to refresh and recharge.

I’m not sure how your relationships are going these days, but I’m guessing that you have at least one difficult person in your life. Maybe it’s time to take a step back, live your life, show humility or reach out. Be brave enough to take the next step toward a healthier future.


Jennifer Mia has been writing and editing for more than 15 years. She has worked for newspapers, magazines and online publications. When she was in college, she lost a brother to cancer, and now she writes blogs for The Mesothelioma Center. Jennifer hopes that her writing brings some small amount of hope and healing to the many men and women who are forced to deal with this horrible cancer.

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