Hi there, friend. We might not have met in person, but I know you well, because I’ve worn the name tag you are wearing. The one that labels you “difficult,” the one that you often wish you didn’t wear. The one that causes you to feel like you are completely dismissed by those that force you to wear it: whether they are members of your family, your circle of friends, your co-workers, or even your church.
I’ve been there, and still find myself there more often than I’d like. I have spent much of my first forty years analyzing every communication, every interaction and every negative label placed on me by someone else. That’s the blessing and the curse of having anxiety—you overanalyze everything to try and fix what you feel is broken in you in an effort to stop worrying about the future.
The blessing is that people with anxiety are empathetic and sensitive to what people say around them and about them. Because of their overwhelming desire to avoid any unnecessary worry or stress they are typically the problem solver of the group–if things are going well. However, the curse for people with anxiety is that they will often try to change their behavior to match the group’s wishes or thoughts of what they should be (which usually means being more like those in the group). This puts the person’s true thoughts and ideas at odds with their outward group-pleasing behavior, and they’ll find themselves constantly walking an impossible tightrope of trying to balance the two and not fall off the wire.
When they fall, as they eventually will, they feel as if they are not enough, they don’t match and they don’t fit in. They feel as if they will never be enough just as they are, and that the group doesn’t see them as important or valuable. These thoughts leads right back into the tragic cycle of overthinking, over-planning, and striving for acceptance–only to fall short.
If you have ever been caught in this painful cycle, only to be doubly-hurt by being labeled as “difficult,” this love letter is for you.
There are a million reasons why you might have earned your “difficult” label. Your viewpoints might be different, your morals might not align, your priorities might not match. Perhaps your conversation style, sincere questioning of authority figures or inability to play by the established rules keeps you from being a part of the inner circle. The labeling might have started early for you, in elementary school classes or as a child at the family dinner table. Maybe the label is something new for you, as the result of new job or a leadership position. Perhaps you’ve experienced life-changing events recently that have led to differences in your perspectives today versus a few years ago.
Whether you’ve worn the name tag since birth or just recently had it pinned on you, it can make you feel alone and unwanted. You’ve been a topic of discussion at family events or water cooler conversations. You might have been a “troubled” child. People have told you they were “worried about you” when you have said or done something that has made them uncomfortable or gone outside what was expected of you. Somedays it can feel like you’re trying to navigate through life without a support system to lean on.
I’m telling you today that you are not alone, my friend.
This label can make you angry. It can make you feel like people are talking about you behind your back…and sometimes it’s true. It can make you feel violated and incredibly misunderstood. It can make you want to avoid these groups all together, to retreat into solitude and to just not have to deal with the pressure of the label. I’ve been there, and I’m sure I’ll be there again.
Believe me, I’ve tried being angry more than a few times. But, friend, trust me that in the end you’ll end up feeling more lonely and isolated–and your group will just find you more difficult. It’s not the answer you are looking for. It’s not going to break the cycle or bring you an extra second of peace.
Instead, it’s better to understand and work with human nature rather than try to overanalyze it, downplay it, or try to run from it–which is exactly what we folks with anxiety will default to if we’re not careful. But it’s important to understand the disconnect in order to realize the connection. Humans are hard-wired to immediately try to make sense of what they don’t understand. The primal response for group mentality is to judge what isn’t the norm as something that might be dangerous, when in reality it’s just different. And this, sweet friend, that’s what I want you to understand and know to the core of who you are.
Being determined does not make you DIFFICULT. Being decisive does not make you DIFFICULT. Being different does not make you DIFFICULT. And, no matter how these labelers feel about you, being different does not make you DANGEROUS.
Just because you have labeled “difficult” does not mean that you are. Period.
It’s all a matter of perspective and group mentality–and history should tell us that when people value majority rule over individual worth, there’s usually a problem. You do not have to wear labels given to you by others if they don’t accurately describe you. You are not what other people think you are. If you are able to take a moment and view your current relationships with a larger lens, you will find that you have people in your life who see you as the person you truly are—without the tightrope.
Do not let this label own you. Don’t feel that you must be the outcast in every situation just because a few people in a small circle placed a name tag on you that isn’t correct.
Being labeled as “difficult” is not your fault.
You are not your mistakes, or your past. Most importantly, you are not a burden and you have incredible value. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize it in the moment of feeling excluded or unimportant, but if your inner circle fails to realize your worth, it is their fault and not yours. THEY are the difficult ones, not you.
You didn’t pin the nametag on, but you sure as hell can remove it. And toss it in the trash.
To all my “difficult” friends, never lose yourself in someone else’s adjective. You are exactly who you need to be, exactly where you need to be, with exactly who you need to be with. You have a whole “difficult” tribe out here who has your back.
(aka The “Difficult” One)