Each of us react to difficulties in our lives in very different ways. For most of my life I kept my feelings to myself. Few people knew that my father had died or that my mother suffered from bouts of mental illness or that my husband had been afflicted with a sometimes deadly disease when we were still very a young married couple. Over time I grew weary of attempting to put on a good face when times became tough, so I began to slowly find trusted confidantes with whom I felt comfortable sharing my trials. Eventually I went public with my life because I saw that my bosses and coworkers became dismayed with my frequent instances of being uncharacteristically anxious and unfocused on my job. I knew I had to let them know about the battles that I was fighting on the home front.
When I found that they were incredibly understanding I began to more and more often share my survival story with others who were struggling. I learned that people felt more comfortable with me when I was no longer attempting to be an unflappable, always sunny person. I became more human and likable to them. Explaining my shifts from cockeyed optimism to high anxiety made them allies in my battles to keep myself and my family healthy and happy. I found that the key was not to pound them constantly with tales of woe, but simply to let them in on what had for so long been my closely guarded secrets.
I find that not everyone feels comfortable baring their souls to others. So many folks are hiding worries that are consuming them. They may come across as grumpy individuals who are not pleasant to be around. All too often our first assumption is to simply view them as toxic people. We avoid them without ever knowing the full extent of the reasons for their behaviors. Not only are they dealing with great sorrow, but they are quite alone in their efforts to maintain a semblance of normalcy.
I have learned over time that when someone with whom I am acquainted suddenly exhibits a dramatic personality change, there is almost always a reason. I find it best to be patient with them while also letting them know in subtle ways that I am open to hearing about their situations if they ever want to share. I don’t push them to talk about painful topics, but I try to give them the compassion that they so desperately need until their lives become better. In some case they may be dealing with issues that remain unresolved for months or even years while attempting to carry on with the normal routines of life. They are slowly dying under the pressure of pretending.
Friendships and work relationships require patience at times. It is best not to take sudden slights and missteps personally. Most often they are coming from a soul that is hurting in some way. If the individual has usually been kind and upbeat, it’s a fairly good conclusion to suspect that they are enduring some kind of setback or difficulty that they are attempting to keep private. Balancing their multitude of responsibilities while shouldering the realities of their situations can be very lonely and even terrifying.
The key to dealing with the conflicts that may arise is to always begin with kindness. It’s not really that difficult to overlook emotional outbursts when it is apparent that someone is actually hurting. Turning the other cheek is a way of demonstrating love and often provides the person who is enduring a painful moment with a way of saving face. We all need that level of understanding in our lives, but we do not always give or receive it.
One of the most horrific aspects of today’s world is that there is so much misguided self-righteous behavior. We are all too ready to turn on one another without knowing the whole story behind an individual’s reactions to the happenings in their little slice of living. Each of us is attempting to survive the trials that come our way. We do so according to what our experiences have taught us. Our assumptions about each other can be way off base. If we really took the time to hear each other out rather than judging and ignoring, we would soon learn that most of us are filled with good intentions, but we may solve our problems differently.
In this holiday season the best gift that we might give to one another is acceptance of our differing beliefs and ways of doing things. This should be a time of reconciliation and kindness. After all, the initial reason for our holidays is based on love that was born at Christmas time in a humble manger. The baby who came into the world on that day would teach us how to forgive and how to find the best in one another. Even if we do not believe that he was actually the son of God his message should be precious to us all. He advocated a society in which we would embrace each other in spite of all of our human flaws.
Look around you. Is there someone that you have unfriended because they suddenly became angry or toxic or filled with ideas that you cannot comprehend? Consider the source of their change. Ask yourself if turning your back on them is the right thing to do in these very difficult times. Be generous. Reach out to them. Love them even if they rebuff your advances. They may choose nonetheless to leave your life forever, but you can still hold them in a caring place in your heart. Mke a season of understanding and start with the people who frustrate you the most.