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How to Feel and Be Compassionate Towards Someone You Dislike

Compassion for those we dislike

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.

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

 

 

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22 Comments

  1. Jean Sampson

    Thank you for a good method to train to feel compassion for everyone! This is a tough part of life, one that most of us have to deal with at one time or another. I am not saying I am at all good at feeling compassion toward everyone, but I do NOT like the feeling of not liking someone or resentment or whatever the emotion may be that is not love, so I have a little imaginary thing I do. I first imagine the person as a child. Then I try to remember if the person has ever told me anything about any time they were not treated well as a child or felt sad or lonely, and immediately I feel compassionate for them. Even if I don’t really know them to that depth, if I can imagine them as a child, I can at least have some compassion just because I know that all sorts of things happen to children to hurt them and make them feel less than smart and lovable. I expect I have written something similar here before, but this seems to work well for me.

    • Hi Jean,

      Very few of us have perfect compassion, so naturally these negative feelings toward people arise from time to time. What a beautiful exercise you have created for working with them and opening your heart. This is just so true that so much of our current suffering stems from the hurts in our childhood and this often accounts for our unlikable behaviors. So in a very special way if we see the person as a hurt child, we may be helping to heal the core of their unhappiness. Thank you so much for sharing this with us! It’s very special. And even if you’ve mentioned it before, it’s worth sharing again.

  2. Hi Sandra,

    You have offered excellent ways to make peace with the person we dislike and develop compassion slowly, knowing well that it can be very challenging! How do you understand all these nitty gritties so well is a marvel to me…you seem to have a very good understanding!!

    I fully agree with you that sometimes it is not possible to avoid such a person yet you have to put up with him/her as your own dear one is connected with that person. I liked each one of your tips and thank you for providing me encouragement that we can try even when they provoke us to be bad due to their own behavior…which should be ignored for our own benefit.

    Thanks for sharing a very meaningful article…love your good spirit.

    • Dear Balroop,

      Thanks for your kind words. My perspective comes from my training in Buddhism and its core of universal principles. I feel very fortunate to have received spiritual teachings from several great masters. This is how I’ve learned, but also because it resonates as the truth for me.

      You are very sweet! Thanks for all the goodness you bring to the world.

  3. Sandra, I pondered on your question and yes I think it is entirely possible to change our attitude towards someone we dislike. I had this experience many years ago, where I needed to consciously adopt an attitude of compassion towards someone. At the mention of this person nowadays, I feel an instant flow of compassion for her suffering and this has replaced the hurt I thought I needed to hang on to.

    I’ve always felt that the irritation I feel towards another, is mirroring an opportunity for my own personal growth. While I don’t always accept this instantly, I eventually come around to accepting whatever lesson needs learning 🙂

    Your posts are written with such wisdom and love Sandra and I appreciate the work you put into them.

    • Dear Liz,

      That is a beautiful example, Liz! I’m so touched you shared it with us. I think it’s quite usual for most of us to feel that resistance you describe at first. Often we want to feel like we’re right, or we’re OK. It’s all part of what we can work through when we open to a deeper level of compassion. Like, you eventually we find that feeling love and compassion is so much better than feeling right or whatever sparks the resistance.

      Thank you for your super kind words and sharing this story, which we can all learn from.

  4. When we get right down to it Sandra, changing our perspective is the one way we get to have an entirely different experience with the more difficult people we come across in our life. I’ve discovered that there seems to be less and less of them as I do this. Funny that!!! 🙂

  5. I so enjoyed this article, Sandra! And how you so clearly outlined some ways to deal with those who set off our triggers within us. As much as I’d like to think it is (the other person), it’s not really the other person – it’s us!

    So true that our dislike of others is a great opportunity for personal growth. I guess there’s two ways to go about this quandry – 1) run and hide from the people who we dislike or 2) confront, experience and grow from the people who we dislike and cause us discomfort. It sounds like the second approach starts with the intention to live with compassion and kindness.

    Thank you for this gentle and powerful reminder.

    • Dear Vishnu,

      It’s a big leap to accept that it’s not the other person that’s the full problem. But it seems you’ve already made that leap beautifully!

      I think staying away from people we dislike can be an intentional way to avoid triggering anger and other negative thoughts. It is one route that can be a good choice at times, but of course it’s not always possible. So I personally think that generally your option number 2 will work best and have the best long term results. But you know that already from reading the article.

      Thanks for your very sweet words, Vishnu. I feel very blessed to have learned all this from wonderful spiritual teachers. And, of course, I’m not 100% with it myself. I’m still a work in progress.

  6. Hi Sandra,
    You make agood point there about exercising compassion by taking breaks.It’s like doing things in small doses.Small doses are imperative for any worthwhile success.
    Reinforce your growth and strength through repetitive “small doses” of attention to success,capability,skill,achievement and satisfaction.Give “small doses” of your time to feeling confident ,feeling certain,sure and capable.Small doses are wonderful.They have magic in them and pack a punch for all your efforts.

    I believe compassion is not just a feeling.It is also a skill.And like all skills,it can be learnt.And learning takes place with attention repeated over a period of time.Just as your current attitudes,opinions and estimates of life and things are a result of “small doses” of attention to a particular line of thought.
    You can build a repertoire for compassion by repeated doses of attention to compassion.When do you spare these small doses of attention?
    You can spare them when you start a new undertaking next.You can apply these small doses to your thinking ,to your self talk,to your interactions and memories of interactions with others.
    We need to be extremely attentive to how we interpret,record,and review our memories ,for compassion to flower.
    Compassion ,finally is an act of courage.
    Thanks
    mona

    • Dear Mona,

      I so agree that compassion is a skill or attitude that can be learned! We all have the seed of empathy, and with skill we can grow it. I love your formula of small doses of attention. That works perfectly!

  7. I love this Sandra. It’s such a wonderful mix of self-awareness and attuning to shadow and empathy (self and other). I do think it’s very possible to cultivate compassion for those we don’t like. This has been a long road for me and I’ve been on it for awhile, but one of the most unexpected benefits is that I’m so much more compassionate to myself as a result. (Because, let’s face it, we don’t always like ourselves in every single moment either.) It’s true what they say: if we are hard on others, then we’re very likely hard on ourselves too.

    • Dear Patty,

      What a wonderful result – being more compassionate towards yourself! I’m so happy for you. It is a long road and it’s so good to hear from someone who has been traveling it for awhile. You give us the confidence that we too can make the shift bit by bit. Thank you!

  8. Hi Sandra,

    Enjoyed reading this post and I can SO relate to it. Keep inspiring us with more!

  9. surekha

    Awesome suggestions Sandra, thanks.

  10. Gosh this is a thorny issue – I love your suggestions for dealing with the problem as I tend to run away from people I dislike to avoid conflict. Not good!

    I try to look for redeeming features in people who irk me for whatever reason. Maybe they make me laugh sometimes, maybe they are great with animals or children, maybe they have nice eyes. Everyone has some good qualities and it helps to focus on those instead of the bad ones which niggle so.

    • Dear Annabel,

      Running away can work sometimes! Better than getting into with someone. But, when we can’t, I think your approach of looking for redeeming features is a noble and beautiful one!

  11. Hello,

    The ways you have explained in this post are really good but we should try to decrease the distance between the person we dislike. We all are a kids of God, father do not want their children fight with each other.

    ~Diana

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