Some people actively try to undermine us. I am not talking about psychopaths, who are born without the capacity to feel love and empathy. (Approximately 1 in 100 of us.) I’m talking about the occasional person who wants us to fail.
These people often don’t know they are doing it, but they do it all the same.
I can try to guess: weirdly, a person might undermine a friend to feel better about themselves. Or, perhaps they ache for some sort of control. Or, perhaps it’s a matter of status? These people often don’t see themselves as underminers, or negative. They see themselves as ‘realists’, or jesters.
Avoid those people.
When I was in my early twenties I had four male friends my age. We ‘ribbed’ each other. That is, we insulted each other and teased each other in fun, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Not if it’s equal. I suspect it’s a form of playfight – a good way to build resilience to teasing and criticism from the outside world. Plus, when we allow ourselves to be playfully teased, and tease in turn, we can strengthen the connections we have. We build trust. When it’s done well, both parties enjoy it.
One day at a barbecue one of my four friends drank too much. He grabbed my beard and pulled me about. I felt humiliated. I didn’t want to punch him, and even if I had punched him it would not have changed anything. It was too late. Our friendship had ended. He had stepped over the line and made our relationship unequal.
I don’t know why he did that, but I chose not to be a part of it. I wasn’t going to allow myself to suffer disrespect merely to keep a friendship. Anyway, I didn’t want a friend who would do such a thing.
I was about to move to Sydney anyway. We saw each other briefly a day or so later, and haven’t seen each other since.
Yes, I could have expressed my displeasure by speaking with him about it the next day, when he was sober. He might even have apologised. But it would have made no difference. I knew that if he saw me that way when he was drunk, he saw me that way when he was sober. I didn’t want that.
‘A drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts.’
For a short time I missed his company. He was a fun guy to be with.
I look about and see some people in appalling relationships. They are either treating someone badly, or being treated badly. Or both. I can only assume such relationships begin well, but over time, sour, and neither person chooses to part ways or rectify the problem.
I also wonder if, when the early signs were there, the other person ignored those early signs because they feared losing the relationship.
Whatever the case, it’s our job to avoid people who treat us badly, or choose to undermine us. We have to know which people want us to fail. We have to know who among us wants us to be subservient, or secondary, to them. And once we know, we have to make the tough decision.
Yes, we can apply our newfound assertiveness skills with them, but do we really want that kind of person in our life?
‘Look for people who try to undermine you: ‘The smoker who always offers you a cigarette, even though they know you are trying to quit. The ‘friend’ who serves cake although they know weight loss is your goal, or the colleague who undermines you in front of your boss. . . . A few people actively sought to bring me down by constantly being negative about my choices and always trying to push their own fears and inadequacies onto me. It might seem like a tough decision, but if all your energy is going towards resisting their toxicity and sustaining your commitment when it feels like you are under fire, then it is really a matter of survival.’
Dominique Bertolucci in his book, ‘The Happiness Code’.
Here is an important question you need to ask yourself, and answer: If you do choose to stay in the company of someone undermining you, what does that say about you? What are your reasons for accepting their behaviour?
‘People who repeatedly attack your confidence and self-esteem are quite aware of your potential, even if you are not.’
Wayne Gerard Trot-man.
The key: look for the underminers in your life, and look for the ones who want to see you thrive. For the rest of your life, ascertain which person is which, and make the right choice.
You won’t find many underminers. Most people are thoughtful and helpful, despite the bad press humanity gets. It’s just a few people we have to look out for.
Q. ‘I guess it works the other way, too?’
Yep. Treat your friends how you would like to be treated. Ask yourself,
‘How would I feel if I were spoken to in the way I just spoke to her?’
‘What would I feel if it were me kept waiting?’
‘What would I feel if he ignored my calls?’
‘Am I undermining this person in some way? If so, why?’
Q. ‘Mark, you’re asking me to dump my friends?’
I’m asking you to dump the people in your life who would undermine you, who would not mind seeing you fail. I’m asking you to dump the friends who would not be gladdened to see you thrive.
‘I’d have no friends left.’
You would have no friends left holding you back.
You wouldn’t eat toxic mushrooms, would you?
If you continue to look after yourself – if you continue to avoid feeding your soul crap – you will come to like and respect yourself more, and be less dependent on having a friend’s support. Then you’ll begin to find the right friends, the ones who do want to see you flourish.
‘I want to be around people that do things. I don’t want to be around people anymore that judge or talk about what people do. I want to be around people that dream and support and do things.’
Q. ‘It seems so callous.’
Don’t be nasty about it. Decline their invitations with a simple shrug and a ‘Not interested, but thank you’. After a while they’ll stop asking.
‘It still seems callous.’
It’s your choice: you can look after them, or you can look after yourself.
‘Isn’t it better to keep forgiving their little sins?’
Is it good for you to have that person in your life? Each ‘little sin’ you forgive will still wear at your self-worth.
I sacrificed the possibility of having many entertaining nights enjoying the company of that very funny man. But I knew he didn’t want me to flourish, and I knew I did.
Q. ‘What about stressed people? Should we avoid them too?’
If you tend to become stressed in a stressed person’s company – and most of us do – then yes. Avoid the company of any person who will feed your soul crap.
‘But you stuck with your sister, Jane. She was chronically depressed and her despair would have brought you down. She would have fed your soul heaps of crap.’
At no time did Jane ever not want me to flourish. Not once, through all her tears and despair, did she aim to undermine me. Not once did I feel humiliation in her company.
Yes, I suffered stress from being concerned about her, but I didn’t catch that stress from her. I didn’t catch her despair. The stress was my creation, from caring about her. Despite the suffering we both underwent (hers a magnitude greater), she was always a beautiful person and a privilege to know. She richly fed my soul.