My husband and I were having coffee on January first, having had our share of champagne, the night before, and I got a call from a client ...
After years as a single parent, she had met someone whom she loved. After years of rejecting relationships, she found someone who really valued her, who returned her love. The relationship was now three months old; my client felt happy, safe, fulfilled.
And what had happened moments before her call to me: Her supposed best friend, (my client had spent New Year's Eve with her and her husband the night before) called to tell her that her new love was "boring, unappealing," and some other mean, negative adjective I cannot recall.
I went into a private room and spoke with my client, and after hanging up my mind raced to parallel descriptions:
The "friend" who delighted in doing all she could to ruin an upcoming family
celebration for another with demands, put-downs, and ugly gossip.
The "friend" who delighted in finding a way to pick a fight when one was tired, overwhelmed, or
joyous and fulfilled.
The "friend" who took you out to dinner to celebrate a professional achievement
(yours) and told you that the place you worked was bound to close soon.
The "friend" who let you know of the large, wonderful celebration that did not include
you, although the host was a friend you treated very kindly.
The "friend" who did all possible to scare you to death during a crisis in your
The subtle and not so subtle hurts, during times of joy, as well as times of sorrow. The salt in wounds when you are down. The list goes on and on.
What is going on here? Of course, the reasons behind such hurtful comments are complicated, and we all have to learn to let go of insensitive comments that are not intended to burn. And of course, it is always wise, in an important relationship, to share one's feelings and to discuss what, from your perspective, has gone badly off track. But when dealing with those motivated by nasty impulses, such behavior is rarely respected. It is usually seen as weakness; and even if there is a pretense to care, the ugly pattern of behavior will almost always predictably continue.
This said, a look at competitiveness can throw some light on unkind and ruthless behavior. Healthy competitiveness means that one works hard and does one's best in love, friendship and work to attain one's goals. Unhealthy competitiveness means that Ruthless Envy rules: One feels the need to win at all costs, and winning means to annihilate the other. Or to do them harm with as many digs and cuts as possible, some subtle, some not.
The culprits feeding the latter destructive (and sick) motivation are caused by the marriage of anger (born of emptiness, feeling completely "less than," and doing all one can to cover such impotent rage with charm and denial) and envy (the feeling that another has no right to joys and accomplishments as much as or more than your own).
In such behavior there is a link between the personal, the professional, the political. There really was a time that Congressional leaders (role models for us all!) could disagree on issues, but with determination to compromise for the greater good of the public. This is now history, as mean, ugly, destructive behavior prevails,
So here it is in a nut-shell: Mature people know how to work hard, but accept and learn to live with certain dreams that may never come true. With this mindset, they truly can love and care for others, be there in their sorrows, and rejoice in their accomplishments. The greater good of all is their motivating force. And these are the only people one can successfully build with.
Others must be carefully and precisely buffered (if you must deal with them), but still left way, way behind in their degree of importance. A good way to do this is to visualize them in the way they deserve to be seen, as "dust," and deal with them in the only way they deserve -- as "dust friends." In this process a possible political reality is apt metaphor: vote them out of office.
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