| Family Reflections |

Are You “Difficult”?

Do you have any of these “difficult” tendencies?


We’re all familiar with the concept of “the difficult child.” But these people grow up and get married one day. What do they look like then? Well, they might look like your spouse. They might also look like you.

None of us thinks of ourselves as “difficult.” We’re more likely to notice that people around us don’t cooperate, don’t understand us, don’t meet our needs. It rarely occurs to us that maybe we’re the ones who aren’t cooperating, understanding, or otherwise responding appropriately. Even if we’re routinely losing relationships or experiencing interpersonal conflict, we’re likely to chock it all up to bad luck or our bad taste in people. We may fail to notice that the common denominator in the difficult relationship is us.

Causing Others Pain

Most of us are good at heart, and we like to think we’re having a positive impact on the world in general and on our loved ones in particular. We may be surprised one day — the day of our great accounting — to learn that we caused so much pain to those near and dear to us.

Says one wife, “My husband is very difficult and makes my life miserable. He’s stubborn, demanding, and always complaining. Most nights I cry myself to sleep.”

In all likelihood, the fellow this woman is talking about doesn’t have a clue that his wife feels this way. Even if they engage in daily battles, he might feel he’s the long-suffering victim. It’s a mistake any of us can make: we don’t see ourselves clearly. But because we’re good at heart and want to do good, perhaps we have the courage to hold up a magnifying glass to ourselves to see if we can find any traces of the traits others call “difficult.”

Below is a list of characteristics for you to honestly consider. If you’re brave enough, check off the statements that may apply to you:

I’m often irritated by my spouse and/or kids.

I generally want my family members to do things my way, as it’s usually the best way.

I’m a worrier.

I’m not comfortable sharing everything about my activities or finances with my spouse.

I’m stressed a lot of the time.

When I’m displeased with someone’s behavior, I tell them straight out.

I blow up sometimes. Sometimes more than sometimes.

I like things done a certain way — I have standards.

I have very low tolerance for mistakes that could easily have been avoided.

I don’t have patience to listen to people talk.

I really dislike being interrupted.

I don’t help out unless I’m asked to.

I often feel insulted or ignored.

I don’t get the proper amount of respect/appreciation from family, colleagues, and/or friends.

I often feel overwhelmed or anxious.

I don’t like people telling me what to do.

I feel depressed and/or unfulfilled.

I regularly talk to my spouse/friends/relatives about the things that go wrong in my day.

People often disappoint me.

Noise and/or mess really bother me.

I rarely get a good night’s sleep.

When I’m provoked, I call others names, insult them, use strong language, make threats, or become sarcastic.

I’m irritated by other people’s slowness or ineptitude.

I tend to withdraw when I’m upset.


Don’t feel bad if you checked off all of these statements. They really just describe the human condition: we’re not a happy bunch. Of the three nervous systems: dorsal vagal (depleted), sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and ventral vagal (calm, alert, joy), the ventral vagal runs our body-mind system the least often.

This can actually be rectified so that ventral vagal becomes our most consistently active nervous system, but it takes intentional work. Meanwhile, we struggle within ourselves, and though we might not have seen it before, others struggle to live with us.

Of course, during our courtship period, we all put on a good show of ventral vagal (happy, positive, easygoing) dominance so that the person we were dating would sign on the dotted line to live with us forever. Joke’s on them.

Meanwhile, unless we find our way home to that state again, the joke’s on us. Feeling good is essential for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And it’s equally important for the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those who have to deal with us every day.


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 835)

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