Love comes so naturally in some cases. In others, it doesn’t happen automatically so it must be learned. This is true because we’re all different, just as we’re supposed to be. And that’s all well and good until we have to learn to love a difficult person. For me, it was in this learning process where realized how love is like a magic eraser.
Learn About The Person
I think the most important thing I have done to love a difficult person in my life is to learn about him. I have always been interested in people and personalities; what makes people tick? When I first learned about the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, though, my life changed. That’s not hyperbole! You can read about my experience in my first article for Choosing Wisdom. “How Learning about Differences Allowed Me to Embrace Myself.” The MBTI allowed me to see how other people think and act differently than me. In fact, I began to understand how two people could look at the same situation in exactly the opposite way.
I have always known, of course, that people are unique and everyone is different. It wasn’t until (with MBTI) I could tap into perspective, how people make choices, and what they value that differences became understandable. I believe understanding is everything.
One doesn’t have to operate with malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.”-Charles M. Blow
Learn How You’re Different
The more I learned about this person’s personality, priorities, thought processes, etc., the more I could take a step back and look at him objectively. Because he hurt my feelings so often and so thoroughly, I would commonly get caught in emotional traps when dealing with him. The objective understanding that came through knowing better how his mind worked allowed me to accept him.
For example, he likes—he chooses—to postpone final decisions because he wants to see all the options first. He is willing to wait so long that some of the options are not available any more, and he does it just in case there’s another option out there. For a long time, this angered and frustrated me. “Why does he do that? What is wrong with him? Doesn’t he see that he’s more likely to get a good result if he doesn’t procrastinate?”
And I would ask (or yell) those questions because I look at decisions in exactly the opposite way. Sure, I want to find out all my options before I make a decision, too, but I like—I choose—to see what’s available, think through the pros and cons of each one, and then decide fairly quickly. That way, it’s never too late for those options I was deciding on. Acting quickly on known information instead of waiting for additional unknown information allows me to plan ahead. I prefer to choose my consequences at the same time I choose my actions. He doesn’t.
Now that I understand this, his process is much less upsetting to me. It still affects me adversely sometimes, but I don’t spend so much energy asking the bewildered question, “What is wrong with him?” The fact is: nothing is wrong with him. And nothing is wrong with me, either.
Because of my own tendency to prefer personal, deep interaction based on feelings and emotions, I have a hard time clicking with people who do not. I have made the mistake of assuming that someone who appears to be “like” me (a woman, a mother, a planner, etc.) is actually like me. In reality, there are many people who don’t think or feel or approach life like me at all.
As it turns out, I have to make a rather consistent effort to love someone who on the outside seems similar to me but on the inside could not be more different. I use the word “effort” because it is a whole lotta work. It’s mental work and emotional work mixed in with this person’s inaccurate expectations of me (because she doesn’t really know me very well) and my incorrect assumptions and expectations of her.
Adjust Your Expectations
A year or so ago, a friend introduced me to a podcast by Jody Moore, a coach who focuses on the way our thoughts about an issue influence our negative emotions. She professes that it’s not necessarily a person’s words or actions that hurt us—it’s what we think about those words or actions. Every podcast I listen to blows my mind in some way because her perspective challenges the way I think.
One of the first podcasts I listened to was about dealing with a hard person. Ms. Moore’s message has stuck with me. She said when she hears people talk about dealing with a difficult person, she hears complaints like, “He does this EVERY time!” and “She hurts my feelings.” Ms. Moore then suggested we not be surprised at behavior from a person who “does it every time.” She then focused on the phrase “hurt my feelings.” Why would we give another human being the power to hurt us? Why would we trust our feelings to the person who has proven least capable of caring for them?
I realized that’s exactly what I do when I’m around this person—I expect her to not hurt my feelings. I know from years of experience that she is not capable of being the guardian and caretaker of my emotions. Yet I repeatedly allow myself to be hurt and offended by what she says or doesn’t say, what she does or doesn’t do, by her approach and attitude.
The truth that I know is: she doesn’t mean to hurt me. In this situation, learning to interact with this person in a way different from my original expectations is the answer. Loving her means I give her the benefit of the doubt and I let things go. It means I stop expecting her to be the caretaker of my heart.
Love is Like a Magic Eraser
Take heart, have hope, and give it some time, this was (and still is) a process. Some days are better than others. Some days I work to apply what I’ve learned, and other days I’m tired. It does take time and practice, though, so it’s important for me to take heart, have hope, and give it time. I go back to this statement again and again:
Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people, that can bridge the chasms of bitterness.”-Gordon B. Hinckley
When I’m dealing with someone and it feels like we’re looking at each other over a chasm, I have to remember my end goal is love. Learning to deal with a person is not the same as learning to love a person. I work to understand his/her personality, and I work to make sure my thoughts and expectations are serving me well, but the goal is love. Love is what will make the differences between us not important. Love is like a magic eraser.