Toxic people. We’ve all met them before, and unfortunately, many of us have had to deal with them on a regular basis. They can leave you emotionally drained.
A question almost all of us have pondered at some point is: What’s the best way to deal with them?
Is it to fight fire with fire? Or ignore them and hope for the best?
Well, according to eastern philosophy wisdom, none of those strategies take the cake.
Instead, a better technique is to practice what Buddhism calls “loving-kindness”.
While it sounds strange, and it may not be the hard hitting strategy you’re looking for, it is highly effective for not only dealing with toxic people, but for protecting own emotional health as well.
But first, we’ll talk about 4 perspectives you need to keep in mind to deal effectively with toxic people, and then we’ll explain how to practice loving-kindness.
4 things to understand to deal effectively with toxic people
Religious traditions from across the world—including both Buddhism and Christianity—have developed seemingly nonsensical attitudes of compassion and forgiveness toward enemies.
Why should we “love” our enemies or wish that “no harm” may befall them? Why should we wish them “success” in their endeavors—when those endeavors might very well include attacking us?!
From a Buddhist perspective, there are several explanations for the injunction to wish toxic and negative people well.
First, it does you no good to hold onto anger or resentment, even if the other person deserves it.
Carrying around your enmity for another person leads to tension and unhappiness within you, so it is best to set aside grudges, if only for your own sake.
Check out this quote from Bhante Henepola Gunaratana which describes what this attitude represents:
“May my enemies be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them. May no difficulties come to them. May no problems come to them. May they always meet with success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life.”
Second, appreciate the opportunities that your enemies provide for you to practice your patience and loving kindness!
There’s nothing challenging or unusual about treating people you love kindly—that comes naturally.
People you dislike, however, give you the chance to deepen your practice.
Third, ask yourself why you consider certain people your enemies.
Are they rude, short-tempered, selfish, or boastful? Likely, these unpleasant characteristics stem from various problems in their own lives.
Perhaps they’re rude and impatient because they hate their job; perhaps they’re boastful because they’re deeply insecure about themselves.
In any case, by wishing that your enemies be “well, happy, and peaceful,” by wishing that they encounter no “difficulties” or “problems,” you wish to remove the conditions that made them your enemies in the first place.
“Practically speaking, if all of your enemies were well, happy, and peaceful, they would not be your enemies. If they were free from problems, pain, suffering, affliction, neurosis, psychosis, paranoia, fear, tension, anxiety, etc., they would not be your enemies. The practical approach toward your enemies is to help them overcome their problems, so you can live in peace and happiness.” – Bhante Henepola Gunaratama, Mindfulness in Plain English, 94
In other words, by practicing loving kindness even toward people you don’t like, you help create a better, happier, more peaceful world for everyone.
If this practice is something you struggle to do, I suggest incorporating it into your daily meditation practice.
Begin your meditation session by mindfully reading and reflecting on the verses above (“May my enemies be well…”).
Remind yourself of these principles throughout the day when you catch yourself falling into familiar patterns of uncharitable or unkind thoughts.
Fourth, remind yourself that you see hostile people and situations only from your perspective and do not know the whole story.
Are you open to the possibility that you could have misunderstood something or misjudged someone else’s actions?
Have you taken some perceived slight too personally? And even if you are convinced of your own righteousness, are you at least open to the idea that returning hatred with hatred does nothing to improve the situation?
Finally, keep in mind that if you decide to struggle against your enemies, your struggles will be endless:
“Although you may spend your life killing, you will not exhaust all your foes.” – Nagarjuna
How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
To nurture a spirit of compassion and friendliness toward others, you can perform a meditation on loving kindness.
You will begin by feeling love and kindness for yourself, then direct these feelings outward—to family, to friends, to colleagues and acquaintances, and even to your enemies.
- Settle into your meditation posture, for instance by sitting on the ground cross-legged. • Focus first on your breathing, counting each inhale and exhale, noticing the nature of the breaths (are they short or long, smooth or staccato?).
- Imagine a warmth emanating from your heart and filling your torso. You might imagine a bright light glowing within your body, growing brighter with every inhale. Or you might feel a ball of energy that steadily grows warmer. This is the bright warmth of loving kindness. Let yourself sit with it, as if basking in an internal sun.
- Repeat simple thoughts for focus, such as “May I be happy. May I be free from hatred. May I be free of problems. May I feel loved and accepted.” Essentially, you are wishing good things for yourself in this moment.
- Let this feeling of loving kindness emanate outward toward others. Visualize, say, your partner, your children, your parents. Imagine the light and warmth spreading out of your face and fingertips and reaching them.
- Again, you can repeat similar verses, “May they be happy. May they be free from hatred,” and so on. Wish them good things. Perhaps you’ve had a minor argument or misunderstanding recently. If you feel ready, forgive them and accept them as they are.
- Direct this feeling of loving kindness wherever you choose. Send it to people you’ve never met, to people who suffer from famine and war, to animals on the brink of extinction, to the entire world and all the life it sustains. You may send it even to your enemies (more on that below).
- Finish your meditation by returning to your breath. The meditation itself is simply about noticing yourself and others, accepting them as they are, loving them, and wishing good things for them.
Do not feel compelled at this moment to do or try to do anything. Just exist with a mindset of love and friendliness.
Once the meditation ends and you return to your daily activities, you may very well feel moved to apply these feelings of loving kindness in your actions.
This is great! Fostering love and acceptance in our minds and hearts often leads to outward changes in behavior that make the world a better place.