Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Albert at Urban Monk invited me to participate in a writing group project about compassion called Spread the Love NOW! created by The Three MonksAlbert at Urban Monk, Wade of The Middle Way, and Kenton of Zen-Inspired Self Development. I love to write about compassion! I’ve found it to be the lubricant for a happy life. Instead of my road being rough with anger and frustration, being compassionate makes the way smoother.

I used to be an angry girl. Whenever someone did me wrong—grrrrrrrr! I complained to anyone who’d listen about what people had done to me. The anger kept me fuming instead of smiling. I saw some people in my life as bad, which in turn, attracted more people to complain about. Then I read a book by the Dalai Lama. It blew me away because his philosophy about compassion made so much sense.

When I read the book I was feeling anger and frustration toward Mike (not his real name!), a guy I’d been dating. We were friends for months before we crossed the line to more than friends. He couldn’t do enough for me. But when he got the flu, with high fever, and I offered to bring him some food (he literally had NONE in his apartment), he fervently refused to let me. I argued that I wanted to help him out. He got angry. And angrier, and then accused me of being a typical nagging woman.

All because I tried to convince him to let me drop off something for him to eat so he could recover and not take Vitamin C on an empty stomach!

He yelled more and more as I reminded him how he insisted on bringing me food and keeping me company after I had oral surgery the week before. Now I wanted to support him. I even offered to leave the food outside his door if he didn’t want to see me. The more I tried to convince him, the more he accused me of fooling him into thinking I was different than many women. In his eyes I was now a nag. It was so irrational.

We talked a few days later. At first it was fine, but I wanted him to understand the difference between a nag and a concerned friend. When I commented that it was a shame he misread my desire to help him, he went off on me again. More irrational accusations about how terrible I was for trying to help him. Yelling. Anger. I knew that Mike’s background included an abusive mother, two bitter divorces and cutting himself off from his whole family. He’d been badly burned by his last girlfriend.

Since I write about relationships I’d been aware that his issues could ruin what we had together. But calling me a nag for being concerned about the health of someone I cared about still seemed ridiculous!

I was furious with Mike for judging me so harshly. I wasn’t nagging, and I tried hard to make him understand that. But he didn’t budge. I was furious about his accusations and meanness. Reading about the Dalai Lama’s philosophy of compassion opened me to a higher level of handling people who push my buttons. He emphasizes seeking peacefulness through compassion to those who hurt you by understanding that people who hurt others are suffering more. They do awful things because of pain they’ve experienced. And they hurt themselves each time they hurt others.

Wow! I already figured that Mike was being so illogical because he was scared of being hurt again. In his effort to do what seemed like self-protection, he hurt me. Past experiences gave him a bad attitude about women so when I didn’t just accept his negating my offer, it felt like the nagging he’d experienced many times from women who’d hurt him. He couldn’t make the distinction between women who’d tried to control him and one who cared. And, he’d never learned to receive.

After I finished the book, I decided to call Mike. I accepted that he’d never see my way and wanted to get closure it in a peaceful way, with the compassion I’d just learned about.

Mike seemed happy to hear from me. I knew he liked me a lot. Maybe he thought we could just ignore his outbursts and move on. But I knew he’d always be a time bomb, waiting to go off if I tried to return his caring. After chatting a bit, I again said I felt bad that he attributed nasty motives to my offer, since there were none. He immediately began to rage. This time I didn’t defend myself or try to convince him. I just gently repeated over and over,

“I know that you’re hurting and can’t help responding like this. I have compassion for your pain.”

Mike didn’t touch that statement. He calmed down a little. I explained that I felt very sorry that he had so much pain from others and needed to inflict it on me. Like a roller coaster he went up and down with other accusations and mean spirited comments, then calmed as I repeated my words, softly. I rode along with my seat belt fastened. He seemed to get spurts of rage about my remaining calm. Mike tried to create drama and I wouldn’t let him. Yet he never—not once—attacked or challenged my compassionate words.

For the first time I was in complete control of anger! He blustered as I smiled and felt incredibly peaceful afterwards, with no anger left.

The compassion I felt made me feel calm. The more he went on irrationally, the more compassion I felt. I barely said anything else but those words. When we hung up, I knew that was it for us. Compassion had taught me acceptance of a sad situation—for how Mike kept hurting himself. I was the best person in his life and he lost me since I couldn’t continue to be close to someone like that. So he suffered more! The next day, I emailed to wish him good luck and expressed my compassion in writing. No reply. I felt good.

Since then, remembering the Dalai Lama’s conception of compassion has helped me to minimize my anger in most situations.

Who provoked you recently? Are they happy? Happy people don’t need to hurt others. Insecure ones criticize and take advantage. People with a positive self-image are less likely to consciously do that. Insecure folks have been bashed themselves. Loving yourself makes it easier to be kind to unhappy so
uls. In situations that rile me, I now realize that what people do or say stems from their own unhappiness. Instead of anger, I feel sorry for them.

Choose to let compassion temper anger. Why allow someone’s dysfunction to debilitate you with complaints and rage?

People who are nasty and mean don’t love themselves. Their pain motivates them to hurt others. When you understand that they’re are hurting themselves more, you can feel sorry for them instead of getting hurt. This philosophy has nurtured my inner peace. I highly recommend it!

My compassion is on an individual basis. I still lose it sometimes. There are people who push my buttons too far and create short-term anger. But, then I look for their source of pain so compassion can take over. It makes sense. Compassion takes nothing from me and anger does no good. That doesn’t mean letting people get away with unfair behavior. I take appropriate action if I’m wronged. But my strong desire to take good care of myself motivates me to replace anger with compassion. I express myself in a nice but firm way and take appropriate action to rectify the situation.

You CAN choose not to absorb someone’s negativity. Practice. It sure feels good!

Don’t give others power to affect you so much! This doesn’t mean you push anger aside because you feel sorry for the person. You can’t swallow anger without getting life indigestion. Have compassion but still express feelings. Get it out gently but get it out. Otherwise, anger multiplies at your expense. I feel so blessed with my life, my positive attitude, and my total faith in God, that I’m generous. But I’ll end negative friendships and do what’s necessary to move on when I must.

Just like forgiveness, compassion doesn’t mean forgetting or letting someone get away with unacceptable behavior. It’s for you! Why make yourself feel worse when you can feel better??!

Be true to your values. Yes, there are unkind or downright evil people. But those who do the dirty on others are not happy. Mean people NEVER have enough money; NEVER have enough power; NEVER feel satisfied. To me THAT is punishment. People may feel perverse pleasure by hurting others; they may be honored for something or become rich and famous. But I truly believe they can’t be happy inside. They step on others to get more of what they’re never satisfied with. I feel blessed with all I have and grateful as heck to be doing what I love.

I love being in a good mood most of the time. When you practice letting angry situations roll off you by showing compassion, you’ll understand why it’s such a blessing! Being generous about giving compassion to others is a gift—to YOU.

Check out the Dalai Lama’s latest book, How to See Yourself As You Really Are (Atria, 2007).

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