Humans can be so difficult to live with sometimes.
Sometimes our fellow humans do things that we don’t like.
Sometimes they do things that we REALLY don’t like. And we feel wronged or upset or hurt or offended or annoyed or irritated or… whatever.
And sometimes there are people we just don’t like. Maybe it’s their personality, their politics, their opinions – which they never hold back on sharing – about everything under the sun. It’s not that they did something in particular that really set us off, it’s just that… everything about them rubs us the wrong way.
Sometimes, life provides us opportunities to easily navigate away from these people. And sometimes we’re sort of stuck with having regular or sustained contact with them.
All sorts of circumstances can force us into relationships with people we’d rather have nothing to do with. Work is a big one, and so is family… and of course, when major holidays come around, there are often great opportunities to spend quality time with people we don’t actually want to spend time with.
I say “great opportunities,” because examining our dislike of other people is a tremendous opportunity for spiritual growth.
So if you’ve been grinding your teeth in anticipation of seeing That Person You Don't Like for an excruciatingly long stretch of time sometime very soon, here are 5 things you can do to shift your energy.
1. Try this first: articulate exactly what you don’t like about this person, or what you think they did wrong or badly. This can (and perhaps should) be a completely private exercise. Go someplace where no one will hear you and verbally list all of the things you don’t like about That Person, or complain about all of the things they’ve Done Wrong, or Done to You That They Shouldn’t Have. Or write it down on a piece of paper you’ll soon burn or tear up. Just get it all out, without holding back. See if you can give yourself permission to articulate all of your feelings and judgements, even if it isn’t pretty, even if you say a lot of things that you think you shouldn’t say.
Let it all out, without editing yourself. Sometimes unpleasant feelings simmer inside of us simply because we've never given them permission to exist and be fully expressed. And then...
2. Can you let go of any of the resentful, judgmental, or otherwise negative energy you’ve been harboring towards That Person? Put differently, can you forgive them for whatever they did – or whatever they are – that got you riled up in the first place? Forgiving someone does not mean you condone their behavior. It doesn’t mean you approve of what they did or did not do or how they choose to live their lives. It just means you stop putting so much energy into thinking about That Person and how bad they are, or how much you don’t like them, or whatever.
Forgiving someone, as Marianne Williamson says, does not mean you have to go out to lunch with them. You don’t have to become best friends. It just means that you loosen your grip on your ideas about how that other person is supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do.
Still, it can be hard sometimes, when we think we’re right; when we’re really attached to the idea that That Person wronged us, or did something bad. We don’t think we can let go of our assessments of that person. We’re not sure if we really even want to. We feel justified in hanging onto our hurt or anger. Hanger.
Totally normal. Keep going...
3. Ask yourself what you're getting out of holding onto these feelings.
It’s a simple question, but the answers can be really powerful. The trick is to ask the question and then keep going. So, if what you’re getting out of holding onto your resentment towards Uncle Fred because he (still) thinks the 45th POTUS (yes, I’m talking about the current one) is doing a great job is feeling justified in being right, ask yourself what you get out of feeling justified for being right. Why does it matter whether you're right or not? Maybe your answer is that you get to feel safe in the certainty of your beliefs and righteous in your understanding of how the world should be. Good start – now ask yourself what you get out of that. Keep going with the investigation. You may unspool some pretty tightly wound beliefs of yours that ultimately have very little to do with the person you’ve been holding negative judgments against.
The point of this exercise is not to get yourself to a point where you no longer have any personal values or beliefs about what's acceptable and what isn't. It’s about learning how to exist in the world without having to define ourselves by our judgments and resentments and dislikes. It’s about finding the distinctions between taking right actions at the appropriate times, and harboring lingering resentments that don't bring about any positive change.
It's also about learning how to focus our energy on what we want to see more of, rather than fixating on what we think is wrong.
4. To that effect, is there any good you can see in That Person? Maybe not. If you can’t, maybe make a practice of looking for as much good in other people as you can. This is an especially potent practice if you’re in the habit of looking for other people’s flaws.
Remember we’re all just trees in the forest. We’re all just highly evolved mammals bumbling our way through the confusing experience of living as a human on planet earth in this particular historical moment. We’re all cosmic beings, if you like that language. Put differently, we’re all god’s creatures. We’re all sparks of the divine. AND, we’re all inherently messy and imperfect (not that there’s any such thing as perfect). We’re all doing the best we can in whatever ways we know how.
5. If you were to take responsibility for one more aspect of your own self, your own behavior, instead of thinking about whether or not That Person is good or bad, right or wrong, worthy of your acknowledgment or forgiveness or tolerance or whatever… what would that thing be? Sometimes taking responsibility for our own shit instead of worrying about what other people are doing is pretty powerful medicine. Try it yourself and find out. How can you show up as the most powerful, peaceful, self-actualized version of yourself; as an aristocrat incapable of being flustered by mundane human foibles?