Years ago on the TV show, Grey’s Anatomy, Meredith famously said to her friend Christina, “You’re my person…” We understood that she meant, “You’re the one person on the planet I entirely trust with my secrets and problems.”
Viewers resonated so much with this phrase that, “You’re my person,” became part of our vernacular.
Sorry, but this post is not about that person, but your anti-person, as it were. I’m talking about that boss, co-worker, friend, acquaintance, or relative—who endlessly annoys you, competes with you, is passive-aggressive, exhausting, dismissive, insensitive, or seems intent on making you look or feel bad.
The other night I went to a recovery meeting where this was the topic. I heard so many smart things, but it was surprisingly heartbreaking, too. Regardless of how long we’ve been sober or how much we love God, so many of us have struggled, or are now struggling painfully, with an anti-person.
I once spent years chewing a bone with one guy’s name on it. Night after night, I asked Dave to gnaw alongside me, and sometimes he did. The person never changed one iota and we both got cracked teeth.
Part of what makes our anti-person so problematic is that they’re not going away any time soon. Unlike those folks in our past who we could forgive and happily forget—your anti-person is like a permanent pebble in your shoe.
The problem is quite simple: How can you not live in a constant state of resentment?
Since it’s highly unlikely this person will change, our hope lies in changing our response. It’s almost like we have to develop a posture of pre-forgiveness, or forgiveness preparedness.
I think what I’m describing is an ongoing spiritual process that isn’t even supposed to be easy. But drawing on the shared wisdom of my fellow alcoholics, here are some admittedly hard questions we can ask ourselves that just might give us a jump-start:
What is my part? When people are problematic to us, it feels like they are the problem. But we always have a part, no matter how obscure. How do I think and talk about this person to others? How do I interact with him or her, and what kind of energy do I put out? Am I participating in a subtle but toxic dynamic that takes two to sustain?
Is my pride in the way? Nine times in ten, my anti-person offends my ego, my sense of importance, or my pride. How could greater humility on my part change the dynamics for me? A person can’t hurt my pride if I’ve already set it aside—which can feel impossible, at times. But just being aware of my ego is a good place to start.
Is the person I’m bugged at just like me? I’ve heard it said in meetings, “You can spot it because you’ve got it.” Often, a person’s attitudes or actions annoy us precisely because we see the same faults in ourselves… and we hate them. Practicing self-compassion can radically change how we react to these unattractive qualities in others.
Am I being dishonest with my expectations? Sometimes we have expectations of people that aren’t in line with what this person has already taught us is true about them. It’s unfair to be shocked and dismayed when my anti-person behaves exactly like I knew she would.
Is my own pretense part of the problem? It can be tempting to pretend to our anti-person that everything is great. But love doesn’t ask us to participate in an ongoing lie—or to be doormats. When I put up with a pattern of behavior, I participate in it and appear to accept it. Why not make sure the person doesn’t care enough to change?
Could this pebble in my shoe have a greater purpose? Ultimately, it’s up to me whether this person makes my life miserable or becomes a gift to help me grow in compassion and tolerance. We don’t learn those qualities around people we love and agree with. It’s in the hard, daily work of softening toward someone difficult that we grow and are changed.
Could radical generosity change my heart? In recovery we pray for the people we resent and ask God to bless them with everything we would want for ourselves. And it helps! Something inside of us shifts as we view the person through God’s eyes. Another idea is to give our anti-person the very thing—for example, praise, money, or loyalty—that we most want to withhold. Something about being generous breaks the bonds of our resistance.
So how about you? Do you have an anti-person in your life right now? Or maybe two? How do you cope, and what questions would you add to this list?
If you’ve got no bone to chew, and there’s no pebble in your shoe today, step lightly and rejoice.