When to Take Your Pants Off: A Spiritual Lesson on Dealing with a Difficult Person

Got a figurative Pit Bull chomping at the bit?

Our greatest teachers are often the ones that bring the hardest lessons to learn. Their lessons require us to lean into discomfort. When we walk through them, we emerge stronger, kinder, and more resilient. I guess there’s a reason we refer to them as growing pains.

Signs of a Toxic Person

You know those humans who make you feel like you are walking on eggshells? You know, the ones who make you feel like you’re going crazy, accusing you of the very things they do? The ones who are never wrong, who lack empathy, who attempt to control everything and everyone? Those humans make Life’s greatest teachers.

Why Toxic People Make the Greatest Teachers

Contrast is what propels us forward in this thing called Life. We would not appreciate sweet without bitter nor salty without the sour. Likewise, contrast provides the conduit for our growth. The greater the contrast, the more opportunity for our growth.

When you experience control, gaslighting, manipulation, or any other form of emotional/mental toxicity, you learn about the importance of setting boundaries, speaking up, and saying no.

Why You Want to Remove Your Pants

So there I was, on the phone, with a dear friend of mine who, like me, has experienced a lifetime of toxic people. He was helping me work through one particular toxic person in my Life who has used repeated (5+ at the writing of this piece)litigation and financial power to manipulate and control. This toxic person was now threatening another litigation. Up until this point, I had fought back. It wasn’t vengefulness on my part; it was self-defense. It was using my voice — something this particular Toxic person didn’t like.

What do I do?

You fought the good fight. You stood up for what you knew was right. But when there’s a Pit Bull chomping at your leg, you gotta take off your pants.

And there it was: my greatest lesson. Sometimes, when dealing with a toxic person, the lesson is to simply let go, to accept where you are and what the Pit Bull is doing.

The Pit Bull and The Pants

So, the Pit Bull (aka, the Lover of Litigation) has my “pants” (i.e., another day in court). Here’s the gem: I am not the pants. I am free to live my life however I choose. The Pit Bull may follow through on Litigation #6, but that doesn’t stop me from living in the gift of the present moment.

We can’t control the way someone else will behave in this Life. We find peace when we surrender our figurative pants to a Pit Bull. The Pit Bull wants the “meat” of us — they want a reaction. Emotion feeds the Pit Bull; to starve them is your ticket to inner peace and happiness.

Sometimes, we need to surrender our pants in order to unearth our Zen.

Click here if you want a more vegetarian lifestyle

The Subtle Signs of Control

There’s often an unconscious mindset, a spiritual sleepwalking involved in the unspoken agreement between the controller and the controlled.

*Dana started making jewelry as a hobby. But the designs she gave to family and friends were so well-received, they began asking Dana to sell her creations. Within a year, Dana’s hobby was a part-time successful business.

            Unfortunately, Dana’s husband didn’t like his wife’s success.

            “A hobby is one thing but now it’s taking away time from our family.”

            Dana stopped selling her jewelry.

            *Brian dreaded calling his mother each day. He knew her judgement and disappointment were waiting for him on the other end of the line, knew he would be insulted within five minutes of the call. 

            “If I don’t call her every day, she freaks out, says she’ll call the police if she doesn’t hear from me. It’s just easier to call her and get it over with.”

            While Dana and Brian are two different people and genders experiencing different relationships, both are people in a controlling relationship. Like the metaphorical story of the frog that’s slowly boiled to death, Dana and Brian are in hot water, living a spiritual death each day.

            Controlling relationships manifest in all forms: romantic, friendship, family, and professional. Like the allegorical frog that is put in a pot of water that, ever so slowly, gets warmer, we can often miss the early, subtle signs that we are about to experience a “slow death.”

            Whether you are wondering if you are in a controlling relationship or about to start one, there is always the opportunity to wax reflective and consider the following warning signs:

  • Do you often feel like you are walking on figurative eggshells with this person?
  • Do you find yourself second-guessing your feelings regarding things this person does or says?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing to “get along” (think of the “Ostrich in the sand” mentality) with this person?
  • Do you feel guilty for privately resenting this person?
  • Have you found yourself altering your lifestyle (i.e. your choice of clothes, diet, faith, friendships, career, politics, etc.) to “make peace” or “satiate” this person?

Dana stopped selling her jewelry to make her husband happy. But just like the frog who sits in water that gets warmer and warmer until its boiled alive, Dana’s decision to please her husband before herself is an ongoing theme in their marriage: like the frog that doesn’t notice the subtle increase in temperature, Dana slowly rationalizes that “it’s not a big deal” that she wears high heels because he wants her to, or cooks lamb for him when she is a vegetarian, or receives an “allowance” from him because he’s informed her that she just “doesn’t have a head for numbers.” While Dana is a physically alive woman, in many ways, she’s no different than that boiled frog.

            Brian’s consistent cortisol spikes around the need to please his mother, usurping his own needs for hers, has long term effects on his biochemistry. An adult man, Brian has the power to decide how often he calls his mother. He can get out of the boiling water any time. But like our metaphorical frog, the Appeasement Game has been in place for years, so he thinks he’s forever trapped in that pot.

            Getting out of the pot isn’t necessarily easy. In fact, getting out of that water will feel downright cold, if not plain frightening. But that is the price of freedom—a gift and right deserved for everyone.

*Names have been altered to retain the privacy of individuals.

Nostalgia, Not Regression

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between appreciating the past and regressing back into who we were then.

The colleagues I worked with for the past several years are back at school, preparing their respective classrooms for that timeless yet momentous occasion (that somehow always goes by in a dizzying blur): the first day of school.

For years, I loved working with students but also felt a yearning to work with students in a different capacity. When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed my personal career brass ring and started working for a non-profit literacy agency. To say that my experience is both enjoyable and rewarding is an understatement. Each morning, I feel like I’m waking up to some career fairytale, singing like one of the 7 Dwarfs “Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go…”

And yet, I miss my colleagues and friends at school. I miss seeing their smiling faces as we share the unspoken adrenaline of preparing for another school year. I miss the smell of books, the various personalities that make their way through our classroom doors, the camaraderie of teachers.

So how can I miss something that I yearned to leave?

According to life coach and author, Martha Beck (THE WAY OF INTEGRITY), sensing or experiencing an “impending transformation brings on a spasm of nostalgia for the life…known so far.”

There’s a reason we call it growing pains! The prefix TRANS (transition) literally means across or beyond. To go beyond something can shake us up, ejecting us from our comfort zones. It’s why the smoker who finds the willpower to give up cigarettes, while proud of their success, can also experience sadness, knowing they can’t share a smoke with their friends anymore. It’s why the victim of abuse who leaves their abuser is finally free but craves the familiar cycle of violence.

It’s why I can revel in pursuing my career but still wax nostalgic and sad about missing the first day of school.

“If you start honoring your true nature and find yourself missing your old culture, don’t panic. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time and space…” (Martha Beck)

I haven’t outgrown the classroom, but I did outgrow my role as public school teacher. I can appreciate the nostalgia that comes with time away from the classroom, but I don’t want to return there just because it’s familiar.

When we embrace our transitions, honoring how we feel along the way, a world of possibility arrives. And that’s where the real magic happens.