Never underestimate a person’s challenges. Everyone is struggling. Some are just better at hiding it than others.
Too often we judge people too quickly, or too subjectively. We tell ourselves stories about them without thinking it through—our perceptions and biases get the best of us. I was reminded of this today when I received the following in an email from a Think Better, Live Better 2020 ticket-holder (I’m sharing this with permission):
“…I learned the hard way that a smile can hide so much—that when you look at a person you never know what their story is or what’s truly going on in their life. This harsh reality became evident to me this morning when I found out one of my top students—always straight A’s, a positive attitude, and a smile on her face—died by suicide last night. Why? Nobody seems to know. And it’s killing me inside.”
Talk about a reality check, right?
What we tell ourselves about others—what we think we know—is often far from the truth.
And with that in mind, I’m sitting here reflecting on all the little things we have to stop assuming about other people, for their sake and ours…
- We need to stop assuming that the happiest people are simply the ones who smile the most. – Behind the polite smiles and greetings people give you, some are hurting and lonely. Don’t just come and go. See them. Care. Share. Listen. Love. We can’t always see people’s pain, but they can always feel our kindness. So be kinder than necessary.
- We need to stop assuming that the people we love and respect won’t disappoint us. – When we expect perfection we tend to overlook goodness. And the truth is, no one is perfect. At times, the confident lose confidence, the patient misplace their patience, the generous act selfish, and the informed second-guess what they know. It happens to all of us too. We make mistakes, we lose our tempers, and we get caught off guard. We stumble, we slip, and we fall sometimes. But that’s the worst of it… we have our moments. Most of the time we’re pretty darn good, despite our flaws. So treat the people you love accordingly—give them the space to be human.
- We need to stop assuming that the people who are doing things differently are doing things wrong. – We all take different roads seeking fulfillment, joy, and success. Just because someone isn’t on your road, doesn’t mean they are lost.
- We need to stop assuming that the people we disagree with don’t deserve our compassion and kindness. – The exact opposite is true. The way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about love, compassion, kindness and humility. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of the NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
- We need to stop assuming that we can’t trust people we don’t know. – Some people build too many walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them prove your doubts wrong, gradually, over time.
- We need to stop assuming that the rude people of the world are personally targeting us. – We can’t take things too personally, even if it seems personal. Rarely do people do things because of us. They do things because of them. And there is a huge amount of freedom that comes to us when we detach from other people’s behaviors. So just remember, the way others treat you is their problem, how you react is yours.
- We need to stop assuming that other people are our reason for being unhappy, unsuccessful, etc. – We may not be able control all the things people say and do to us, but we can decide not to be reduced by them. We can choose to forgive, or we can choose to forget. We can choose to stay, or we can choose to go. We can choose whatever helps us grow. There’s always a positive choice to make. Thus, the only real, lasting conflict you will ever have in your life won’t be with others, but with yourself… and how you choose to respond… and the daily rituals you choose to follow. (Angel and I build small, life-changing daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
Dealing with People Who Deeply Offend Us
Some of the points above (like numbers 4 and 6 for example) potentially require a willingness to cordially deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, cut us off in traffic, talk about terribly distasteful things, and so forth.
These people violate the way we think people should behave. And sometimes their behavior deeply offends us.
But if we let these people get to us, again and again, we will be upset and offended far too often.
So what can we do?
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but here are two strategies Angel and I often recommend to our course students and live event attendees:
- Be bigger, think bigger. – Imagine a two-year-old who doesn’t get what she wants at this moment. She throws a temper tantrum! This small, momentary problem is enormous in her little mind because she lacks perspective on the situation. But as adults, we know better. We realize that there are dozens of other things that 2-year-old could do to be happy. Sure, that’s easy for us to say—we have a bigger perspective, right? But when someone offends us, we suddenly have a little perspective again—this small, momentary offense seems enormous, and it makes us want to scream. We throw the equivalent of a two-year-old’s temper tantrum. However, if we think bigger, we can see that this small thing matters very little in the grand scheme of things. It’s not worth our energy. So always remind yourself to be bigger, think bigger, and broaden your perspective.
- Mentally hug them and wish them better days. – This little trick can positively change the way we see people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either—they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain. And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point too. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.
Try one of these strategies the next time someone offends you. And then smile and breathe, armed with the comforting knowledge that there’s no reason to let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.
How have your judgments and expectations of others affected your life and relationships?
Do you have any additional thoughts or insights to share?
We would love to hear from you. Please leave a reply below.
Also, our next annual Think Better, Live Better conference is taking place February 8-9, 2020 in San Diego. 4 discounted early bird tickets are still available today (while they last).
I always appreciate reading one of your articles and getting a confirming word for the life I decided to live a little over 5 years ago. Needless to say there were many who weren’t happy with the choices I made for my life however I had come to the point to stop caring what they thought and to start caring for my dying soul. I cry tears of JOY every time I think about how happy and grateful I am to GOD for that release. There are times where many will continuously try and pull me back to the place that they met me. When this transpires your #6&7 rings true and my go to is simply to center my thoughts on the goals I’ve set not allowing the negativity to filter inside. I discovered years ago that it wasn’t me they were mad at but possibly not having the courage to go after the happiness themselves. I know now that how I respond strengths me and encourages me to forge ahead. Thank you so much for doing your best to share such positivity. I giggled at your suggestion of a “mental hug” because it would probably be the last thing I would want to do for someone that deeply offended me. But I can see how even that could be for MORE for my benefit. I will have to try implementing it, because I know the true conflict will always be within.
PS. I just got my ticket to your 2020 event in San Diego. I’m nervous and excited!
Thank you for your insight and advice. I am at a difficult stage. My girls have flown the nest, my late husband left the Estate in a mess. I am in a dead-end job and in this less than stable economy, moving on is hard and prospects are slim. I feel old and tired and fearful. A lot is beyond my control. To add to my distress like the romantic fool I am I am deeply in love with a man who swept me off my feet. A good, caring man with a warped and strange way of giving and taking. Of treating me like a queen and then like a prostitute. Of caring and then turning his back. I am in the process of trying to mentally detach, to gain strength to face him (we are co-workers). I do not need abuse but I want care and friendship. How do I walk way without having a full blown fight? How do I detach and not show my hurt? Yes, he might be struggling with issues, but how can people rip out another’s heart in this way and then have the ability to make you feel like the idiot? To forgive him and heal myself is going to be hard. I am a fool. All I enjoy and love has been put on hold because of my short sightedness in allowing this man to poison me. Time to love myself again, but how?
This is a long post but hopefully something in it will be of help.
I was in a nearly identical romantic situation in this past January. It was not a co-worker so I told the man I was leaving town for another job. This was untrue but I said it to save myself – save myself from going further down that dead end road with him. I was weak and I needed to deter him from contacting me. It worked. It allowed me to have time to focus on what I really wanted at this stage of my life. Without realizing it, I had actually been at a huge turning point in my life and he had become the distraction that kept me from facing some tough issues.
I also realized that the problem was timing – I had met him when I was at a really low point in my life and therefore was lacking the self-respect/boundaries needed to prevent myself from getting involved with that type of man.
Now advice for you:
It might seem like stating the obvious but lose the man and work on yourself. Forget about trying to forge a friendship with him. Forget about trying to analyze why he acts the way he does. Forget about trying to understand him. Just cut ties. No matter how difficult that sounds you must find a way to do it.
Remember, time spent on this man is time taken away from finding a different one – one who will treat you well. (Or, it is time taken away from____________ – you fill in the blank with whatever you’d rather be doing at this point in your life – you decide.)
Perhaps, he swept you off your feet because you were at a weak point in your life and not simply because you’re romantic. Ask yourself this: he may appear “good and caring” to you right now but if you had met him at a different time in your life, at a time when you were feeling stronger as a person, would you have still viewed him as a good and caring man? Would your stronger self have been attracted to this type of man?
If the answer is “no” then remind yourself of this every time you see him. Every time. Make it a mantra i.e. “your stronger self would never fall for this type of man”. And then make it your goal to become strong again.
Use this time away from him to nurture and take care of yourself. Re-frame things in a more positive light. Focus not on what you can’t do but rather on what you can, even if it’s only something small. (Baby steps.) Even though you feel like a lot is beyond your control right now, try to put that feeling in perspective – is this feeling just a temporary thing or is it a constant thing in your life? Then deal with it accordingly. There are choices you may have to make, you may not like them, they may not be easy but they are always there and only you can decide when and how you’re going to make them.
Since he is your co-worker, perhaps conveniently being busy or unavailable EVERY TIME he wants to chat/get together/whatnot might work for you. (Use the “broken record” technique.)
If you do have to directly say something to him, then perhaps you could try saying you’ve become really busy lately and don’t have the time for ANY romantic relationships right now – and then go and busy yourself with other activities, friends etc. to help you mentally and physically move forward in your life. Busy yourself with other things – this is the key. Don’t give in to anything he might say to hook you back in. Keep busy.
Perhaps start with the estate. If the mess of the estate seems overwhelming, try to deal with it in phases or smaller steps. Deal with that first, if you can, and get it out of the way – you will feel much better when done.
Next, address your job situation. Get creative and try to find a way to make it better. Try to think outside of the box. If you can’t change jobs, can you open some sort of small business on the side perhaps? Or something online – a blog, website etc?
Finally, take this time to try new things in life, discover new interests etc. and you’ll be in a much better place emotionally for when you finally do meet Mr. Right.
Lorraine J Arcand says
Oh my gosh Miriam! I love your sage advice.
Excellent advice! I hope you can find the courage, confidence and self love to be able to adopt this advice and move forward.
Danielle Foyer says
Sounds like he could have borderline personality disorder.
Jayne M. Stenstrom says
Listen to your inner voice. It is your Guardian Angel speaking. No what you don’t want. Believe in yourself. For what its worth:its never too late to be who you want to be. There is no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same., there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before.I hope you meet people with a different point of view.I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.
Point #7 hits home. I remember when I used to blame everyone else for my life situation. In fact, it’s why I searched Google for articles that might help me overcome my adversities, and eventually I found your site and enrolled in your emails, course and coaching. It’s been a gradual process of small steps, but every step forward has been a healthy one. Letting go of blaming others put me back in control of my life, and I’ve been making the best of it ever since. My life is still far from perfect, but it’s a lot better than it used to be, and I’m in a much happier place.
Wow, thank you for emailing this piece today. I am truly so glad I read it. Something happened with my Husband and I and my brother in law posted some mean, unkindly words on fb and I was hurt because I knew he was referring to our situation. I almost latched out on him but I didn’t. I was going to post something hurtful back, but I didn’t. As I read your article above I learned so much and how bigger of a person I can be by not stepping to his level. So thank you, thank you, to Thank you!!???
Victoria Williams says
It is great to get rid of negative toxic people. If they cannot help you socially, psychologically, or any of the ally then it is time to move on. If you are the brightest person in a group of your friends the it is time to leave. You have to believe in yourself, stop procrastinating, it is the thief of time. You are older each day spend your time effectively because when you loose it, you cannot get it back. Yes you can get more money but not more time. I just Thank Mark and Angel for their advice for people the world over to live better rather than bitter. People life is precious take care of yourselves and give thanks to God , even go wake you up this morning. Thank you Marc and Angel you are both very encouraging.
Sandy Hanes says
To the teacher whose student took her life, suicide reflects much deeper issues than anyone else can help at times. People wear masks and some are very good actors. Robin Williams is a good example. He brightened everyone else’s world while trying to fend off darkness in himself. Depression can be physically created and sometimes meds don’t work for every individual. There is still much to learn. My son’s roommate in college was that person she described, good student, bright, fun to be with. None of the roommates knew he was suicidal that day he took his life and they lived with him. Sometimes there are only questions with no tidy explanations and we must learn to accept the reality without trying or being able to figure it out. I’m so sorry for the sorrow of the teacher and all those affected by suicide. I’m so sorry for those who suffer from depression, and ask them to hang on one more day, as that may be the day that turns it around. I’ve been there in the past myself so I do understand your swamping feelings that can overtake me sometimes. I’ve had to work with preparing for those days so I can remember when it comes that there will be another day and will lift. And seek medical help. Make that call, reach out on that 700lb telephone and try one more time. People care and are affected by your decisions and you are worth it even if it doesn’t seem like it’s worth it today.
Love and light to all the sufferers in the world, which is all of us really at one time or another.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS. x
MARLENE BURNS says
I don’t hang around people who deeply offend me. I move on and allow them to spread their wealth around….
Cynthia L says
This is a wonderful reminder for all of us during the holiday season. There is so much pressure, so much stress to make merry during the holidays — it’s insane. Topping it off, we’re thrown together with people we’re not always comfortable with, or don’t even want to see any other time of the year. Some of us have lost people we love, and the last thing we want to do is go to a holiday party. But we feel obligated. And on it goes. The worst part is that we assume everyone else is having a better time than we are, or that we are missing out. Thanks for reminding us all that we need to step back and take a breath. Always wonderful material here — and I share your books with everyone!
Perla Milner says
Learn over and over again…Do not take anything personally!! What others say and do is about them, NOT about you.PEACE & LOVE??
Wonderful comment x
Point 6 and 7 ring true with me. I’ve written these two in my diary – I found it very difficult to not take things personally, and it is so true, the conflict is with yourself – at the end of everyday I argue with myself, no one else!! Thank you for these.
Renee Romeo says
I do think that your points are valid, however, there are people who constantly treat you badly. That is problem, I do not believe that people should be abused again and again. So again, I think to react in the ways that you have mentioned in your article do help one to contend with nasty people, there is a limit to what one should endure.
Thank you very much for such a wonderful way to explain this topic.
Don’t let someone else’s behaviour turn you into someone you aren’t.
THAT IS SO PROFOUND. THANK YOU.
I have had a tough time of late with a neighbour who after years of kindness from me said the most vile and hateful words and made threats to me that I have ever heard. I wanted revenge. I wanted to hurt him so that he felt my pain.
Then I read that and I realise the the pain is his, for behaving in that way. I didn’t need to feel pain because it is not me that is hurting but him, so now I can find compassion where there was none before.
A truly amazing article.
Ella Jones says
Perspective is so important when dealing with situations. It can be easy to assume that just because someone is acting in a way towards you that it is our fault, but it can actually be influenced by an issue going on in that persons life that you are just unaware of.
Hi Mark & Angle, I purchased your book years ago and still refer to it. I always enjoy your daily emails. The two of you are wonderful for society! Thank You, Marlene
sejnane poterie says
“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. Great article 🙂
Thank you also to everyone (All the people that posted a comment here, and even those who did not.)
Alex Shephard says
I agree with all of these especially number 1. Not all that smiles are happy.
Madison Wilson says
I purchased your book years ago and still refer to it. I always enjoy your daily emails. The two of you are wonderful for society!