Sometimes a person enters your life and arouses some kind of disapproval in you. A coworker, maybe your boss, a friends friend, an officer at some authority you have to deal with or someone else who comes into your life. Sometimes we’re all going to encounter people who raises unpleasant feelings of frustration, irritation, anger or something else in us. Now, here’s the thing, you can choose to try to avoid those people and the emotional response they spur in you, or you can treat your interaction with them as challenges that you need to find your way through in order to grow as a person.
Because people which we don’t approve, and who awaken negative emotions in us — are always here to teach us something.
It’s a perspective, to see every adversity, including exasperating people, of life as challenges that you have to solve in order to grow as a person. Its a perspective that I choose to adopt because it makes life more interesting, and easy to cope with. I gives a sense of meaning to the difficulties I face and I like that sense of meaningfulness.
When we run into someone and discover that we just can’t stand that person, there is often a logical explanation to it. Maybe it could be that she or he has some attribute that we also have, but that we are not so proud of. Or maybe something about her or him raises envy in us, envy that we hesitate to acknowledge in ourselves. (Have you ever disliked someone because he or she takes up too much space in social contexts, when it’s really about you wishing you had the courage to take up just as much space?) Maybe the person reminds us about something that we have neglected in ourselves for a long time and that we begin to long for or begin to realise that we need to pay attention to.
So this is what happened to me: a while ago I crossed path with this person who annoyed me so profoundly. She was horrible, although I couldn’t put my finger on why. Not knowing what she aroused in me, I tried to behave in a way so that our interaction would be nice and smooth. We met in a context where we more or less had to spend time together and stay really close. And, naturally, being a nice person I tried to make her feel good in my company. At the expense of my own wellbeing.
Outwardly she was a nice person, she was extremely enthusiastic to spend time with me, assuring me over and over how happy she was that we had met. She was also a bit of an over sharer, in contrast to my own general unwillingness to share personal stuff with people i don’t know well. She told me about the hardships she had encountered in life, and somehow I felt that I also had to share such things. The first days I really went all in trying to be on her emotional level. I tried to make my voice sound as enthusiastic as hers when I assured her I was also glad that we had met and that yes, maybe, we would become really good friends.
After three days I had a constant gripe in my stomach. I began to avoid her. I went out without telling her where I went because I felt such a strong urge to spend time alone. My behaviour naturally made her a bit suspicious and I tried even harder to be on her level and create a nice relationship between us. I also explained that I was an introvert person and that I just needed some time on my own, which she of course accepted. But still it didn’t feel right in my stomach. When the two of us reached the group of people we were going to spend some time with I was in a state where I couldn’t even look at her without feeling sick. The mere sound of her voice sparked shiverings of anxiety through my body. And I really tried to figure out why I didn’t like her when she had liked me so much and had really tried to befriend me.
Then, one day, a read something about boundaries. Slowly it became clear to me that I had spent time with this woman without a single boundary to protect my soul, my inner self. I had torn every boundary apart just to try to please her, and still I hadn’t manage to create a well-functioning relationship between us. Because she didn’t respect me. She didn’t respect that I didn’t want to share personal things with someone I just met, that I didn’t want to spend twentyfour hours a day together with someone whom I didn’t feel close to. And of course she didn’t, I never expressed how I wished our relationship would be. Instead I was completely boundary-less and deprived of all senses of integrity and self-worth. I never told her that I didn’t want to hear about her difficult childhood, that I didn’t want to talk about such things, that I wanted us to be the strangers that we were, until – maybe – we found that we could be friends. I didn’t tell her anything but tried to be nice and stay out of her way.
It had never occurred to me that I could be a person with boundary problems, and I really did not see myself as a person without integrity but it gradually became clear to me that this was precisely who I was. Starting to review my past relationships I realised that this was a pattern. I was often offended by the way people treated me and I never ever did anything about it. I just swallowed everything in some kind of misguided sense of mindfulness. I wanted people to feel good in my company to such an extent that I ignored my own wellbeing. And I had been completely unaware that it was like that. As time went on I came to feel grateful to this terrible woman who exposed me to her own emotional turns and obvious need for a close friend. She was like a torch who illuminated the relationship problems I needed to work on. I couldn’t have dreamed of a clearer lesson about how bad it is not to respect your own boundaries.
So, terrible woman, thankyou for entering my life to shine a light on my own relationship failings. Thankyou for making it utterly clear to me that I have to work on expressing my boundaries in relationships.
Recognising that you have something to learn from everyone who spurs negative feelings in you doesn’t mean you have to start liking them. It means you have the possibility to feel grateful to them, instead of feeling frustrated, irritated and angry, and that is the real beauty of the perspective of seeing every obstacle in life as a lesson. Because you deserve to feel good, you deserve to feel grateful, you deserve to develop your inner self and to protect your soul from the stress of feeling bad because someone treats you wrong.
And if you want to read more about setting boundaries in relationships, this article provided some insights to me: