Four Principles to Guide you From Judgement & Anger to Forgiveness & Peace
Sometimes, people disappoint you. A friend, a family member, a lover, a co-worker, even a near stranger. Disappointment occurs when we project our own desires and expectations onto others rather than accepting them where they are. The reality is, we disappoint others just as they disappoint us, but this fact doesn’t make it easier when someone fails to meet our expectations.
The holidays, especially, can be a time where we find ourselves disappointed in others. Why? We build elevated expectations and illusions about perfection and how things are “supposed” to be. It’s incredibly easy to get wound up in the story that everything should be merry and bright; though we this is not always the case. Now, I’m not saying to sit around expecting doom and gloom during the holiday, or any other time (I’m a firm believer that our outlook shapes our reality and if you’re looking for doom and gloom, that you’ll find it). What I am saying is to be thoughtful with your expectations and patient with your judgement of others. I’ve had to practice these principles recently (and frequently find myself doing so at the holidays). Here are some of my favorite principles to remember when you find yourself feeling disappointed in others:
Meet others where they are, not where you want them to be. I truly believe that everyone is doing the best they can based on the information and capacity they have at the present moment. Yes, this is difficult to accept at times, especially when we watch others take the same actions or repeat mistakes. The reality is, not everyone grows at the same rate and some people around you will stay stuck in the same place for a long time.
This can be difficult to stomach, especially when we’ve grown and matured and other’s we have relationships with have stayed the same. We see how wonderful things can be from our new viewpoint and we want others to come along with us. It can be frustrating to watch others retreat into habits that are comfortable, especially when we know there is a better way. However, the important thing to remember is that we are all on our own journeys. You absolutely cannot rush someone along on their path. Truly, no matter how hard you try, they cannot mentally make that journey until they are ready.
So, be patient and remember that others must go at their own pace. As they do, you must return to them with compassion, remembering that you were once at a different point on your own journey.
Recognize the other person is you. This is Yogi Bhajan’s first sutra for the Aquarian Age (read more here) and is a reminder that we are all one kind and that the qualities we are able to either admire or dislike in another are ultimately, parts of us. When we look at others in this way, it is more difficult to truly dislike someone for qualities or actions we perceive to be negative. Ultimately, our ability to recognize a quality in another should tell us that is a quality we are deeply familiar with in some way. With this in mind, it is easier to react from a place of compassion.
I love this quote from Haribhajan Singh about this sutra, “The more we identify with our ego, the more judgmental we will be toward others and the more we will project our own personality traits onto others.”
The metaphysical text, A Course in Miracles, provides a similar explanation, “When you meet anyone, remember it is a holy encounter. As you see him, you will see yourself. As you treat him, you will treat yourself. As you think of him, you will think of yourself. Never forget this, for in him you will find yourself or lose yourself.”
People are hard to hate close up. Move in. In her newest book, Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown offers several practices to challenge how we think about ourselves and show up for others - while this practice has to do specifically with finding the good in others, despite some fundamental misalignment, I think it also offers some insight for times when you are disappointed by someone. I find that it is our instinct, especially when we’ve been challenged or hurt by someone, to withdraw from relationships when disappointment occurs. We are taught to react with anger and shock towards the other person; placing all fault on them. Even demonizing them sometimes (consider all of the times your friends react with the “he’s just an asshole” speech when you tell them about a conflict in a romantic relationship). I find this rarely works and only intensifies the anxiety and pain we experience ourselves.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that you try to get closer to a person you’ve been disappointed by. Rather, that you remind yourself of the good qualities they have in order to help you find empathy and forgiveness for their perceived weaknesses. This is not to make excuses for someone who has caused you pain, but only to ease your own suffering by remembering that this person does have other characteristics that you are able to admire and respect.
Forgive fearlessly. We often have the misconception that forgiveness is weakness; a backing down from our own desires or beliefs. In reality, forgiveness is a form of growth and freedom. It allows us to move forward, where holding a grudge keeps us stuck in the past. A Course in Miracles teaches, “Forgiveness takes away what stands between your brother and yourself.” At our core, we find peace when we accept others for who they are, not who we want them to be. If we’ve become disappointed in someone, it’s a sure sign that we’ve projected our own desires on them.
As Marianne Williamson puts it, “Forgiveness is the choice to see people as they are now. When we are angry at people, we are angry because of something they said or did before this moment. But what people said or did is not who they are. Relationships are reborn as we let go perceptions of our brother’s past. By bringing the past into the present, we create a future just like the past. By letting the past go, we make room for miracles.”
Relationships - romantic, professional, and otherwise - require work. Others won’t always behave in the ways which we expect or hope for...nor will we always behave in the ways which others expect from us. In moments of disappointment, we must remember to withhold judgement and to recognize when we are acting from our ego instead of our hearts. Our ego seeks to find fault in others, our ego seeks to find separation, our ego seeks to be right. A Course in Miracles asks, “Do you prefer that you be right, or happy?” And that is the true question. If we seek to be right, we expect always that other’s behaviors and words will align with what we want. There is nothing enlightened about this type of stubborn thinking - it will always lead to disappointment in others.
If we seek to see from a place of growth and enlightenment, we must see moments of disappointment in others as opportunities. They are opportunities to meet others where they are, to see ourselves in others, to move in, and to practice forgiveness.
It is in exploring these opportunities that we come to know ourselves better, that we find space for empathy and forgiveness in all relationships. It is from only this place, that we gain the capacity to invite in the peace of mind and clarity and abandon the pain, anxiety, and confusion of disappointment.