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Should I Stay Away from Unkind People?

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Unkind people seem to ‘drain’ me, so should I stay away from them? This is a question I come across relatively often. As a counsellor, my answer is: ‘yes and no’. Firstly, using mostly needs-based psychology in my consultations this question needs further depth and secondly, both Western psychology and the Eastern spiritual traditions remind us that there is only one person who can make us happy or unhappy: ourselves.

Through the dialogue we have with ourselves about situations, objects and people, we create our own reality; so reality isn’t as real as we would like to believe – our own visions of the world is tinted, which is one of the reasons why Swiss psychologist Hermann Rorschach came up, in the 1960’s, with the homonymous test, based on the premise that each individual, when shown a specific pattern, will give her own definition of it, based on her life’s history and by the same token, a clue as to her ‘inner workings‘.

Simply put, if I entertain loving thoughts vis-a-vis others and myself, I will see the world as a pretty benign, fun place. If, on the other hand, I entertain hostile thoughts about myself such as: ‘That was a stupid thing to do’ or ‘I am such an idiot’ or ‘This job I did was really awful; shame on me’ then chances are that my world will look like a pretty hostile place; full of fools who are out there to get me.

Whereas if I have a ‘positive’ attitude to life, chances are also that I will attract people with a loving attitude into my life, because that is the ‘signal’ I emit; I go round the planet with a smile on my face, attracting people with a smile on their faces. Conversely, out of my own experience, when I was in a grumpy, unhappy phase of my life, I was mostly meeting up with grumpy and unhappy people. As the saying goes, like attracts like.

The specific sentence I found was: ‘I need the people in my life to be kind’. Now, is this true? Let’s go a bit more into depth. While it is true for most of us that it is easier to deal with uplifting words and smiling faces, the statement from above does not necessarily hold true. Why am I asserting that?

I’d like to take you back to my first idea, in which I remind us all that, in fact, the world as we see it is but a mirror of the dialogue we have with ourselves. Years ago an idea came to me that is both intended to be playful and a good reminder of how we determine our own reality: ‘If you change the way you look at the world, the world you look at changes’. And now, I have a question for you: ‘What is your personal definition of “kind” and what is your personal definition of “unkind”?’

While it is true that most of us a have learned a standard definition for most words, it is also true that we make words ours, hence they acquire very personal meaning throughout our lives and last but not least, words and their meaning are influenced by the societies we grew up in and we currently live in.

For example, burping after a meal is considered a sign of kindness and respect to the host in certain societies, taken to mean the meal was appreciated. Many other societies frown upon this and see it as an expression of rudeness.

Scientists nowadays call these mental indoctrinations memes, or ‘viruses of the mind’; little titbits of information that over time become true for a specific group of people, or an entire society, while in reality, they aren’t based on anything but mental habits, perhaps developed over generations.

So, now, let’s move on to a next step in the larger realm of things related to psychology. Years ago, I was in need of a few sessions of counselling myself and the person I was working with explained something that stayed with me to this day as one of the most important things I ever learned: the understanding that others are but our mirrors, the mirrors of our mental filters.

What we don’t like about them is what we don’t like about ourselves, and inversely, what we like about them is what we like in ourselves. What is the bottom line and the importance of all this? At least twofold: on the one hand, others can (indirectly) help us grow by showing us resistance and acceptance of our own behaviours, respectively. On the other hand, we can use our personal resistance to other people’s behaviours, the behaviours we label as ‘unkind’ as a signal that some of our basic human needs are not met and as a reminder that only one person can meet them: the very individual that is saying that their basic human needs are not met: you and me in other words.

If we can get to this point of awareness in (and about) ourselves we can see many benefits. To me, some of the biggest ones are the fact that we start to create the lives that we want because, in order to live ‘a spot on life’, only through awareness can we do so.

What is it that I like in a job to call it satisfying?  What is it that I want from my bank account? What is it that I feel repulsion towards when I look at human behaviours? What characteristics must people have to be potential lovers? What characteristics must ‘real’ friends have?

If I can define questions like these with clarity, then I can obviously start to move in the direction of what I most cherish in this particular moment of my life: by knowing what I don’t want, I focus more and more on what it is that I do want.

Yet, let’s do a bit of rewinding and let’s come back to the original statement: ‘I need the people in my life to be kind’. By now, I will have identified what ‘kind’ is in my understanding and with this newfound clarity, I will also be able to embrace others in a completely different way.

I will be able to embrace others with the understanding that, while some of their behaviours might not come across as very kind to me, that does not make them unkind and that, perhaps more importantly, my labelling of them actually removes me from them, because I no longer see the person in their entirety, but only the label I put on them; in this case, unkind.

This, by extension, also means that I am releasing myself: if I no longer need to judge their behaviours as kind or unkind, I free myself from having to choose to interpret their presence as something beneficial or detrimental in my life; in other words, I choose for inner freedom, with the full understanding that, as I have relinquished attachment to a definition of them and their behaviours, I can let others be as they are and base my decision to be around them, or not, on different parameters.

Jerry Zondervan is the author of 4 Steps to a Healthy Romantic Relationship. He offers online counselling through Skype. You can learn more about his services on his website.

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