Difficult People Make for Hard Times: 5 Keys to Managing the Stress of Challenging Relationships

We all have them; those people in our lives that seem to stress us out all the time.  Bosses, partners, spouses, family, co-workers, look around and you’ll find one.  They seem to be energy magnets; whatever energy we have is pulled into the “black hole” of our connection with them!

The stress can make it hard for us to remember that any relationship is a connection between 2 people.  As adults, we have a tremendous amount of say in what does or does not happen in any situation we are in, provided we remember that we can make choices.

So here are 5 keys to help you manage the stress of difficult relationships.

(1) Power perceived is power achieved!

As kids we had virtually no power over what happened in our world.  To navigate this reality, especially when bad things might or did happen, we learned strategies known as “defenses” or “coping mechanisms” to deal with the situation. 

These could be behaviors such as not saying what we want, how we feel, what we like or don’t like, making excuses for bad or inappropriate behavior, or denying that anything bad is happening.  These patterns of behavior tend to return when we are under stress in relationships.

In other words, we need to be aware that in stressful relationships even though we think the adult us is running the show, the kid and his old fears and way of surviving may be driving our perceptions and actions.

So, the first step is to claim your power.  As an adult, no one has power over you unless you give it too them.  You can think what you want, believe what you want, say what you want, and most likely do what you want as long as it’s legal, and no one has the power to change that!

Now I’m not advocating anarchy, hear me clearly, but I am suggesting we can give away our choice and power to people who remind us of people from our past.  Once that happens, it’s likely we’ll resort to our old defenses and get disempowered results.

But if we see people as they actually are (and not who they remind us of from our childhoods) we can summon all our adult experience to deal with the situation.  Saying to a parent “that’s inappropriate” may have had dire consequences as a kid, but it’s something we can and need to say when another adult is behaving in that manner.

(2)  Know your own “relationship story.”

Our nervous systems crave predictability because it helps us to feel safe. New and different relationships, even if positive, can feel frightening and dangerous.  As the old saying goes, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”  These predictable choices, however, are often made outside of our conscious awareness.

So we will tend to choose relationships that are familiar because they remind us of what we know both about ourselves and others.  As an adult, we are almost always choosing the relationships we have in our life, as opposed to them choosing us. 

To help yourself to bring it into your conscious awareness what you’ve been trained to choose, review your own story of who you are in relationships.  A simple way to do this is to ask yourself these 4 questions:

          Growing up, who was I supposed to be and who taught me that?

          How was that type of person supposed to behave in relationships?

          What would happen to that person if they didn’t behave that way?

          Am I still that person, or do I even want to be that person?

The more you know your patterns, and that you are choosing to repeat them, the more you are able to say “Thanks, but no thanks.  I’ve seen this movie.”

(3)  I am responsible for my own healing, and other people are responsible for theirs.

Relationships are about connection and connections have boundaries.  Stress arises in relationships because we are doing too much or too little and the imbalance is affecting us negatively.

So each of us is, at a minimum, required to care for ourselves and be the guardians of our own wellness.  If I’m trying to change someone else they aren’t the problem; I’m the problem. 

I have to look into why I need you to be different and what I’m going to have to deal with if you’re not. 

I need to discover why I fear your response if I tell you I don’t appreciate how you treat me. 

I need to know what gets in the way of my saying “No” when I want to. 

I need to discover why, when you attack me, blame me, ridicule me, judge me, or try to control me, I can’t simply give a name to what you are doing and ask you why you are doing it.

I need to know why it’s okay for you to tell me who I am, what I can be, how I feel, what I can and cannot do, and on what stone tablet that has been etched!

Sensing a theme here?

Simply put, the more you know what is okay or not okay for you, the better able you are to spend energy on relationships that empower you, and not the ones that suck the energy from you!  In any relationship, we need to focus on the thing we can most influence and change, US!

(4)  Don’t invite the vampire in!

One of the great aspects of the old vampire legends was their recognition of human agency in the problems that arise in our lives. 

Vampires, as we all know, will suck the life out of us given the chance.  One caveat, we are totally safe at home UNLESS, OF COURSE WE INVITE THE VAMPIRE IN!

The most stressful relationships are often with “emotional vampires.”  If you feel a relationship is pulling all your energy, that you are giving too much and your partner is giving too little, that imbalance may be a sign that you’ve invited the vampire in!

If so, distance, either physical or emotional, may be in order.  The time to decide what you will share or not share with a vampire, however, is best determined before they are knocking at your door. 

Do an emotional and energetic inventory of any stressful relationship you are in and if you feel the pull of imbalance, set limits, draw lines, and close the energetic door on the vampire before they get in your kitchen!

(5)  The line is drawn at abuse!!!

Abusive relationships aren’t about connection; they are about predator and prey!  No matter what you think, hope for or feel, an abuser needs to dealt with simply and quickly by GETTING THEM GONE!

Nothing justifies anyone engaging in physical, emotional, or psychological abuse ever.  If a person with these issues wants to change, they will go and get qualified professional help, but it’s not your job to love them to wellness.

The greatest drain of energy can often be found in those who try to save abusers.  Abusers only want to act out their pain or need to control on others, and unless they want to change, nothing can or will change them.

Enough said.

The road to a healthy relationship with others ultimately rests on our focusing on the most important relationship we will ever have, the one we have with ourselves. 

I invite you to explore that relationship and wish you all the best on that journey.

 

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