We all have certain people and certain kinds of things that 'push our buttons'. I certainly do. I was just reminded last night about a particular pattern of behavior that I've observed over and over again from certain individuals that is hurtful to others. I found myself infuriated. In the heat of the moment, my buttons are pushed, and I feel the anger rising.
On the one hand, this is natural, human behavior. When you see people that you love being hurt, you want to protect them from that hurt. On the other hand, when individuals who are part of your world - family, co-workers, neighbors, etc. continue to exhibit annoying or thoughtless behavior even after you've taken thoughtful steps to try and bring the effects of their behavior to their attention, yet they show no sign of change... what next?
The 'easier' option may be to minimize one's interactions. But that may not always be possible. Another path may be to continue to inform the other of the way you are experiencing their actions or words. In unequal power relations (e.g. an employee and a boss), that may not always feel like a viable course of action either. Of course, if the behavior is truly abusive, it may well be necessary to remove yourself from the situation by leaving - something that takes courage but which, ultimately, can be enormously freeing and healing.
What else can you do? We have no ability to make someone else change. We can only truly take charge of making change within ourselves. And so, perhaps we can change our response? Perhaps, when we notice the anger rising we can take a step back and laugh, saying, 'look at them doing that ridiculous thing that they always do!' Perhaps instead of anger, we can learn to nurture compassion in our response, 'I feel so sorry that they so lack the awareness to understand how their behavior makes them look in the eyes of others. That must be so isolating for them.'
The ability to turn the experience in this way helps to get us a little closer to the next step ... forgiveness. It is hard to forgive if we truly believe that someone is intentionally hurting us again and again. And, if that is indeed what is going on, perhaps its not the time to explore forgiveness until we've been able to create more distance. But if someone seems to exhibit the same behaviors over and over, and seems incapable of change, perhaps we can find our way to forgive what they do out of ignorance and limitation.
Change is hard. Self-awareness is a necessary component of making change in our own lives. Finding ways to let go of our frustrations when others have not changed, we can take the opportunity to look within and find the places in our own lives where change is hard for us. If our awareness of how the lack of change in another makes us feel can inspire us to take up the challenge of making the changes necessary in our own lives, perhaps they've given us a gift after all?
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz