Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Pause before you Punch...

... or How to Deal with Mean People

My friend and colleague, the beautiful and talented, Deb Smouse, recently asked if I had any tips on dealing with mean people. Not knowing exactly what she desired, I decided to do a little journaling around the topic to find out what I know ☺.

Bottom line, no matter how hard we try and hope it isn't so, they do exist and well... Sometimes mean people are just plain mean. They get under your skin and make you feel like you want to lash out and be mean too (or at least I do.) When I feel my blood pressure start to rise and my chest begin to pound, I realize that’s usually the time to take a deep breath and pause for a quick look in the mirror. Stop. Look. Listen. Notice and begin to imagine where their nastiness might be coming from, because most often it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I’ve also learned that without the pause, I’m at risk of feeding their fire (or ire) by turning up the heat with my less desirable Lucy-girl tactics. While momentarily this might feel good, it typically feels downright yucky and both of us walk away feeling singed. If I can avert this quick response and gather my pause, I often discover it’s the perfect time to pull out my super-secret (wish everyone knew about it) diffuser: Compassion. Whether or not the other person is willing to receive it, depends on them. In any case, through compassion I can stay grounded and with much better-feeling results than trying to match their nasty attitude.

(Warning: If you offer compassion and kindness to someone and consistently walk away feeling guilty or at fault for their bad mood, you’re probably dealing with a narcissist. My advice is to steer clear!)

Grumpsters come in all varieties and curmudgeons are my favorites. They’re usually just big old teddy bears who lay on the mild end of the “mean” scale just before hard-to-love, prickly, but ultimately approachable people and far away from sociopaths or narcissists who can rarely be won over and always leave you feeling icky. My approach with curmudgeons (and I realize I’m now giving away trade secrets) is to tame them with kindness. I like to get playful and perhaps a little sassy with these growly bears while feeding them their own direct medicine. I truly love being their pal, and rarely let them off the hook, because curmudgeons typically enjoy a good jest and are usually just trying to stir things up.

In my experience mean people are always asking for something and while it usually looks like they want you to go away, the exact opposite is often true. My kids, for example, have perfected the nasty look or growling get-away-from-me grunt. They can trigger me faster than any living person, so it’s trickier with people you’re close to, because you’re often a lot alike and/or it feels like there’s more at risk than with someone you don’t know. Once I began to understand my own insecurities and hidden motivations for being mean, it became easier to stick it out with others and turn on the loving compassion. It also taught me to slow down and consider how things aren’t always as they seem.

If pausing, looking in the mirror and calling on compassion, doesn’t do the trick for taming a mean person, then my surefire, foolproof approach to not letting this person get to me is to imagine they are about four or five years old. I see them slightly past the terrible two’s (although it can be fun to think of them at this age), but not yet jaded by a world of should’s and should not’s. By seeing an offensive person as a tender child who only wants to be loved, I’m able to drop my own defensiveness and tap into unconditional love and compassion. If four or five years old doesn’t work, I drop the age even younger until I can only see them as needing care. I can’t even begin to imagine retaliating or hurting them. I try to envision what this child might need – a kind word, a grounded presence, a hug or pat on the back. Mentally offering it to them can be equally powerful when it’s inappropriate to do it physically. In some cases they may just need to be left alone. In the case of hard-core offenders (sociopaths/narcissists), sometimes we just need to walk away and take care of our own inner child (i.e. don’t add to the abusiveness by staying in the line of fire!) It’s ok to move away gently and acknowledge for ourselves where and how it hurts. Finally, I allow myself to remember sometimes mean people are just plain mean.

Be sure to pop on over to Debra Smouse’s To Box or Not to Box for another viewpoint on dealing with those mean-spirited people in your life.

You can also visit me at Diamonds in the Soul to learn more about me.

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