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Dealing With Very Difficult People While They are Triggering You

Little Intro

In this eclectic article I’m going to talk about dealing with people who are very difficult and at the same time pushing on our sore spots emotionally. I don’t mean the people who accidentally step on our toes (once again emotionally speaking!), but the people who seem intent on getting a rise out of us, or staying entangled in some kind of weird dynamic, or power struggle with us. You can absolutely use some of the following exercises for people who are essentially benign and are just tripping over our triggers now and then by accident.

But if you have someone who is being an absolute nightmare right now, perpetuating a situation or conflict that absolutely does not need to be as difficult as it is, I hope that this will help. Because your situation is exactly what I had in mind while writing. OK, here we go!

Dealing With Difficult People When it Hurts

This is very not fun. You got hurt in the past and now, almost as if the world is poking the wound, it has come back around with a new version of exactly the same thing. 

‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Is a common reaction.

It makes sense. It’s not fair that we can go through life trying to do good, but bad things and people with bad motivations still pop up out of nowhere. 

But we need to shift the paradigm. 

What if the world isn’t trying to hurt or diminish us at all?

What if it keeps coming back with opportunities for us to revisit our wound and heal ourselves stronger? To know ourselves better? To finally move on.

I am currently dealing with a situation like this, so for me it is the perfect time to write about it. In fact, I usually try to write about issues when I am in the midst of them, because then I can truly empathise with you and everyone going through it, in a way that is embodied. A lived experience, rather than just something I know about. 

A quick note from me

Firstly I want to remind you, as always, do get help from a trained professional such as a therapist if you are suffering or affected by these issues. 

And secondly (but not less importantly), I want to say that I’m sorry you’re experiencing this. 

Adding Injury to Injury: A Rare Opportunity?

To have been wounded in the first place, perhaps when you were even quite young, is hard and it’s painful. To have that wound circle back over and over again like some kind of hungry shark can feel even worse sometimes. Like its personal.

And I think it is personal. But not in a malicious way. I believe if the universe thinks you’re strong enough and that you deserve better, it will keep offering you opportunities to step up into a more powerful and real expression of yourself and out of the lingering pain of that wound. 

So, a difficult situation with someone who is triggering you can be an amazing opportunity, even though it is also so hard. 

It’s important to note that even though we may carry a wound, we don’t need to accept any responsibility for other people’s bad behaviour. We can use it to our own advantage, however, to grow as a person and to heal.

Designer Brands Of Pain

It’s also useful to think about the fact that while other people may act badly, their behaviour may roll off our backs and we may either barely notice it or recover very quickly, if we don’t have the wound that matches it.

While those people who are acting out and looking (unconsciously) to tap into our specific brand of pain, can do things that feel exquisitely painful to us.

If you are a match then they will tend to linger in your life until you have healed that wound enough to stop accepting that kind of pain. At that point, they typically no longer get any release or satisfaction from the dynamic and may even let go of their own accord.  

Pointers, Perspectives and Exercises

The difficult thing with these situations is the amount of stuff going on behind the scenes. The invisible stuff that makes a dynamic – most of it unspoken and unconscious. 

So I want to talk about a few pointers you can use to get some perspective on a difficult situation like this, as well as some tips for dealing with it. 

  1. Try and Identify the Wound 

If someone’s actions or words are hurting, although it could just be about the current situation, if it feels very strong then they may be triggering an old wound. Bear in mind you may need to get support from a therapist as you work with this, because it may be very sensitive and/ or be affecting a much younger part of you.

The phrase “if it’s hysterical, it’s historical” is kind of useful and catchy enough to remember, if patronising – I don’t think you’re hysterical! But, if your reactions are stronger than seems warranted for the behaviour, that’s a strong sign you have an existing sore spot they may be pressing on. 


  1. Try to remember the first time you felt the way this person/ situation is making you feel. Try writing down all of your feelings about that old situation or emotion, and how it made you feel about yourself. Be kind to yourself as you do this, take time out if needed, and practice self-compassion. Self-blame has no place in this exercise. 
  2. Now write down your feelings about the current situation and how it is making you feel about yourself.
  3. OK, now you have those two lists, find the similarities common to both.
  4. You can draw this out as a Venn diagram if it helps, one circle being your feelings from the past (from #1), the second circle being the recent situation (#2) and the overlapping section containing the similarities (#3). These can include similar dynamics, feelings, actions, gestures, responses from you, even vocabulary used by the other person or yourself.

2. Take a moment to Breathe

It’s important to be kind to yourself when you uncover these deeper emotions. So take a moment with the following exercise. 


Put your hands on your heart and say these phrases in your mind or aloud in your own time: 

“I am safe and I am loved.

I am worthy of love and respect.

I am not to blame for others’ actions.

My worth remains high, no matter how I am treated

I am whole and worthy of love.”

3. Imagine What a Mentor Would Do

This does not have to be someone you know in real life, or even a real person. Just pick someone you look up to. Like Judi Dench, the Black Panther, Marlon Brando – whoever you feel a strong respect for. OK, now you have your person in mind, try this quick exercise:


Imagine your ideal mentor in this exact situation. With an open mind and taking your time on each question, wonder:

  1. How would they respond? 
  2. What would they say? 
  3. And how do you think they would feel? 

This is a very useful exercise because it tells you not only how you want to be in the situation: it tells you more about who you actually are deep down. If there is a strength you admire in your mentor you may not have fully embodied or owned it yet, but it’s in there. Congratulations!

4. Identify What the Difficult Person is Trying to Get/ Get Rid Of (and What is Hurting You)

Our weak spot is our wound, the ‘difficult person’s’ MO is whatever emotion they are trying to put on us or get from us. For example, if someone can’t deal with their own anger they may be impossible to work with until we feel that anger and express it for them. Or if, as very commonly happens, they are in pain and can’t bear to feel it, they will act in a way that hurts us, putting their pain on us instead.

I had a realisation of another key aspect of this dynamic, while reading an amazing book called Group by Christie Tate. In it her therapist says that when you keep a secret for someone else, you’re agreeing to hold their shame. I realised this may be crucial to the kind of poor behaviour we might experience from others, beyond an unconscious channelling of their pain into us or trying to elicit specific emotional responses. Because shame is a very specific, sticky, uncomfortable emotion – difficult to hold and difficult to let go of. Even if the difficult person is not asking you to keep a secret, they may be trying to alleviate their own feelings of shame.

So there are a wide range of things the other person may be asking us (unconsciously) to hold or to supply, from emotions such as anger or joy, to… forces (? there may be a better term for these) such as love, attention or pain. It is great to be open-minded while considering what the relevant one(s) in your situation might be.

(And the ‘difficult person’ most likely has their own wound they are trying to distract from or satisfy. But that is none of our business, because that is their issue to deal with, not ours to try to fix (a common way we might try to avoid addressing our own discomfort, or avoid acknowledging our value).) 

I believe symptoms of holding others’ pain may include: agitation, confusion, excessive problem-solving about the situation, self-blame and thinking about that person too much. And symptoms of holding others’ shame may include all of those and also: feeling like the connection between you is “icky”, you feel bogged-down or ‘gross’, and that the issue is starting to affect how you feel about yourself, for example: lowering your self-esteem or ability to listen to your instincts. 

So, try this short exercise:


  1.  Wonder with an open mind, what the main emotion or specific dynamic behind the scenes is.
  2. When you have one or a couple, say to yourself:
    • “This [the specific emotion or dynamic] is not mine to hold. It has nothing to do with me.”
  3. Picture it leaving your body, and also your, and the other person’s, emotions separating. 
  4. Take a deep breath and let your shoulders drop a couple of times. 
  5. Then pick out a pleasurable and healthy thing to do to nurture yourself today. A walk, a smoothie, massaging your shoulders – whatever it is, try to enjoy shifting your focus back to yourself and your life in an empowered and embodied way.

5. Get the Care You Need

Although this situation has been a great prompt, it is powerful to keep your attention on yourself, your healing. In fact, shifting your focus back from the other person to yourself is the ultimate success. Because, although you may never get the apology or vindication or even just clarity you want, the point is always you and how you feel about yourself.

So, try this open-ended exercise for considering your healthiest next steps. 

  1. Call to mind the nature of the hurt you are carrying, with a gentle and open mind set (avoid getting into specifics or the “story”)
  2. With a curious and open mind, wonder – what is the best way forward for myself? Is it therapy, massage, more socialising, speaking more openly to my friends, setting up healthier boundaries, or other? This next step could be anything as long as it is healthy and feels right for you. 


I hope you enjoyed this simultaneously long and way-too-short-to-cover-everything article. It occurs to me we have not covered the practical aspect of dealing with difficult people, so I may revisit this topic with a second part next week. And if you’re struggling with a situation like this, you may also benefit from reading Part One and Part Two of my article on dealing with narcissists. 

I hope you’re doing OK with everything, feeling healthy, happy and whole. 

As always, take care! 


PS If you want to check it out, this is the Group book (it’s an affiliate link btw).

hugging unrecognizable group of people in spacious arena

Integration: Bringing Our Whole Self Together

Integration means the ‘unification of parts into a totality’ (APA dictionary of psychology). In this context, I am using it to mean both: 

  1. integrating new information into our whole selves and 
  2. the integration of parts of our Self that have been disconnected to some degree, into the rest of our whole Self. 

And it’s a big topic. Huge in fact. 

Before we start, I need to give this disclaimer: that you should work with a trained therapist if you need to. Also, I mention different kinds of therapy in this article, if you try them please note I can’t take responsibility for the quality or practice of any other therapist or practitioner, so please do your due diligence and involve your therapist and/or doctor in your choice. 

OK, with that said, let’s begin. 

We all have many different working parts that make us, us. Our body and physicality, our emotions, our thoughts and mind, our energy, spirit and soul, our desires, our habits, our way of being. And a lot more. 

All of our parts are connected and interrelated. When one changes, others are affected. But these changes don’t always naturally spread throughout our whole Self and this can cause us to get stuck. 

So when we learn something new, or experience growth in an aspect of our self, how do we cement that by connecting it to the rest of us? AKA – how do we integrate the changes? 

In this article, we’ll explore a few different ways of assisting integration, starting with my favourite: using activities and practices. 

  1. Activities for Integration

Let’s begin with an example. 

Sandy has made a lot of progress in changing some old limiting beliefs and finds many opportunities are opening up to her, but there is always a sticking point. She can only get so far before she finds herself lapsing into old behaviours and thought patterns, even though she knows and understands what she “should” be doing.

So she decides to explore different ways of staying open. She tries an art class, she travels a little, she starts to dance and she also goes for energy work.  

In their own ways, each of these things helps her to connect aspects of herself to her new understanding of how she wants to live and be in the world. She couldn’t just tell them to change, though, she had to involve them more actively. 

If you want to try this method, I wouldn’t normally recommend trying a whole bunch of things at once, like she did, but one at a time, or maybe a couple, so you know what they’re doing for you. 

You also want to try to be in the moment instead of being too fixed on bringing that new learning into the experience. So you wouldn’t want to go to a dance class and constantly be thinking, am I doing this right? Am I avoiding having limiting beliefs right now? Rather, you would want to go and immerse yourself in the experience, whether that means having fun or being creative or being peaceful, or other.

But perhaps once or twice wonder if there is a difference, or a way of allowing yourself to feel or act differently to your norm. In the example of dance, you might wonder if you are moving the way that feels right for you, now that you have fewer limiting beliefs. 

It’s also helpful to pay attention to how you feel afterwards and even journal. But when you’re doing an activity, try to be in the moment. Analysing it can just be a way of keeping ourselves safe and at a distance so we don’t really change. 

I would also recommend doing the thing you are most drawn to first. Unless–and this is important–it is one of your default ways of doing things. For example, if you are great at over-thinking, don’t try to use that method to integrate things – you are almost guaranteed to already have used your default method enough. But if you have a strange urge to try drawing or train spotting, or other, listen to that impulse as it may be your deeper intuition speaking to you. 

Interestingly, almost any activity can be a tool for integration, including simply living our lives. But trying new things can really be helpful, and having an open and grounded attitude helps a lot too. 

Self-development through doing and being is very powerful. So often we try to explain or think our way forwards. But through doing, we get an immediate experience of who we are in that different context, and we directly engage many or all parts of ourselves (some more than others usually). And this engagement really helps with integration. 

Journaling/ Keeping A Diary

A tried-and-true method, this doesn’t really get your body involved that much, but it is a wonderful way of acknowledging what you have learned, how you want to change, or how you have already changed. 

This is useful for integration because sometimes we don’t really know what we know, or what we’re feeling. By freeing ourselves to write whatever comes out, we can discover what’s on our minds and how we really feel. This method of integration is also good at telling us what the darker corners of our minds are thinking. 

Journaling is even better if you write by hand, but typing is also good. 

In theory, if you wanted to bring physicality into it, you could try a video blog instead and say “today I feel” and make a movement with your body and a sound. Most people stick with the conventional writing method, though. I know some people post on social media in a way that almost feels like journaling. I don’t recommend this, because you will always edit yourself a bit for how other people are going to perceive you, and it’s better to get raw, unfiltered “you”. 

Different Kinds of Therapies and Tools

There are so many out there, I am going to start by saying maybe just try one or several and see what works for you. But don’t try too many new ones at the same time or you won’t know what’s working.

To help with physical integration, you can try bodywork, like massage or getting stretched, or a movement-based discipline, such as Feldenkrais, stretching, yoga or other. The effect in terms of integration can be different depending on whether you need to feel nurtured and receptive, or if you need to create new physical patterns and experiences more actively through movement. They are both great in their own ways, with their own strengths.  

For your mind and thoughts there’s obviously a wide variety of talking therapies, which will help you to explore your emotions and understand what’s going on and build a relationship with your Self. In addition, you can also try meditation, which also has myriad formats. Reading can also be great, but sometimes taking in additional new information doesn’t help with integrating something you’ve recently learned. That is, unless it specifically allows you to unlock a different aspect of that learning, or connect to it in a different way. 

Emotions also benefit from talk therapy of course, but you can also try other types of sessions such as breathwork (of course you could put that in the physical category too – we’re holistic beings so none of these divisions (mind, body etc) are absolute. They just help us to think about things). Or you could also try something like play therapy, art therapy or mask work. 

In terms of shifting your energy, a simple healing session can be very useful. Energy healing comes in a wide variety of flavours, including reiki, shamanism and other disciplines. I usually recommend choosing both the method and practitioner you are drawn to. There are some self-guided practices you can also do in most disciplines if you prefer not to work with a practitioner. 

And if you are already benefitting from one type of therapy, it’s often useful to have another quite different one that complements it. For example, if you’re having talking therapy, I recommend getting body work because that will ground you down into your body, helping you to work with that aspect of the emotions that are coming up. It will likely also help you to feel safer and stronger in yourself. 

Energy work can be useful, but sometimes it’s unhelpful if you tend towards intellectual bypass, which is only a hop, skip and a jump from spiritual bypass. But it is really great for shifting things when you feel like you’ve already done the work and you can’t figure out why your new learning still doesn’t feel settled or easy to embody. 

If you do have two different types of therapy at once, have them on different days if possible, as it takes time for the changes from one to settle in. It’s also easier to see what each is doing for you if you leave at least a full day between them. 

So, this has been a quick review of some things I believe may help you integrate parts of yourself or a learning across all parts of yourself. 

When we’re integrated new information becomes a natural part of us, making it much easier to act in a way that incorporates it. As well as other huge benefits, integration can also help us to think more clearly and be more connected with our desires and inner truth. 

Like I said, integration is a huge topic, so this article may just be the beginning for you, depending how deep you want to go. But I hope it has given you some ideas you can use to feel more at ease in yourself and, well, integrated.

As always, take care!