Teacher Ram Dass once said: "If you think you are so enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents."
It's great advice. Whether it's your parent, lover, friend or colleague, we all have people who trigger us. Something about them touches our wounds and brings out the worst in us -- our pain, irritation, impatience, anger or even hostility.
Sound familiar? If so, here are eight powerful ways you can deal with difficult people who push your buttons.
1. Set your intention.
Our intentions shape our day and our destiny. If you know you will be spending time with someone who triggers you, set an intention in advance of your encounter.
I intend to feel good. I intend to stay calm. I intend to embody love and kindness.
Your intention will help guide your thoughts and actions. You can also bring your intention to mind whenever you feel tempted to slip back into old patterns of reaction and negativity.
2. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the art of being present in the moment and observing your thoughts and feelings as they arise, rather than getting lost in them and confusing them with who you are.
When you are mindful, you have more control over your reactions to life. When someone triggers an emotional response in your body or a negative thought in your mind, you take a step back and observe what is happening inside of you.
Being the observer gives you the space and opportunity to take a few deep breaths, centre yourself, and consciously choose a new positive response -- rather than mindlessly reacting out of habit and instinct.
3. Open your heart.
Negative emotional states usually provoke a noticeable physical response in your body -- you may feel a knot in your throat or stomach, your muscles tense, or heat and heaviness around your heart area.
In that moment, you are closing off your heart centre and trapping the negative energy you feel inside of you. When you store this energy inside your being, you will continue to attract -- and be triggered by -- similar people and events in your future.
The next time you feel triggered and your body begins to tense up, make a conscious decision to take a few deep breaths, relax your shoulders, and imagine your heart opening -- no matter how much it feels like closing. As you continue to breathe deeply, allow your feelings to rise and then fall away again, like a wave in the ocean.
4. See the gift.
Difficult people who push our buttons can be one of our greatest gifts in life. By bringing out the worst in us, they make us aware of where we need to grow. By touching our inner wounds, they bring them to the surface where they can be examined and healed.
Often we feel triggered now because of an incident in our past that we never fully healed from or released. Instead, we kept the memory, emotional pain or consequent self-limiting story buried deep within our heart and subconscious.
The poet Rumi once wrote: "Your task is not to see for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it."
Thank the difficult people in your life, for they are showing you the barriers you may have constructed around your heart in the past to protect yourself that may now be limiting your experience and influencing what you can attract into your life.
Once you dissolve these barriers by forgiving the past and choosing to remain mindful and open-hearted in the present, you open yourself up to greater experiences of love, joy and inner peace.
5. Be wary of unexamined assumptions.
Sometimes we react negatively to people because we have conscious or unconscious beliefs and expectations about who they are and how they should act.
We may also have a hidden agenda to gain something from them to fill a void in ourselves -- like love, praise or support. When they don't provide what we seek in the form we are seeking it, we feel resentful and irritable.
In either case, there is an unexamined assumption running the show: that other people are in some way responsible for your happiness.
The truth is, your happiness is entirely up to you. No one can take it from you (unless you let them) and no one is responsible for making sure you are happy.
We are all responsible for filling ourselves up so that we feel loved and supported from within. And when we do, the people in our life will often naturally change their behaviour to become more loving and supportive towards us, because our outer world is always a reflection of our inner state of being.
Make it a habit to sit alone for five minutes each morning and imagine your heart and body filling up with love and light from above. Carry this feeling with you throughout the day.
We search the world for happiness in romantic partners, jobs, houses and bank balances, and yet we are so quick to throw it away at the slightest provocation. Start valuing your happiness like it is one of your most prized possessions -- it is.
6. Practice forgiveness.
Everyone is doing their best from their level of consciousness and awareness.
Often, the people who trigger us are not even fully aware of the effect they are having on us. Even if they are aware, they may not be in a position to change their behaviour yet, simply because they are so deeply trapped in their own mind, patterns and emotional wounds.
Practice forgiveness whenever you are able to. Forgiveness does not mean condoning their behaviour. Forgiveness means seeing past their external behaviour to the light of their inner spirit, their soul, which is made of the same energy and love as your own soul - it's just been temporarily obscured.
Don't forget to forgive yourself too -- have compassion for yourself and the challenging situation you are in, which is calling upon you to grow and be your best.
7. Be the lighthouse.
People can bring out the worst in each other, or bring out the best in each other.
The same way that a group of people meditating can have a positive ripple effect on the world, your own loving energy, peace and grace can have a positive effect on the difficult people in your life.
Many people are unable to see or change their own destructive patterns and behaviour. However, when you hold a positive space for them, staying calm, loving and present, this can allow them to subtly shift into these feelings too.
Picture yourself as the lighthouse, cultivating your inner light and love for those who need it.
8. Ask your Higher Self for help.
The book A Course In Miracles states: "Fear is a sure sign you are relying on your own strength."
You are not in this alone. If you doubt your ability to remain calm, present and open-hearted around someone difficult in your life, call upon your Higher Self to step in and guide you through it.
You can establish the connection with a small pause and prayer: Higher Self, I desire to deal with this person in my life with compassion, patience and love. I'm not sure whether I can remain calm, so I step aside and let you lead the way. And so it will be.