Think about what slice you use to measure your life. For a while I did Crossfit, and now I do Olympic weightlifting. I’m not really the typical body type or age (or personality) for these activities, which sometimes gets me down. But then I remember, I wrote a novel that’s been very well received. I own my own house. I took a two-year sabbatical to pursue education in my dream field, and just landed a dream job in my dream field in my dream location. (Not on my dream shift, unfortunately, but my shift is when other people are dreaming, so there’s that …) I have great friends. I am generally a happy, resilient person. So what if I’m not the best at the WOD or able to heft a bazillion kilos over my head? Why on earth would I pick that one tiny slice of my life and use it to measure myself overall?
A lot of interpersonal grief could be avoided if we would get in the habit of taking people as they are, whole. It’s so tempting to parse personalities and think we can tease out only the parts we like, while somehow suppressing (or suppressing our own knowledge of) the ugly bits. We do ourselves and others a disservice when we do this … ourselves because whether we want to deal with the ugly bits or not, they’re there, and they will be dealt with, and others because it’s actually quite insulting to compartmentalize a person this way. This is not to say that we should avoid people with ugly bits (because, er, then none of us would have any friends, I think), but that we should embrace the whole person, and if we can’t abide a particular person’s particular ugly bits, for God’s sake just leave them be and go find someone you can abide.
Understand this about personal boundaries. People who violate personal boundaries rely on social norms. For example, a person who approaches a bottle-feeding mother in public and admonishes her about the importance of breastfeeding is relying, perhaps unconsciously, on the social norm that would prevent the mother from telling her to fuck off and mind her own business. I used to cave in to the social norms when people stepped over the line with me, but lately, in a conversation where boundaries are being violated, someone’s going to be uncomfortable, but it’s not going to be me.
Do you ever fall victim to the Familiarity Fallacy? This is when you assume that someone’s a good person just because they’re familiar to you … I think we tend to fill in any blanks we encounter with positive assumptions, giving the familiar person the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes this is the right things to do, but it can bite you, especially if you bypass negative information on your way to filling in the gaps with sweetness, puppies and unicorn farts.
If bad people come into your life, assuming they’re not ISIS – you control the levers. If you acknowledge and use your own agency, you don’t have to be a victim, you can control the lever that decides who is in your life.
Some simple rules for comparing. Well, first of all, it’s usually a bad idea to compare, comparison being the thief of joy and all. But, if you must compare, don’t compare your reality to a fantasy version of your life or another’s. Because if you’re comparing your reality, it’s going to have bad weather, bad hair days, days when the supermarket checkout person is mean to you, months there’s too much money going out and not enough coming in. Fantasies never have these problems, so of course if you compare your life to a fantasy you’re going to get depressed about it. Just always make sure to factor in the bad weather, mean checkout people and financial challenges to whatever life you’re comparing yours to and the comparison is more likely to be realistic, and therefore useful.