Difficult Relationships: How to Reinterpret Your Narrative

September 30, 2019
Obstacles, weaknesses, sadness, and difficult relationships can be easier to deal with if you have the right tools. Today, we'll discuss these issues from a literary perspective and teach you how to be the hero of your own story.

Humans are social beings. Thus, they wouldn’t be able to lead healthy lives if they didn’t relate to other people. We start socializing during childhood and become part of social groups that change and grow over time. Being part of a social group leads to all kinds of relationships, including difficult relationships.

Who hasn’t had a difficult relationship with a partner, a family member, or a friend? Although it’s easy to think that these people only pose obstacles in your life, it would be more productive to consider them challenges instead.

There’s no way around the fact that life is one long challenge. As you go, you have to deal with different stages, cycles, and relationships. When people relate to each other, each one with their own baggage, personality, temperament, circumstances, and dreams, it’s almost like an ambitious psycho chemical experiment. Although you always hope to get along with others, things don’t always turn out well.

Two people in a difficult relationship.

Sparks or fire

When you start a relationship with someone, whether it’s romantic, professional, or platonic, you feel a kind of spark. That connection makes you feel alive, loved, admired, and respected. However, sometimes that spark turns into a fire.

Sometimes, it seems that there’s nothing you can do about a difficult relationship. Tension builds and leads to defensive attitudes and arguments.

Another way to deal with difficult relationships

In books and movies, every protagonist has their own dynamic personality, sensitive to the evolution of the plot. Situations come up and conflicts arise, usually provoked by the antagonist. These antagonists usually challenge the protagonist’s perspective. They force them into situations that require them to use their best resources and skills.

Life isn’t that different. Play the protagonist of your own life and see if you can identify who your antagonists are. What kinds of challenges do they represent? How can you overcome those obstacles to become a better person?

Victims or heroes in difficult relationships

There are always two paths to choose from when it comes to dealing with a difficult relationship. You can feel sorry for yourself and play the victim or you can try to find an empowering solution. It’s not about confronting your antagonist. Instead, it’s about analyzing your own behavior to try to figure out what led you to this situation.

Insecurity isn’t helpful when it comes to dealing with difficult relationships. To start on the hero’s path, you have to begin with appreciation and self-respect. Simple phrases such as “If you keep talking to me that way, I’m going to leave” reflect a powerful and brave attitude. Your antagonists usually have power over you because they attack you right where it hurts the most.

Understanding your reactions

One very important part of your psychological development is understanding, healing, and changing your responses to emotional wounds. Many therapists believe that you unconsciously attract the people who have your parents’ best and worst qualities.

There’s a reason for that. This is an unconscious reaction to a deep-seated need you have to resolve issues you couldn’t resolve with your parentsMany people struggle to gain admiration and respect from a critical and strict parent.

If you notice that your difficult relationships repeat a pattern with authority figures, your antagonists might represent a dominant parent who was never satisfied with you.

Therapists often use this game of protagonist/antagonist to help their patients with personal development. It’s a personalized exercise where you find your character and your antagonist. Unlike the stories in books and movies, however, your antagonists won’t be demonic or truly evil people. They’re usually just like you, with their own fears, hopes, emotions, and acquired behavior patterns. They’re fragile and weak, just like everyone else.

Teachers of patience

If you decide to take the hero’s path to deal with your difficult relationships, you’ll start to consider your antagonists your teachers. You’ll believe that they’re there to help you learn patience, courage, compassion, and flexibility, among other things.

In reality, you can use these difficult relationships to improve your character and emotional well-being. If you work on those things, you’ll be able to develop and improve dormant areas. You’ll also rediscover forgotten or ignored resources.

People talking at work near a window.

Powerful questions

Personal coaches use a lot of powerful questions to help their clients. When you’re dealing with difficult relationships, you can ask yourself some good questions. They help you discover your capacity for judgment.

If you were to write a book about your own life, analyze the characters that would come up along the way. Ask yourself who your antagonists are and what makes them so challenging. Ask yourself why you choose the character in question. Usually, antagonists help protagonists evolve and improve in some way.

Another good question is what kind of abilities or virtues can help you with your difficult relationship. During coaching, some virtues therapist talk about a lot are assertiveness, resilience, courage, compassion, patience, and self-awareness.

If you’re willing to be the author of your own story, maybe you should start by sitting down and re-writing the script. Observe the situations in your life and your difficult relationships from an outsider’s perspective. That might help you understand what’s going on and give you clues on how to solve your problems.

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  • Schneiderman, Kim (2019) How to Reframe Your Narrative About Difficult Relationships. Imagine your nemesis as the personal trainer of your emotional muscle workout. Psychology Today