Try Humanizing Instead of Demonizing

Had one of those days lately when a family member, friend, or someone you don’t even know, steps up to the plate, swings hard, and knocks your day right out of the park? 


In the right place at the right moment, just about anybody can seem like a pretty bad person. 


• A family member accuses you of not holding up your end on the household chores, when you aren’t feeling well. 


• Your doctor seems to dismiss you when you bring a concern up with him/her, or scolds you, or a staff member doesn’t return your call.


• A friend commits to getting together and suddenly cancels, or brushes you off when you need their support. 


• A co-worker makes an insensitive comment or treats you rudely, or a service person treats you as if you were the least important person in the world. 


Dealing with the challenges of a chronic condition can put your emotions on edge.  Especially those days when you don’t feel well, or when you’ve had a set-back in some way, or when you feel like you are spinning your wheels and not getting anywhere. 


On days like this, you may not necessarily be able to pick one specific thing that’s wrong.  But it seems like a dark cloud has settled in around you. 


And when the clouds have settled in, it’s human nature to lose the big picture of your life, and replace it with a very narrow lens.  But through that narrow lens, something relatively small – like the actions of another person – may suddenly look very large.  So large that, in fact, not only are their actions magnified, but so is the impact of these actions on your day. 


In other words, on a day when you are feeling especially vulnerable, a hurtful gesture, intended or unintended, may inflict what feels like a very large wound. 


Whoa!  How did that human suddenly turn into a monster? 


What’s important to consider is that turning someone else into the bad guy doesn’t make you feel any better, or at least not for long.  It just gives you a target for your frustration.  Along with an excuse to let your feelings bubble up and boil over, and shove reason and rational thinking off into the corner.  You end up feeling that all of that negativity is justified.  And that means more suffering, and stress. 


And worse yet, making someone else the bad guy can drive a wedge between the two of you.  And you risk damaging a relationship with someone who plays an important role in your life, be it loved one, co-worker, or trusted professional. 


Here are some ideas to consider: 


Take a step back and to look at the situation objectively.  Yes, people do things that disappoint us or make us mad.  But the frustration or anger or disappointment that you are feeling may be part of something much bigger.  That person who seems to be the root cause of everything that is wrong in your life may just be the closest target.  Is it that person, or is something else bothering you?  And, do you want to give that other person the power to decide how you feel about yourself, the world at large, and your future?


Try to identify what button is being pushed.  When someone isn’t very helpful, or is unkind, we can be reminded of all the other times in our life when people weren’t very helpful, or treated us poorly, or bullied us.  And feel that pain again.  Getting a no from someone, or having them be the bearer of bad news, can be the last straw, the one that unleashes just how helpless we might be feeling. Do you see the pattern?  Are you demonizing someone who is a stand-in for something much bigger?  That may be giving them a lot of power that they haven’t earned, or don’t deserve, or don’t even want, while you disempower yourself. 


Think of something that you like or admire about the other person.  Their current behavior may stick out like a sore thumb, but is there more to the relationship?  Recall a time when that person was there when you needed them.  Or a fun time that you enjoyed together.  Remind yourself of a positive quality, like competence or experience.  In other words, soften your focus.  And if you were mistreated by a stranger: That’s an unhappy person that, chances are, you won’t come into contact with again. 


Ask yourself if your expectations are realistic or not.  It’s only human to have expectations for how other people should think, feel, or behave.  Especially the people in our lives who are closest to us.  But let’s face it, people don’t always meet our expectations.  Maybe you’re expecting too much.  Maybe the other person is facing stress or disappointment in their own life that isn’t exactly bringing out their best.  Can you lighten up a little bit? 


Shift your focus to what’s good in your life, and what’s possible.  Swing the camera away from the person who’s upsetting you and use a wider lens so that you capture a bigger chunk of the landscape.  What’s working well in your life?  What are you grateful for?  What can you do to have a better day? 


Remind yourself that we are all doing the best we can.  Okay, so if feels like some of us are doing a little better than others.  But letting other people be who they are, and keeping your perspective, can help you to avoid falling into the demonization trap.  Are you taking the best possible care of yourself?  And, anything you can do to make their day better? 


And keep in mind that time doesn’t always heal all wounds.  When someone close to you – a family member, a friend, a valued professional – disappoints or angers you, it is easy to react by cutting them off.  But when we stop communicating with someone, our minds have a way of making of rewriting the story, making the wound that much deeper, and turning a misdemeanor into a major crime.  How about getting the communication going again, maybe starting out with making a kind gesture of your own, or offering to talk things out. 


Let’s give each other some breathing space, starting with allowing each other to be human.  After all, we are all in this together!