“When I called to arrange for short term disability for my employee, HR told me this person was the third employee this week that had to go on disability.”
I heard this just after Thanksgiving 2016 and it didn’t surprise me. A lot of people – regardless of how they voted – were worried that the things the newly-elected president said and did might change the tone of the country.
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.
Zookeepers stay out of the lion cage
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 when we’re looking. 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.
Some 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 won’t stop a predator from eating you.
The more important question is:
What do you 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 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.
Do something good for others
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.
Here’s an example that reporter, Maliya Ellis, featured in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last week: Laura Magone of Pittsburgh could have filled her heart with rage and anger at the recent school shooter – instead she mobilized her FB group to send 800 dozen cookies to Ulvade for distribution at the church where the funerals are being held – and she didn’t stop there (read the article for details). Ms. Magone hopes that, for one moment, someone who is grieving will know that there is somebody out there who cares about them.
This is a person who is doing something good for others.
Do so much good in the world, that there isn’t space in your heart for anger, fear, sadness, and worry.
Once you stop feeding him, the demon will lose his power.