Category: guilt

The Math of the Difficult Person

Difficult people have their own math equation.  I’m not talking about moody people or people who don’t agree with your politics.  I am talking about the people in our lives who send us to the therapist’s couch, the ones who leave you feeling infuriated and wanting to cut off contact because there seems to be no way to achieve a healthy relationship.

In a healthy relationship there will be problems caused by both people in the relationship.  When problems occur—someone says or does something hurtful—the person who is hurt will begin the equation with, “It hurt my feelings when you said, did, X.”  This may be called the accusation.

The other person may respond defensively, may say, “I didn’t mean that,” or may just say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I said or did Y.  That wasn’t my intention.”  This step might be called the acknowledgement.

The first step, X is sharing how you are hurt; the second step, Y, is acknowledging the person has been hurt and your role in it, and then there can be Z, forgiveness which then allows the offender to feel redemption.


Accusation + Acknowledgment =Forgiveness and Redemption

Difficult people follow a different path, and it never leads to Z, the good stuff of forgiveness and ultimately, redemption.

You might offer your accusation: “I was hurt when you weren’t honest with me on Saturday.”

Difficult people, rather than acknowledge the hurt they caused, choose one of three paths I have identified.  You may know more-

Path A Bring up ancient hurts

“You were hurt?  Do you know how I used to feel when I was a child and…?”  This is the diversion path.  It has nothing to do with the current situation and is meant elicit a pity response from you and cancel out any problems you may have with the person.

Path B Bring up old grievances

“You were hurt?  When I called you in 2003 you said you were going to help me with (fill in old grievance) and you never did.”    The difficult person has nurtured this wound for years, waiting for the perfect opportunity to spring it on you in the hopes it will cancel out any problem you have with the person.

Path C Death Threats

“You were hurt?  I wish I was dead, had died, plan on killing myself.”  This is the atomic bomb; when the going gets tough, pull out the death threats.  Once again, this response is meant to elicit pity and turn the conversation towards the needs of the difficult person and of course, cancel out any problems you may have with them.

They don’t acknowledge anything they may have done to fracture the relationship.  Without this acknowledgement, the problem is left hanging in the air.  Forgiveness and redemption are not available.

X Accusation + Path A, B or C= Unresolved problems

Something tells me this has to do with shame.  Maybe they are carrying around a heavy bucket of shame.  It sloshes around as they walk.  It is already so filled that they can’t take in your accusation.  They are all full up on mistakes.  They can’t acknowledge anymore.

What I would offer the difficult people:

The bucket you were given may havebeen filled by someone who lacked the capacity to forgive themselves, so they filled it with their own shame and then yours.

You can be the author of your own forgiveness.  Favorite prayer- I am not willing to forgive, but I am willing to be made willing

The people who accuse you don’t do it to hurt you.  They do it to repair a break in the relationship.

Grace isn’t just a girl’s name.

Meet the Should’s

I had known some of the lesser should’s—I should have slept more last night, shouldn’t have brought that up, I should let him know—the minor leagues.

In 1999 I met the World Champion Should’s when I became a parent.

One day I wasn’t a mother, and the next, I was the mother to two very sick, neglected and very malnourished kids, about to turn two and four years old.

We became parents in Ukraine and had to finalize our adoption in Warsaw, Poland.  Something occurred in Warsaw that I didn’t know then, but understand now, to be foreshadowing for the next sixteen years of our lives.

After staying in a very run down, depressing hotel in Kiev, where our phone was a party line and there were two cots for Dale and I to sleep on, we were over the moon to stay at the opulent Sheraton in Warsaw where, when we checked into our room, we saw a bottle of wine a friend had sent.  

We were brand new parents with our beautiful kids and everything seemed perfect.

Our older son, who was nearly four, but spoke no words, saw the bathtub and became very excited.  I drew a bath for him which he lingered in and loved.


I watched my son in the bath while my husband watched our younger son in the room.  My husband poured a glass of the wine and called the friend to thank him.  I went out to take a picture of him on the phone, smiling, holding his glass of wine.  We were a happy family.


Then parenthood happened.

As I returned to the bathroom there was a scream.  Ethan had somehow slipped forward and banged his head so hard on the spout that a huge bruise immediately began to form.   Four years in an orphanage, and not a mark on his body; less than 48 hours with us, and he has a golf ball on his head.

 My husband came running in the bathroom to see what happened.  Upon his arrival to the bathroom, we heard a cry from the room.  Our younger son had gone to the desk where Dale’s glass of wine sat, picked it up and poured it over his head.


These three events-me taking the picture of my smiling husband, Ethan smashing his forehead into the faucet and Thad pouring wine over his head all happened within ninety seconds.

I shouldn’t have left Ethan to take the picture.  Dale shouldn’t have left Thad to come check on Ethan.

That was the night our should’s and shouldn’t’s began.

It would be years before I met their arch enemy:  compassion and forgiveness.

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