Many years ago, I heard a spiritual teaching that has continued to resonate with me. “Love everyone, but some people you want to love at a distance.” This has been such a fantastic guiding principle for me and I have been able to pass it on to my children and clients. In my experience, this way of living has allowed me to witness some toxic behavior in others that stems from their own pain, rather than engage.
By not engaging with someone’s toxic behavior, we are giving them the opportunity to look within and take personal responsibility for their own pain. When we do engage with someone’s unhealthy behavior, we offer them a much needed distraction (because it is your fault now!) and while they experience relief, we end up exposing ourselves to negativity that doesn’t belong to us. Observation is an important component in this. If we observe someone being unkind to others, they are people you want to love at a distance. It is not up to you to save them, to lick their wounds or clean up their messes. If you observe someone who bothers you and you simply don’t like them, you are not a bad person. If you force yourself to be with them out of guilt or feel like there is something wrong with you, most likely you will experience consequences.
These are people you want to love at a distance. Many years ago I had a neighbor who was clearly in a lot of pain. She would gossip and do unkind things to all of her neighbors. Knowing this prior to moving in, I never approached her. However, when she approached me I offered her a smile and kept our conversations very brief. And I would always wish her well. In the past, I would have felt the need to call her out on her behavior, or felt it was up to me to heal her or fix her. There will always be people that we don’t connect with, share different values or people who express their pain through unkindness. It could be co-workers, family members or members of your community. You don’t need to be mean, you don’t need to give them the cold shoulder or ignore them. Be kind, be brief and have an exit strategy.
By engaging in this act of self-care we have the opportunity to spread the peace that we so desperately need in our world today.