Finding Compassion For Hard to Love People

February 7, 2017

Bestie confession:  Some people are hard to love.  Right?  In just the time it took you to read these first few sentences, there may already be a person (or people) springing to your mind.  A person who you struggle to show love or kindness to.  Or maybe a person who has been unkind to you […]

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Bestie confession:  Some people are hard to love.  Right?  In just the time it took you to read these first few sentences, there may already be a person (or people) springing to your mind.  A person who you struggle to show love or kindness to.  Or maybe a person who has been unkind to you and whenever you think about them, your thoughts are less than kind.  If you’re like me, those thoughts tend to be the ones we ruminate on after we have been wronged.  It’s very difficult to conjure up feelings of goodwill toward someone who treats you poorly, so why even bother?
Turns out we should bother, for a couple of reasons.  One is that replaying the way someone mistreated us over and over in our mind is a huge waste of life.  It accomplishes nothing more than maintaining your feelings of anger and hurt.  Not fun.  Likewise, worrying about what we are going to do or say the next time we see that person doesn’t actually prepare us for seeing that person again…it basically just steals our opportunity to experience joy in the moment we are actually in.  I would suggest this:  if we can find compassion for these hard to love people, it will accomplish a lot more good, such as decreasing negative thoughts, decreasing guilt and shame, and increasing the likelihood that the person in question will return compassion to us.
There are several ways we can find compassion for difficult people.  
Remember that difficult people are difficult for a reason.  One of the first things I learned in grad school is that people make you feel the way that they feel.  Usually, this is done on a subconscious level.  If someone makes you feel hurt, ask yourself what this person could also be feeling hurt about.  If they make you feel angry, what could this person feel angry about?  I realized this recently as one of my children has been picked on repeatedly by one of his classmates.  I felt angry at the child in question, and I felt a sense of powerlessness that despite my efforts to make the teacher aware, the bullying has not only continued, but escalated.  Finally, I realized…why is this child so angry?  What’s going on in his life to make him feel he has to bully other kids all the time?  And furthermore, this poor teacher is probably hearing not only from me, but every other kid’s parents that this child is bothering.  She herself may be feeling powerless in this situation for some reason.  I also just found out her mom is having hip replacement surgery this week.  She must be so stressed and overwhelmed.
Finding compassion for these people doesn’t take away my feelings of frustration or make their responses ok.  It has simply made it easier for me to keep calm and carry on, for lack of a better phrase.  Instead of focusing on what they do or do not do, I  have been able to focus on what I can do to make the situation better (like teaching my son to be more assertive and going to recess once a week myself – Mama Bear in the house!!). 
 This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh sums it up perfectly:  “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.  He does not need punishment; he needs help.  That’s the message he is sending.”

Which brings me to my next point…
Ask how you can help.  This sounds a little crazy but it can be so powerful.  Why?  Because you are essentially calling the hard to love person on what they are feeling.  Hard things that stay hidden have a tendency to stay hard.  You can say, “I can see how hard this must be for you to deal with.  Please know I’m here to help in any way I can.”  Now…is that easy? Um, NO.  It is very, very hard.  It means you are actively seeking to make things better instead of passively feeling hurt or angry.  It means you are turning your feelings of compassion into action.  And that is so, so difficult.  But it is so, so powerful.  Just think about what it would be like for someone to treat you this way.  Wouldn’t you feel heard, felt, and seen?  Wouldn’t you feel cared for, loved, and blessed?  And if indeed you would wish to be treated this way then it is time to start modeling this behavior for others in hopes they will follow suit.
Finally, consider your reason for loving difficult people.  At the end of the day, my reason for finding compassion for hard to love people is that, well…I’m hard to love sometimes (shocking, I know).  I do and say all sorts of things that make people feel hurt and angry at times.  Yet my faith reminds me that God loves me and has compassion on me no matter what.  To me, that is the motivation for loving others well…no matter what their response.  What is yours?
Charles Dickens said, “A loving heart is the truest wisdom.”  He really knew his stuff, am I right?  Pretty sure Scrooge could’ve saved himself a heap of trouble if he believed this from the get-go.  
Let’s look for ways to love others today, regardless of their response.  Let’s try our best to serve them, benefit them, and strengthen them.  It’s amazing the rewards we reap when we focus on loving others well.  Especially the ones who are hard to love.

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  1. afriend says:

    Right on, Cath! Especially worth remembering in these contentious times.

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