The dog pulled at his leash, almost tugging free from his guardian. His teeth were bared as he snarled, his heckles were up and almost choking himself standing on his hind legs trying to pull forward. Austin was walking beside his guardian, stopped and looked at the snarling dog. His head was cocked, ears pricked and stared at the dog quizzically. When the dog continued to pull towards him in futile, Austin looked away and ran towards his guardian to continue his walk with her, not engaging with the angry dog.
What do you do when you encounter people who rub you up the wrong way in life? Maybe it was an angry passer-by or a rude stranger. You were walking along the street and someone passed a remark or gesture that was uncalled for. Perhaps it was an unhelpful shop assistant or an over-demanding boss. You were asking questions about something you would like to buy and they were just simply not interested, much less helpful. No matter how hard you tried, your boss still feels your work is not good enough.
Maybe it was a clueless friend/family or even partner who just simply does not get you, your values, expectations and beliefs. You have explained it so many times, expressing your thoughts and feelings on multiple occasions and yet they still say or do things that drive you crazy.
It is very easy, common and natural to get upset. After all, you are doing the best you can to be yourself, live your life and be happy (or at least, not upset!) and they come along and ‘ruin’ your day. How dare they! How rude! You feel that your values, beliefs and even possibly, way of living is being crossed, ignored or even violated. Negative emotions build up and resentment grows. You start to question them and even yourself. What is the point if people are going to be so horrible and act like idiots?
Well, a simple and powerful way of reframing those situations would be to consider that, like you, they may be doing their best. They may be thinking, saying and acting the best way they know how depending on their personal values, experiences and understanding of their world (not the world but their world). It is really not about you at all. You just happened to be there. It is not personal, certainly not aimed at you. Do not make the mistake of taking it personally.
It is possible but extremely rare that someone would intentionally set out to hurt, harm or annoys someone. It is more likely that regardless of how or what they are doing, they are doing it with the best intentions even though it may not look like it. Even if it was not intentionally good, they are probably doing the best they can in what they do or say. It takes a remarkable amount of energy to think, say and do negative things that hurt others. If they are thinking, saying or doing things in a hurtful way, they are probably hurting themselves. Hurt people hurt people.
So, when you meet people like that, the question is not how would you react but rather, are you ready to meet people like that? If you are not, you may get hurt thinking they are doing you wrong. If you are ready, you will understand that it is not about you at all. It is just them doing their best in life. To do so (being ready), does require healthy self-esteem so you can buffer the negative feelings and elevate yourself from the situation. You would then be able to look at the situation from above, from a different perspective, not from an entity involved in the experience itself but from a curiosity point of view to understand why what was being said or done by the other party. It is when your self-esteem is not healthy that you allow yourself to be affected by the situation, thinking it was completely personal.
When you are able to see each action, intention and speech made by another as purely a reflection on their interpretation of life at that very moment, and has nothing to do with your life, you will start to empathise, understand and learn from them. You will learn more about where in life they are at the moment, their present beliefs and current emotions. Perhaps they had a bad day or maybe how they act is the only example they have had in the past. Sometimes they are just doing what they know best and do not know any better to act any differently.
If you are in a good place (mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually) and someone enters your life and presents with negative feelings like anger, resentment, being unreasonable, overly demanding, etc, instead of joining them in the negative state, consider just thinking, “Poor you! You must be struggling in some part of your life for I know how tiring and energy-consuming it must be to be negative.” When doing so, apart from not allowing yourself to fall into a negative spiral and maintain your position in a good place, it may also allow you to see the other person more and help them in their lives. Please bear in mind that it may not be possible if they are not receptive to help or assistance! They are really doing the best they can!
Either way, whether you are striving to maintain your good place (beautiful state) or helping others, always be ready as these negative situations can occur at any time. They can come without warning. It is usually not the case whereby you have time to ‘prepare’ before the event happens. If you are always ready, you run the risk of taking things personally when it is really not meant to be.
Austin chose not to engage with the angry dog and continued his merry way on his walk. What do you need to do to not get personally involved when someone is being negative to you?
‘When you first rise in the morning, tell yourself: I will encounter busybodies, ingrates, egomaniacs, liars, the jealous and cranks. They are all stricken with these afflictions because they don’t know the difference between good and evil. Because I have understood the beauty of good and the ugliness of evil, I know that these wrong-doers are still akin to me… and that none can do me harm, or implicate me in ugliness – nor can I be angry at my relatives or hate them. For we are made for cooperation.’ – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.1