How to Mindfully Deal with Difficult People (and Save the World)

Tuesday, January 23, 2018 · 14 Comments

There’s a short practice I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple, and yet so impactful when interacting with difficult people. It brings a sense of balance, and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high.

One day while I was driving, I was cut off by some sports car, who seemed to be speeding, and weaving in and out of traffic. My teeth locked together, my shoulders tensed, and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO.

In that moment I realized how tense I was, and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars too.

That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important.

My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind.

So I said…

  • May I be at ease…” (Me)
  • May you be at ease…” (The out of control sports car driver)
  • May we all be at ease…” (All the drivers on the road)

Doing this simple three part practice took less than 30 seconds, and rapidly transformed my experience from disconnection and rage into connection and balance.

To me, happiness means that I have a rock solid internal sense that no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be okay.

This practice gives me that feeling. It makes me move beyond seeing the other driver as just another jerk on the road (in other words, an object) and instead as a person. It gives me the experience that I’m actually okay.

You don’t have to be on the road to test drive this. I strongly suggest giving this a shot when dealing with difficult people and seeing what you notice.

Warning: It just might create a whole lot of peace in yourself.

And you know what Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.


Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Author of Uncovering Happiness and co-author of MBSR Every Day

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy


  1. January 24, 2018 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you so much for thoughtfully and generously sharing your experiences and also your wisdom, Elisha. I enjoyed reading this article and I am also finding the 21-Day Meditation Challenge to be very helpful. Thank you!

  2. Delia
    September 13, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    I will do this exercise when I am the co-pilot
    May I be at ease
    May my husband be at ease
    May people who cut in front of him be at ease
    May we all on the road be at ease

  3. Candy Greenfield
    September 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I’ve been having a lot of pain over my brother who took some of my inheritance from my mom and stole money I gave to her. Nothing I read helps. I have no contact with him. Any thoughts?

    • Elisha Goldstein
      September 15, 2016 at 11:14 am

      Hi Candy,

      This is really upsetting and if there is no way of mediation or arbitration, the best thing to do is notice how it is impacting you and practicing unwinding your nervous system from this and I think that’s where the practice of self-compassion and forgiveness come into play. This isn’t easy and takes some patience and support from others. Warmly, Elisha

    • Rhonda
      January 24, 2018 at 7:03 pm

      Read or listen to some of Colin Tippings’ work on forgiveness. It is very helpful and will give you a bigger perspective.

  4. Mavis alexander
    September 9, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Elisha , thank you so much for sharing that , so applicable in so many areas.. And written in the Good Book ‘seek peace and pursue it’ .. 👼

  5. robbi senderov
    September 9, 2016 at 9:38 am

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    it was like you were listening yesterday when i was telling my husband that when I sense his anger while driving in traffic I notice and feel in my body my anxiety and fear. I will use these phrases to take care of myself.

  6. Nancy
    September 9, 2016 at 6:58 am

    I love this. I’m going to try it and teach it to my kids. Thank you. (Also, thank you for the brevity with which you described the scenario, the practice and the result. With so much wonderful, helpful information to read on the Internet these days, it’s a joy to find a piece of writing that gets right to the point and is so helpful and doesn’t take up too much time reading.)

  7. September 9, 2016 at 2:07 am

    Thanks Elisha this is so clear and simple, and totally transformative. Thanks for sharing using the magic ‘what is it that I need?’ question in this very ordinary stress context – I shall be sharing this with others, so easy to understand and practice.

  8. Nancy Rochester
    September 8, 2016 at 3:06 pm

    I’d rather be me remembering mindfulness than the guy beating me out !!!! I’ve been there and that is stressful!!

  9. Amanda
    February 28, 2016 at 9:13 am

    Power words. Exactly what I was looking for right now.
    Thank you Elisha.

  10. Barry Sumeray
    November 13, 2015 at 7:48 am

    It works. Thanks Elisha!

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