Who is in There?

I had the good fortune to have brunch with two of my cousins this past weekend. It’s really wonderful when there are people in one’s family that are truly enjoyable to be around, and these two are that. I’m blessed to have relationships in my adult life with my cousins that I did not have – for a variety of reasons – when I was a child. We find so many common experiences, though, and also are able to share at a very deep and meaningful level. By the end of the brunch, they had “adopted” me as their other sister!

During our hours together we got into conversation about someone we all know who has a tendency to act in peculiar and, admittedly, sometimes disturbing ways. One of my cousins is a licensed social worker and the other has had a child with clinical depression, so they are both knowledgeable about personalities. They both talked about the condition of depression and anxiety and how it can be a chemical imbalance for some people. In addition, they talked about the personality disorder of narcissism and how individuals with this disorder truly lack compassion for other people.

As the conversation evolved, I started to feel true compassion for the person we were talking about. One cousin related these conditions to a “disease” that someone could have – something that they experience but might not have any control over. Instead of seeing the person we were discussing as difficult, I saw this person as a pained individual who was probably struggling with their inner being on a daily basis.

People who are miserable, and difficult to get along with, are often miserable with themselves too. The negative aspects they exhibit don’t just happen when others are around – this can be their life situation. While it isn’t pleasant for any of us to experience, the truth is that we can see the pain projected by that person in many cases. Just as a person might be physically ill, there are others who can be emotionally ill and unable to give of themselves in any positive way. Yes, it can be hurtful to be around them, but we would do ourselves well if we could keep in mind that it really IS about them and not about us.

If we can try and adopt the mantra “there but for the grace of God go I,” we can start to see that many times we aren’t so separate from another person – even a person who displays behavior that we find abhorrent somehow. Most people that act out do so from a place of pain. Somehow they feel they aren’t enough, they aren’t worthy, or in the case of the narcissist they truly don’t see that there is a whole wide world outside of their line of vision!

As I’ve recommended before, we might sometimes need to separate ourselves from someone who is behaving in a hurtful way toward us. But we also want to remember, with compassion, not to do so in an angry and accusative way but to remember that people who act out, whether from angry places or depressed places, might feel they are missing something fundamental inside.

Offering compassion when we don’t feel like it is often the hardest thing we can do. We want to return anger with anger, or negativity with negativity. Sometimes the best solution IS to just walk away – but even when we do that, we want to remember that there is a hurting human being inside most of the people we meet. It’s the deepest form of compassion to remember this even when we don’t really want to.

Find the hurting place inside of you this week, and see if locating it can offer you any insight and compassion toward someone that you aren’t feeling good about in your life. Maybe separating makes the most sense, but sometimes extending the hand of compassion when it really isn’t earned makes sense, too.