When the Difficult Person is You


The one constant in life is change. This may seem like an oxymoron, but time doesn’t stand still or work in reverse, no matter how much we might like it to sometimes. As a result, we continually have to adjust to a “new normal.”

Sometimes this adjustment is overwhelmingly, such as a death of someone close to us, a medical diagnosis or a broken or breaking relationship. Other times the adjustment is moderate, such as moving, a career change, or a newly emptied nest. Many times the adjustments we make to a “new normal” are small, maybe so small that you don’t even notice you are moving to a “new normal” because it happens slowly, over time. For example, sitting on the couch to unwind (or going to the gym to unwind), heating up whatever is in the freezer for dinner (stocking your pantry with healthy food for the week), or when you make a habit of working late (respecting your personal boundary between work and family time). These changes are small daily decisions that we don’t always think about until they are a well-established.

stone with "grace" written upon itI thought I was “doing my best” to make good, healthy choices and to make those daily choices habits. However, I was “busier than normal” with work and family obligations, I continued to hold the same expectations of myself: I gave myself no grace.  I wasn’t willing to sacrifice family time or dedication to my work projects quality. I should have given myself some grace, but I didn’t. Instead, I was burning the candle at both ends because I felt I had no choice, after all, everything needed to get done ... right?

Needless to say, I was working late almost all the time, watching TV to unwind, not getting enough sleep or exercise, etc., etc. While I promoted and talked with people about the importance of self-care and different ways to incorporate it into your life (as I “used to do”) I was definitely not being a good model for self-care; but, I had a good reason right? There was so much to do, and I wanted to get it  all done! I justified the difference between my beliefs/values and my actions (AKA cognitive dissonance) because I was working to help others. As I write this, I imagine that I am not the only one who has done this, or is currently doing this. For me, THIS was the point in my personal journey where I was stepping in my own way and being my own most difficult person.

OwlThen I was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. That turned everything on its head and changed my perspective on everything. All of a sudden I acknowledged my justifications and realized that they didn’t matter anymore, never really did. I finally “saw” my own cognitive dissonance and since then, have worked hard to realign my actions with my core values and beliefs using the same mindful choices, stress management techniques, the Five- Step Response Process I have taught and encouraged in others.

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have really “seen” this without something that shook me to my core and that scares me. I hope others will be able to really look inside to find their inner difficult person without such a life changer. So many of us want to achieve X, Y, or Z (ie: eat better, exercise more, maintain firmer boundaries) but have trouble achieving it; I believe that is because our inner difficult person has gotten in our own way. I am writing about my experience of recognizing my own inner difficult person now for multiple reasons:

  1. We are talking about Difficult People this month
  2. I believe we can be our own difficult person and I want to help others find and recognize their own inner “difficult person” so they can heal and move forward. Without awareness, there can be no change.
  3. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month to boot -- seemed like a good fit.
Unlike the difficult people we tend to see in the church, it can be hard for us (not necessarily so hard for those around us) to identify the difficult person within us. We can get defensive if others try to point it out to us which does nothing to keep that relationship healthy. Many of us in the helping professions (clergy, counselor, nurse, etc.) feel more comfortable putting other people's’ comfort and well being before our own which creates or reinforces our existing inner difficult person.

Acknowledgment is the first step toward change. If we deny something, we are blind to it and its consequences. We can’t take steps to improve the quality of our own lives if we deny the issue. It is equally important to acknowledge our inner difficult person without shame or guilt so we will be able to move toward healthier choices that quiet our inner change resistor, critic, or other type of difficult persona within us.