Stop Feeding the Demon

Just after Thanksgiving, a manager told me that one of her employees had to go on short-term disability to get mental health care because the election results upset him so much. The punchline was that, when the manager called Human Resources to arrange for the STD, HR said this was the third case that week. It didn’t surprise me – some of my family members have hit a level of stress that worries me.

I’m not immune either. For a time, I stopped watching the news and late night TV. Not because I was hiding from what was going on but because I was tired of hearing people talk about the same thing all the time. I’m ready to swear off it again but like the tongue that can’t stop probing the sore tooth, I also find it hard to stop.

There are certain people in this world whose behavior makes you feel bad, angry, scared, sad. Even worse, they seem to soak up your negative energy and grow stronger. The worse you feel, the more they seem to loom over your life. It seems like every conversation becomes about them, people complaining about them, trying to figure out what to do about them, how to navigate around them, how to change them.

They’re not going to change – why should they change? They’re doing fine – you’re the one who is unhappy, and they feed off your unhappiness so they’re not going to stop.

When my husband has to chase the cat off the kitchen counter, he asks, “Why does she do it? She knows it’s wrong because she jumps down when she sees me coming.”

The cat knows we don’t like it and that she won’t like our response if we catch her doing it. She humors us much of the time by not doing it. But she doesn’t think it’s wrong because, by definition, anything the cat does is right to the cat. And she’s not going to stop doing it.

Zookeepers know this. They appreciate the carnivores in their care, they may even feel love toward them – and they stay safely on the other side of the bars.

Evil people are not going to stop doing bad things; it’s in their nature. You can point out that what they’ve done is unacceptable to you and make sure they understand the consequences, but that wouldn’t stop a predator from eating you.

The more important questions is what to do about the bad feelings inside you?

One way is to listen to them the way you’d listen to a distressed child, asking calm questions to try to determine what’s really going on beneath the tears. Acknowledge the feelings without acting on them. And then stop.

Stop having imaginary conversations about your trigger person. Stop talking to other people about them. Stop listening to others talk about them. Stop telling jokes and stories about him. Stop watching the news, late-night TV, stop reading tweets, and posts, and taking in negative energy.

If this person is someone that you deal with regularly, you are not required to love their behavior. Channel your inner zookeeper and keep them at a distance by acting neutrally. If they do something bad, accept that is their nature, don’t argue about the definition of “wrong” – an argument that you will lose – and move on.

Instead of focusing on how horrible this person is, do something else – read to a child, cook a meal for someone who can’t do it for themselves, garden, call your mother. Do something good for others instead of focusing on the negative person in your life.

Do so much good in the world, that there isn’t space for this person in your heart any more.

Once you stop feeding him, the demon will lose his power.

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