Is someone in your life bringing you down? Here’s how to handle it in a way that will push you both forward

Living empathetically makes us happier and healthier. You’ll see.

The fact is, most of us have someone in our lives who — maybe without even knowing it — brings us down and saps our energy.

But the catch, most of the time, is that these are people we can’t just remove ourselves entirely from.
They might be a brother or a sister, or a parent, or a boss. And because of how important they are to our family or our work, we can’t just get rid of them — in spite of the fact that they could be holding us back.

For a lot of us, these people are serious sources of stress. Just being around them could be a source of stress. We get anxiety over our conflict with them. As a result, we end up arguing with them constantly. Fighting with them. Confronting them to prove that we’re right and the person on the other side of the desk or dining room table is wrong.


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Of course, if your goal is to live the best, healthiest, happiest life possible, this isn’t the right approach.

The fact is, most of us have someone in our lives who — maybe without even knowing it — brings us down and saps our energy.

But the catch, most of the time, is that these are people we can’t just remove ourselves entirely from.
They might be a brother or a sister, or a parent, or a boss. And because of how important they are to our family or our work, we can’t just get rid of them — in spite of the fact that they could be holding us back.

For a lot of us, these people are serious sources of stress. Just being around them could be a source of stress. We get anxiety over our conflict with them. As a result, we end up arguing with them constantly. Fighting with them. Confronting them to prove that we’re right and the person on the other side of the desk or dining room table is wrong.

Of course, if your goal is to live the best, healthiest, happiest life possible, this isn’t the right approach.

It’s better, instead, to try and empathize with the controversial people in your life

The reason is simple. By seeking to understand the people in your family or professional orbit, you give yourself a chance of bridging whatever disconnects are causing so much disruption and animosity in your relationships. And, if you give connecting with those people a genuinely fair shake, even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll have at least gained the knowledge and sense of finality you need to distance yourself from them.

But you should really give this process a chance before you reach that point; you have to really try and empathize.
And the reason you have to try so hard is because empathy itself is hard. Humans are hardwired to concern ourselves first and foremost with our own problems, sacrifices, and struggles. It takes real effort to disentangle ourselves from our own minds so we can think for a moment about the problems other people are dealing with. To understand where they are coming from — what inspires their aggression, their fears, and their anxieties.

This is a valuable thing to try and do across many aspects of your life, whether it be with foes across the political aisle or the boss who seems irrationally uptight.

What you’ll find is that you really can’t understand anyone — friend or enemy — until you try really hard to step for a second into their shoes.

When people feel like they’re being understood, they’re more open to trying to understand your point of view

There are more benefits to this than just you gaining a better understanding of the people in your life.

When the person bringing you down feels that they are understood, they’re more likely to be empathetic towards you, too.

And restoring these relationships should ultimately be the primary goal. Moreover, we have to know it’s possible with effort. Personally, through my work and in my life, I’ve watched husbands and wives and brothers and sisters fight for years — seemingly to the point that there was no hope. But after making a mutual effort to empathize with each other, I’ve seen them improve their relationships. Stop fighting so much. Start loving more.

What’s often the most popular weapon used in a fight? You don’t understand.
As it happens, that’s often true. We don’t really know the history or events informing the lives and behaviors of the people around us. When relationships flourish, however, is when you try and educate yourself to that end. In fact, your entire relationship could change if you both can commit to this effort.

The personal benefits, too, are boundless

Living empathetically makes us happier and healthier. You’ll see. After trying to live empathetically for a week or so, you’ll feel better. You’ll see you’re able to recognize the fights for the petty, meaningless things they so often are.

Plus, you’ll give yourself the intelligence and perspective you need to distance yourself as much as you can from the people who deplete your happiness and invest more time in the people who charge your batteries instead.

No, you can’t remove important people from your life. But you can do your best to understand them as people and let them know you care.

Once you’ve done this, you can then focus on surrounding yourself with people who lift you up.

Again, though, before you get to this point, you need to recognize that the people you think you hate or can’t stand are complicated and containing multitudes and histories, just like you. The boss who seems to bully you might be struggling with some very real issues born from his past. Your brother might secretly look up to you and resent your success.

It benefits you on a personal level to consider those things. It will make you a better person to consider those things, those possibilities — how the world looks from a perspective different than your own.

To deny yourself this chance is to live in willful ignorance. And regardless of if you end up being able to save certain relationships, that’s just not something successful, healthy people do.

This article first appeared on Medium


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