Difficult or Abusive People: The Protective Role of Love
Most people are generally good. They may have trials, limitations, histories, warts. They may make mistakes—just like us! But they are generally good and simply moving forward as best they can. Indeed, if I have a problem and need to bounce it about, I might prefer a person “who has been there, done that.” They will better understand. They will not judge. They are more likely to have insights, compassion, experience or suggestions. An imperfect person is sometimes just perfect for me.
Still, there can be problems. In some situations, practices relating to love of others are helpful if there is a temporary stumbling. Tolerance. Understanding. Communication practices. Engaging the mind before the mouth. Sometimes, the person is simply going through a rough period.
And then, there are harder cases: people who seem locked into a challenging mode—negative, demanding, judgmental, critical, unreliable, dishonest, manipulative, aggressive, destructive, self-destructive, needy, depressed, and so on. People who are just unhappy and sour.
What to do? What does love teach or have to offer? It depends on circumstances.
In the ideal world, coming to know or understand why the person is like they are may help, both in terms of reducing the irritant and, perhaps, in helping them. However, sometimes the more difficult challenges call into play the protective side of love.
Love of Self includes self-protection. Love of Others includes helping them to move out of harm’s way, and protecting them as needed.
In some cases, the appropriate action is fairly clear.
Do not buy into the negativity of an unhappy, sour, critical, or judgmental person. Perhaps we can help them, or at least understand the “why.” Perhaps not. But first, protect and maintain self and others. Disconnect any buttons. Acknowledge internally that the person is not happy, sour or whatever, and disengage physically and/or emotionally as needed. We do not need to give their problems the power to drag us down. Be as a duck, letting negativity flow off like water. Be thankful for the ability to detach and not be infected.
The same is true if someone is physically or emotionally abusive. Perhaps the person can be helped but first: protect self and others. Do not give into a pattern of abuse, followed by contrition and requests for “forgiveness,” followed by yet further abuse. Do not allow “self” and others to be pummeled by the abusive person’s needs and problems. It is simply a dance of unhappiness or control on the actor’s part. Remove yourself, children and others who may be affected. Call authorities or support groups in appropriate cases.
If someone is in an abusive relationship, share with them experiences and tools to disentangle and rebuild their self-esteem. Give them names of support groups. Advise the authorities if appropriate. If they choose to continue in the cycle, at least you tried.
If someone is dishonest, unreliable or manipulative, beware and protect others if they are within the zone of danger. Call the authorities if appropriate.
Dangerous, destructive or self-destructive people. People addicted to drugs. Violent, abusive people. Predators. Protect self and others needing protection: that is love.
Should we consider helping the actor? The best thing you might be able to do is to encourage them to seek out appropriate help or guidance, if that can be done safely. Hopefully, they will take some constructive steps, but ultimately, it is their decision. You can only do so much.