Editor’s Note: This post responds to a request from a reader who asked me to write about how to feel compassion towards someone you dislike, especially when the person is very present in your life.
Sometimes, you can avoid people you dislike. But, many times they move into your life, your home, your circle, or your work and refuse to depart. It might be a difficult housemate, a trying ex, an impossible boss, or just about anyone.
What do you do then?
You could cave into the constant internal torment that comes from frustration, impatience, jealousy, anger, or righteousness – to name just a few possible emotional whirlwinds. You could allow these emotions to build up and then spontaneously pour out as heated words and unkind behaviors, confounding the situation even more. You could immerse yourself in feeling victimized or out-of-control for hours or days at a time.
If you’ve been there and done this – and most of us have – you know it’s excruciatingly unpleasant. There’s no winning ever.
The Better Option When It Comes To Dislike
The better option – for you and or the other person too – is to use the situation as an opportunity to cultivate compassion.
Let’s not fool ourselves, however. It’s extremely difficult to feel compassion towards someone you dislike. So appreciate you are taking on a big challenge. But, please don’t shrink from it because there’s so much to be gained.
Usually, when you train in compassion, you begin by arousing compassionate feelings for people you already like or love. Once you have this down, you move onto people who are neutral like the mail carrier or a checkout clerk at the grocery store. Only then do you move on to people you actively dislike.
But, you’re stuck. The person you dislike is planted like concrete in your life. So you might as well start there.
- First, challenge any false beliefs you may have that make the situation worse.
- Then, learn and practice growing your compassionate heart.
One cautionary note before you proceed. I’m not suggesting that you remain in an abusive or violent situation or function as a doormat.
Erase False Beliefs That Fuel Dislike
1. The other person is not causing your internal states or reactionary behaviors.
I know it probably feels like they are.
But consider this: there are people who like and even love the person you dislike. If the other person was permanently unlikeable, no one in the world would like them.
Contemplate this again and again, and gradually annihilate the belief that the other person is responsible for your thoughts, feelings, words and actions. You and you alone are responsible for how you respond to any given person.
2. This is a precious opportunity for personal growth.
Convince yourself beyond a doubt that this is a rare opportunity for personal growth. Stop seeing it exclusively as a thorn in your side.
Generally, we adore pleasant conditions and have aversion for all else. I’m not encouraging you to suffer just for the sake of suffering. Please do enjoy happiness when it comes your way.
But life isn’t all rainbows and star shine. Challenges arise and offer an opportunity for personal growth. You could resist, but that only elongates the situation and brings more suffering.
Turn off your aversion and look for the growth possibilities right in front of you.
3. Acting on dislike will only bring more suffering.
Observe the way that anger and discord just bring more anger and discord, again and again, It’s an endless cycle.
Decide without a doubt that anger and aggression – even in their small forms like irritation, frustration or coolness – only bring unhappiness. Decide you want nothing to do with these poisons ever again.
4. The other person is triggering something within you.
Whatever the person is triggering, that’s your growth edge. Look inside and see what’s being stirred up. Is it jealousy, fear, low self-esteem?
Explore ways you can work with and transform this emotion that only holds you back. You’ll grow stronger and have less need to react to the person you dislike.
5. Let go of the idea of enemies and friends.
Someone who is your enemy now may be your best friend in the future. And, you could easily have a falling out with your best friend. There’s nothing permanent about an enemy or a friend.
Try to consider the possibility that the person you dislike could become your greatest friend. Look at their good qualities, where you have common ground, and what you might actually like about them.
What You Think Makes a Difference
Your old beliefs will keep you locked in a cycle of distressing emotions. Whereas, these new beliefs form the foundation of a compassionate life, and bring about genuine happiness.
You won’t be able to adopt these new beliefs overnight. But, if you reflect a bit on one of these new beliefs each day, you’ll slowly see their self-evident truth reflected back to you. Gradually, they will permeate your mind set and lead to a healthier way of being.
How to Cultivate Compassion for Someone You Dislike
We all have a natural ability for empathy and compassion. It might just be hidden beneath our own worries and concerns. Once we clear these away and understand the power of compassion, our empathy will easily grow.
Here are a few immediate tips for reconnecting to your own heart of compassion.
1. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Tune into the other person’s suffering, and your heart will naturally open.
Even if someone’s life seems perfect, there’s almost always some form of inner suffering or physical distress. Instead of concentrating on your dislike, reflect on the other person’s suffering and let your heart soften bit by bit.
Do this often. Whenever you start getting dragged into dislike, flip the switch and remember the person’s suffering. See the person as another you who just wants to be happy and doesn’t want to suffer either. Their “irritating” behaviors may just be ways they are trying to find happiness, as confused or unhelpful as they may appear.
2. You need compassion, too.
It’s not easy to constantly be around someone you dislike. And, it won’t immediately become easy once you decide to work with the situation in a positive way. You have long standing habits, so learning to have compassion towards someone you dislike will take time.
In the meantime, you need a healthy dose of self-compassion, too.
When you blow it and act in a less than ideal way, be gentle and forgiving with yourself. Aspire to do better the next time, but don’t judge or harass yourself for your current mistake. Just let go of all your thoughts about the situation and be ready for the next.
Appreciate yourself everyday for taking on such a big challenge. Celebrate your wins and don’t linger on your errors.
3. Take Breaks
No one can suddenly be compassionate towards someone they dislike 24 hours a day. Take plenty of breaks away from the person that triggers you. Be good to yourself, especially when it’s been a difficult or trying day.
Specific Tools For Cultivating Compassion
To learn how to actively train in compassion, read the following articles and then give it a try.
- Cultivating Genuine Compassion: Begin with Impartiality – Part 1 of a 4-part series, which gives you the specifics for growing equanimity, love, compassion, and joy.
- Are You Serious About Loving Yourself? – Part 1 of a 2-part series on loving kindness, starting with yourself and then expanding it to others.
Until you have thoroughly trained yourself in compassion, you’ll always come across people you don’t like in life. The dislike is just an arising emotion and you’re not bad for having it. Just don’t start generating tons of negativity as a result. Instead, learn how to switch dislike for compassion and genuine happiness will be yours.
Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious! Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always. With love, Sandra