Tag Archives: Boundaries

Mindfulness and Difficult People

Five yellow, smiley faces are hanging down from little chains. A fifth red face with an angry expression is swinging down to hit them.
This is a topic I thought would make a great introduction to the beginning of December and the holiday season that looms before us, but the information in it is timeless.

I’m using the phrase difficult people as a shorthand term for anyone you find challenging to socialize with because of their behaviour.

Labels are useful but can’t possibly explain every nuance in a relationship. Your relationship with a friend will probably have features that aren’t present with a coworker, romantic partner, in-law, neighbour, or acquaintance. It was my intention to cast a wide, friendly net for this post and try to offer advice that can be used for as many different scenarios as possible.

With those caveats out of the way, let’s talk about how mindfulness can help before, during, and after the moments when you’re spending time with someone who you are not sure how to relate to.

Beforehand

A tree surrounded by perfectly still water at sunset. I’ll admit to being the sort of person who sometimes plays conversations out in my head before they happen.

The problem with this is that no one can predict the future.

That conversation might not ever actually happen. If it does happen, there’s no way to know in advance when it will pop up or if it will end the way you expect.

Spending as much time in the present moment as possible is a great way to avoid borrowing trouble.

One of the biggest benefits of mindfulness I’ve discovered for days like these is that it helps me to prepare for them without making assumptions about how they will go.

All you know for sure is that a certain event is on the horizon and that specific people are probably going to be there. Start with that.

During

Slow Down

There is something beautiful about intentionally moving slowly through these sorts of interactions.

Not every question or remark deserves an answer. If it does need to be answered, that could happen five minutes, or a week, or a month from now after you’ve had time to think it over.

Observe

I like looking at designs on silverware or counting lightbulbs in a room. There is always something to pay attention to that you might have otherwise ignored.

Reading body language is also a fascinating thing to do. You can learn so much about someone by quietly watching their posture, facial expressions, and gestures.

Breathe Deeply 

The beautiful thing about breathing deeply is how it encourages your mind to remain in the moment and what a calming influence it can be.

Focus on every breath as it enters and exits your body. Sometimes I’ll even count them silently in my mind.

Choose Your Words Carefully

It can be so relaxing to sit there and make small talk about the weather or some other innocuous subject when a tricky topic comes up.

There’s also the option of saying nothing at all. Silence is truly golden sometimes. As I mentioned earlier, not everything requires a response now or ever.

A well-placed dose of silence can give you a moment to think of how you want your words to come out before you say them.

This is a technique I’ve found especially helpful for people who have the urge to swoop in and fix the lives of those around them regardless of whether or not you actually wanted those things to be fixed. If they don’t know you adopted a new dog from the local animal shelter, chances are very good they’ll never tell you all of the things you’re doing wrong with that pet or why the breed you chose is the worst one ever.

Afterwards

Be honest with yourself. 

How did it go? What parts of this gathering did you enjoy? Which ones were not so helpful?

Release

I know it’s tempting, but mentally going over what anyone said or did at tricky events like these probably won’t be helpful.

As Elsa sang, let it go. Find something to take your mind off of what just happened. Taking a long, brisk walk through the park is a nice distraction for me when the weather is nice. Sometimes I even use that  trick on stormy days! It’s hard to ruminate when you’re also trying to avoid slipping on a patch of ice or stepping into a large puddle.

Think Longterm. 

The strategies I mentioned today have been helpful for me in the short term, but it’s also important to think about what you want your life to look like months, years, or decades from now in my opinion.

I believe in meeting people where they’re at and being understanding, compassionate, and supportive when they’re going through a difficult time.

Smartie Painted to look like a smilie faceBut I also believe in natural consequences and in putting emotional energy into relationships that are healthy and reciprocal. The only person I can control is myself, so there have been times in my life when I’ve reduced or  eliminated the time I spent with someone based on their behaviours and current level of introspection.

There’s a huge difference between using mindfulness to get through a difficult conversation that must happen and repeatedly agreeing to spend time with someone who chooses to be unkind… or worse.

It’s not my place to tell anyone how to arrange their lives, but I think there’s something to be said for finding both short-term and long-term strategies for dealing with these things.

How Science Fiction Can Keep You Out of Trouble

Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

I’ve been thinking about Star Trek a lot lately, especiallyThe Original Series.

The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine were the parts of this universe I grew up watching. It wasn’t I was an adult that I actually sat down and checked out the series that started the Star Trek franchise back in the 1960s.

If you’ve never watched Star Trek before, I would recommend beginning with one of the newer franchises. There were times when The Original Series was quite slow for twenty-first century tastes, and other scenes in it really didn’t age well at all.

Still, I’m glad I saw all of those old episodes. It was interesting to see how this universe has evolved over time and what things have remained constant no matter if you’re watching something from it that was created a few months or fifty years ago.

There is one particular Star Trek episode that keeps popping into my mind. I’m going to try to straddle the line between explaining it’s importance in this universe without giving away spoilers to anyone who  hasn’t seen it or caught the references to it in later series.

The Cage” was originally supposed to be the pilot episode for The Original Series. (Note: that link contains your full daily allowance of spoilers. Avoid it and the rest of this post if you want to remain spoiler-free for a show that was created 50+ years ago).

Talos IV

During this adventure Captain Pike and his crew responded to a distress call on a planet called Talos IV.

Some of the planets the crew visited during the course of The Original Series were dusty, ugly places, but this wasn’t one of them.

Talos IV was a pretty, peaceful place. Captain Pike and the rest of their crew met the Talosians, the friendly humanoids of that planet who offered hospitality without any expectation of reciprocation.

If there could ever be a setting an audience could relax into, this was one of them. Everything was going well.

Captain Pike was then introduced to a pretty, young human woman who had been raised by the Talosians and who wanted him to stay there and have children with her. This was where the plot truly grew interesting, and I wish I could say more about it without giving away all of the spoilers in the entire world to people who are new to the Trekverse.

If I’d seen this story as a kid, it would have blown my mind. As it was, I sensed something was odd as soon as the Talosians began bending over backwards to make their human visitors feel welcomed.

One of the things I enjoy the most about the science fiction genre is the way it can teach its audience to look out for red flags. “The Cage” was a story filled with many different themes. One of them seemed to be about recognizing early signs that someone might not be a person you’ll want to get to know better on a professional, personal, or romantic level.

Red Flag #1: Moving Quickly

The Talosian greeting party

The Talosians barely even knew the names of any of the Enterprise crew members, yet they were already prepared to offer them anything their hearts desired.

Generosity is a wonderful virtue, but there should be healthy limits to it. If someone has just met you and is already offering you the world, there may be something less wholesome going on with them behind the scenes.

Red Flag #2: Not Taking No for an Answer

I can’t go into a lot of detail about this without wandering into spoiler land, but let’s just say that the Talosians offer wasn’t one that was supposed to be refused.

People who run roughshod over small boundaries generally don’t respect the more important ones, either.

Red Flag #3: Deals That Seem too Good to be True

If someone seems too good to be true, there could very well be strings attached to it that haven’t been mentioned yet. By all means get more information, but don’t make any agreements or assumptions until you have all of the details hammered out and they make sense.

I can’t tell you how many times these lessons have given me early warnings about specific situations or interpersonal interactions. It’s one thing to read about red flags in a book, but it’s quite another to see them played out in a story while being asked to come to your own conclusions about how one might apply them to real life.

What life lessons have you learned from science fiction (or your favourite genre in general)? Do you also find that fiction can keep you out of trouble?

Intuition, Mindfulness, and the Alarm Bell In My Brain

This is the story of something that happened to me last year. It won’t take long to tell, but it’s important.

I met someone at a social event who was friendly, funny, and charming at first glance. They seemed like exactly the sort of person anyone would want to spend time with.

They’re hiding something, my intuition said quietly a few minutes after we’d met.

This was the first time I’d laid eyes on them, and I knew nothing about them other than the basic details they’d shared about their life and interests. They thought carefully before they spoke, and every word that came out of their mouth sparkled.

They’re sugarcoating the truth, my intuition said in a slightly louder tone.

I had no proof to back up these feelings. I’d literally just met this person. They were full of smiles and kind words for everyone around them. There was nothing about their words or actions that should have alarmed me. It was a perfectly ordinary get-together in every way you could imagine.

They’re lying about something. This wasn’t a question. It was a declarative statement I had no proof for but still kept circling back around to.

I felt uneasy around them for reasons that are hard to put into words. There was something about them that was slightly off-kilter no matter which way I looked at it, and that made me nervous. When I was younger, I might have brushed off this warning and decided to find out more about this person for myself.  These days, I listen and take heed.

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is how it can focus your attention on what really matters in situations such as these. Something wasn’t lining up in the things they said about their life.  I didn’t and still don’t know exactly what they were being evasive about, but my mind was still enough to listen to those thoughts when they popped up and take action quickly when they refused to go away.

No, I do not think I’m clairvoyant or have any other abilities that defy scientific explanation.  If anything, I believe that my mind picked up on subtle but important discrepancies between their verbal and non-verbal cues that might have shown they weren’t being totally honest about the things they shared about their life.

But I do think that my mindfulness habits helped me to realize there was something off about this person sooner than I might have in a different timeline. The beautiful thing about learning how to quiet your mind is that it makes the rare feelings that refuse to be ignored much more noticeable than they might have otherwise been.

 

Not Everything Deserves a Response

There have been references to the argumentative nature of the Internet for as long as I’ve been aware of such a thing, much less an active participant in it.

Without giving away my age, I was around back when people got into never-ending arguments on message boards about topics that ranged from the serious to the downright silly.

For those of you who don’t remember those halcyon days,  message board discussions sometimes went something like this:

 

Thread title: Dogs Are Great

Anne: Here’s a humorous story about my dog not realizing that it’s Daylight Savings Time and waking me up an hour early for breakfast. I really wanted to sleep in, but he was so excited to spend time with me that I ended up getting out of bed early. Aren’t dogs the best?

Bernard: Oh, so you must hate cats then.

Anne: Wait, what?

Bernard: Obviously, everyone who loves dogs also hates cats. If you didn’t feel that way, you would have included cats in the beginning of this thread since they also like to ignore Daylight Savings Time.

Charlie: Yeah, what Bernard said. You really should have thought this rude thread through before posting it for these fourteen reasons that I will now list in exhaustive detail.

Diego: Well, I agree with Anne. Cats are the worst pets that have ever existed for these fifteen rebuttals to Charlie that I’ll now list in exhaustive detail.

Anne: ………..

Depending on how Anne responded once she realized that her innocuous thread about the joys of dogs had immediately been hijacked to argue about whether dogs or cats are the superior pet, this thread could go on for multiple pages and many days.

It didn’t matter what the original purpose of the message board was. I saw it play out on every one I ever visited. Maybe these kinds of arguments are an inescapable part of human nature in general.

At any rate, this pattern of behaviour carried over to social media as soon as such a thing existed. It’s shown no sign of of stopping since then.

No, this isn’t going to be a rant against social media or the Internet in general. Like many other tools, they can be used in all sorts of constructive or destructive ways depending on the intentions of the person behind the screen.

What I did want to talk about today is why not responding is sometimes the best possible thing you can do when someone online – or offline, for that matter – is determined to argue with you no matter what you say or do.

It Takes Two to Argue

I was originally going say that it’s impossible to argue with yourself, but I have seen a few examples of people so determined to win a debate that the lack of an opponent doesn’t do much to stop them.

Still, most arguments require at least two people to sustain them. If one person simply refuses to play the game, it becomes much more difficult for the other one to keep pressing their points. I don’t personally find any fulfillment in debating, but I’ve noticed that many people who do get a thrill out of any response you give them.

It’s not necessarily about the merit of the arguments themselves, it’s about the act of getting the other side to respond in any way.

Nobody’s Mind Will Change

There is nothing Anne can do to convince Bernard that her original post was intended to be lighthearted and happy. He is so determined to drag his own feelings about dogs and cats into every interaction he has that he’ll probably never stop.

Likewise, Bernard will never convince Anne that cats are better than dogs. That wasn’t why she originally signed up for this message board or started that thread. She has no interest in arguing with a stranger on the Internet on a topic she already has an opinion on, and there’s nothing Bernard can say or do to change that.

You’re Not the Cause or the Solution

A certain percentage of people have urges to do things like stir up conflict, always be right, or push their opinions onto everyone they meet regardless of the social context.

Nobody that I’ve known has ever learned to examine the reasons why they behave the way they do based on a conversation with a stranger. If or when they decide to work on changing those parts of themselves, they’ll seek out help on their own terms.

But you didn’t cause their behaviour and there’s nothing you can do to fix it. They are who they are just like you are who you are.

I Choose Peace

There’s something liberating about choosing not respond to everyone who wants to debate. The Bernards of the world obviously have the freedom to rant about cats and dogs as much as they wish, but they’ll soon learn that I’m not someone who will jump into fruitless arguments with them.

There are plenty of other folks on the Internet who are willing to do that, and I wish them well with their virtual battles.

How do you decide what you will and won’t respond to online?

Remaining Mindful on Social Media

Social media is a double-edged sword. On the positive side, I’ve met a lot of incredible people on Twitter and other sites that I never would have otherwise crossed paths with. I’m grateful for the opportunity to make friends from so many different parts of the world. They’ve opened my eyes to everything from social customs to tasty snacks that I would have probably never heard of if I hadn’t decided to sign up for accounts on those sites.

However, there are times when I’ve grow tired of the argumentative and dramatic cultures that have arisen on these platforms. There’s something about typing words out on keyboard that removes some people’s filters. They have the urge to say things online that most folks would never say out loud in front of everyone.

Some of my friends who are also interested in mindfulness have reduced their time spent on social media because of this. Honestly, I don’t blame them. I’ve cut back certain aspects of my social media usage, too. The gap between what these sites could be and what they actually are is simply too big to ignore in certain cases.

With that being said, something interesting has been happening to me on the various social media sites I use now that I’ve been practicing mindfulness regularly for a while.

For one, I’ve started to become hyper-aware of how I feel before, during, and after I use each one of these sites. When a particular leader of one of the most powerful countries in the world goes off on yet another prejudiced, incoherent rant online, my timelines fill up with people arguing over, joking about, and attempting to decipher what that person was really trying to say.

It’s not my place to tell others how to react to the things he says, of course. That’s not what this post is about at all.

What I am talking about is focusing on that moment when my body and mind begin to react to what I’m seeing or hearing. I feel conflicting needs to always know what terrible thing he’s planning to do next while simultaneously wanting a long, quiet break from all of that foolishness. It’s difficult at times to know when to lean in for more information and when to pull back and watch cute animal videos or take a walk instead.

This isn’t even to mention all of the other destructive things happening on various social media sites: mass outrage over something someone said or did; harassment; bullying; doxxing; pictures and stories about things that either never actually happened or that are so heavily edited it’s impossible to tell what’s really going on in them.

Filtering

The beautiful thing about mindfulness is that it doesn’t always have to be something that comes from within. There is definitely something to be said for learning how to focus in a noisy or distracting environment, of course, but there is also value in filtering out certain types of stimuli when such things are possible.

To give you another example of what I’m talking about, Ontario is having a provincial election today. (If you live here, go vote as soon as you finish reading this post!)

Many of my friends from this province have been talking about election issues and which party they think they’ll be supporting this time around.

I’ve been playing around with my filters during this election cycle. Sometimes I want to follow every hashtag and account related to the four major parties in Ontario. On other days, I only want the highlights or maybe even nothing at all. I decided who I’m voting for so long ago that there’s really no need for me to continue entertaining the various options.

Saying No

Sometimes saying no to certain hashtags, websites, groups, or users is the best possible response to something that is such contradictory mixture of helpful and harmful content.

I used to have a harder time letting go of stuff that

One of the beautiful things I’ve learned through the practice of mindfulness is how to say “no, thanks” without making a value judgement on a particular thing.

I’m not saying that everyone should mute that hashtag or stop visiting that site. If others find them useful, good for them.

They’re simply not things that work for me right now, anymore, or ever again.

Trimming the Excess

Yes, this means that I’m visiting fewer social media sites than I used to.

I’m no Luddite, but I do see the value in trimming away the things in life that no longer bring you joy. Why balance four or five accounts if they pull you out of what is happening at this very moment and make you worry about what might happen in all of the moments to come?

This isn’t something that makes sense to me, especially for ordinary people who aren’t celebrities or public figures. Again, this isn’t a guide on how everyone should live. I don’t judge others for updating Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Youtube, Google+, and a half-dozen other accounts every day.

Some people are content doing that.

It’s simply not something that brings peace to my life, however.

Respond

What have your experiences with the various social media sites been like? How do you remain mindful while using them?

Related posts:

What Twitter Taught Me About Mindfulness.

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