Love Thy Enemy and Other People You Can’t Stand

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We all have that person/people we just can’t stand to be around.  They wronged us.  They’re selfish, demanding, controlling, mean-spirited, and/or negative.  When we’re around them, they make our blood boil and we just want to bolt or wallow in a chocolate binge.

I was never sure which was more upsetting – being near someone I couldn’t stand, or the fact that I couldn’t stand being near them.  I mean, why should their presence upset me?  Ruin an otherwise lovely event or meeting?  (I realize “lovely meeting” is an oxymoron but you know what I mean.)  It just makes it worse when that person seems completely oblivious to their effect on others.

The problem with this scenario of allowing someone else to rock my boat – justified or not – is that I’m giving away my power.  In other words, I’m allowing someone else to control how I feel.  If I spend five minutes, no  – one minute, feeling any less peaceful, content or happy with my life because of someone else, then I’ve let that someone “win.”

Illegitimi non carborundum” (translation:  don’t let the bastards get you down) – World War II British army intelligence

The solution is to avoid going there in the first place.  I realize that’s easier said than done, but I feel like it’s well worth the effort.

First, realize that by treating that person as a problem, obstacle or a happiness/joy black hole, I am objectifying  them.  Dehumanizing them.  I am treating them like an object, a thing, not a person with feelings, dreams, and (this may be a stretch here sometimes) good intentions.  Sounds like I’m the person with the problem.

Second, view that person instead with compassion and empathy.  Usually if someone is acting so unreasonably, selfishly or negatively it must mean that they are struggling with their fear, control issues, confidence or ability to see the world as a loving place.  I imagine them as a scared child, and see that their actions are being driven by their hot buttons, not their better angels.  He who has never acted or spoken based upon their hot buttons can probably never understand this concept, but I would hazard a guess that we’ve all been there, done that.

In addition, remember that the characteristic in someone else that drives you nuts is the thing you hate/fear about yourself.   A friend recently said, “but I hate lazy, ineffective people, and I don’t think I’m lazy or ineffective.”  This would fall into the latter category of something you may fear you may find in yourself.  For example, people who are driven to work hard and excel may have an underlying belief that tells them they are not worthy/lovable/valuable/a good person unless they demonstrate their competence and productivity.  Such people may work very hard to avoid their feelings of incompetence – a feeling they hate in themselves.

Third, forgive that person.  It’s easy to forgive them when I see their scared child.  I’ve said in this blog many times that “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself” (Suzanne Somers) and I truly believe that. Forgiveness lightens the spirit and opens the heart, regardless of whether I think they deserve it.  It’s for me, not for them.  Plus, I’ve  just identified that quality in the person that I fear that I may share with them.  So, I can forgive yourself, while I’m at it.

Finally, approach that person now with love, compassion, and empathy. Once I do the above three steps, the last step is surprisingly easy, because I am no longer judging either of us, and now I can bring my best self to the dynamic.  You may be surprised how healing, powerful and affirming it is to approach difficult people with love and empathy, not only for you but also for the person you are no longer treating like something you found on the bottom of your shoe.  They may also just find that you’re not being as difficult as they once thought and forgive you too.

My assistant’s tag line on her email has been “I choose love.”  And she does.  And so should we all, especially when it’s hardest to do.

Healing the Perfectionist and Control Freak

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Someone needs to tell the perfectionists and control freaks out there that they are making everyone else miserable.  We don’t need your stinkin’ perfection!

You know those the traits that you find most frustrating in others are the really the things that you hate about yourself?  You know what I’m saying.

Hello, my name is Susanna and I’m a perfectionist/control freak.

In my defense, perfectionism is considered sort of a virtue in our society.   Perfectionists do a great job with the things they choose to focus on.  Every detail is considered, every inch of the car, yard, or kitchen in perfect condition, everything beautifully decorated or presented.  Forget about the rest of your lives or relationships, they play second fiddle to the perfectionist/control freak’s obsessions.

I thought I was so clever during  interviews to answer “I’m a perfectionist” when someone asked me what was my biggest flaw.   That’s right, turn that frown upside down and turn my shortcoming into an asset!

Yeah, right.  I hope they saw right through my little charade.  What I should’ve said, if I was really truthful, was that I’m too insecure to tolerate human imperfection from myself or anyone else.  Or, it’s too scary for me to consider that I might not be perfect because that might mean I need to change, or worse, that I’m an unworthy human being.  Or maybe I’d say that the world is too scary to me, and so I have to try to control everything in it to feel safe.

But if I had said those things, I probably wouldn’t have gotten the job or admitted to school because then I just sound like a head case.

I know the truth now.  When students or prospective employees tell me somewhat proudly about how they’re perfectionists, then I know they’re full of it.  They’re still in denial about how miserable they’re making themselves and others, how counterproductive that philosophy is toward their work and their relationships.  On the surface, they may look completely put together – articulate, poised, well dressed, well groomed.  But inside, they’re a mess just like I am.

Or I was.  I’m in the recovery phase, and to shake off that delusion of control and perfection was not pretty.

First I had to take a hard look at myself to determine how I was contributing to my dysfunctional life and relationships. Simply examining my expectations of myself and my loved ones and putting them into realistic context for the first time was a sobering experience.  This takes a fair amount of honesty that doesn’t come easily.  I had to do it because my marriage was falling apart and I was becoming ill.  If you haven’t reached rock bottom, then this step takes a huge  amount of courage and maturity.   If you’re the type that is never satisfied with yourself or others – maybe this should be your wake-up call.

Underneath my unrealistic and unfair expectations I was imposing on myself and others was also my hateful self-talk.  This talk was not at all conscious.  It was this inner slave-driver that kept saying something like, “if you’re not perfect, you’re not going to be OK, you will not be acceptable or worthy of love.”  This voice was absolutely relentless but totally subconscious. If someone tried to tell me I was being over-the-top, I just brushed them off as being too lax.  After all, I had high standards.

I think the most important step for me was then to forgive myself for being, well, commonly human.  Sometimes I’m wrong, sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I’m clueless – oh well.  I’m just like everyone else.  Strangely, when I forgave myself, I was able to forgive others for just being commonly human too.

I’m having this control freak/perfectionism conversation with myself when 9/11 happened.  The remnants of my  illusions of control came tumbling down with the towers.  How’s that for finding a silver lining out of an unimaginable disaster?  It is a small one but a silver lining nonetheless.

Now I am a recovering perfectionist/control freak.  I have learned to be more comfortable with those now-occasional  feelings of not being good enough, realizing that quality of life, balance, healthy relationships and working on that which is most important is a much preferable approach to controlling a few things to perfection.  I have really, truly learned that my loved ones love me anyway, maybe more, when I’m not trying to be something that I’m not, or make them into something they’re not.  I have embraced the parts of me that suck, for those are the places I can grow.  My blind spots are still my blind spots, I can’t do anything about that but try to be open to finding them.  I’m much more accepting of the uncertainty of life, and the unimaginable possibilities that accompany the unknown.

“There is much more in heaven and earth Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare.

I have a much, much lighter feeling in my chest.  That tightness that comes from always believing something is wrong, something is wrong, I’m bad/wrong, is gone.  In its place is an openness to exploring the beautiful nuance that is the human struggle to find our place in the world, and the way our lives open up if we don’t try to control it.  My remaining perfectionist/control freak tendencies are focused on balance and quality of life.  That is really where the money is.