THE BLOG
07/22/2010 02:26 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How to Mindfully Deal With Someone You Dislike

Face it... we all deal with people whom we dislike and doing so means that we feel the emotions associated with dislike. Even though disliking others seems to separates "them" from "us," in fact, "we" are connected through the experience.

Consider someone that you find irritating, unpleasant, or truly horrible, and briefly focus on the adjectives (irritating etc) and not noun (the person). The adjectives reflect your tastes and perspectives. They're subjective, and provide information to help you deal the emotion directly... along the lines of "If you don't like so-and-so, hang out with other people."

On the other hand, sometimes, another person (the noun) can seem to trigger an almost visceral personal reaction - almost a repulsion - that goes beyond rational explanation and feels bigger or deeper than pure subjective opinion. It's not totally objective (because you still experience it), but there's something else at play... and dealing this type of encounter can be much more difficult.

Fortunately, such reactions are usually few and far between. Unfortunately, they tend to happen at the most inopportune moments or in the midst of the most complicated, intractable situations. For example, maybe you have an inexplicably strong, negative reaction to your sibling's new romantic partner or your kid's new best friend. You want to like the person, for the sake of your sibling or child and because life would be a whole lot simpler if only you could. However, if your mind and body rebel with the warning of dislike, you've got a complex situation on your hands and a little mindfulness can help.

Here are a couple of tips to help you deal:

  • Listen to your gut: Focus your awareness on your body and learn from a language without words. Maybe you get a queasy feeling when things aren't right, and, like me, you've learned to take that warning seriously? When I don't, my head starts hurting and then my mouth gets dry, and then... well, you can imagine. Responding early and effectively is a much better option. If my gut tells me that I need some distance from someone or something, I do well to get some space. This applies even if it's inconvenient, and there's almost always a way to make it happen.
  • Notice your thoughts: Pay attention to your mind, and notice whether your thoughts provide insight that constructively reduce your discomfort or if you're trying to convince yourself that everything's okay when it isn't. I've learned that discerning the difference can be critically important, such as when I experience a kind of "knee-jerk" dislike for a new acquaintance based on my perception of some similarity to another - and totally unrelated - person. When this happens, my wave of dislike is neither constructive nor fair, and recognizing what's happening is the key to getting over it. On the other hand, if my brain is trying to convince my heart that I ought to like someone just because my sibling or friend does... then I'm giving myself bad advice. Sure, I need to be polite with that person, there's no need to force myself to like someone if I don't.
  • Accept when it's your issue: Pause and consider what's happening and why. If you dislike someone because that person's personality or qualities are not to your taste (but still socially-acceptable), then your dislike is your issue and you need to decide what to do based on other considerations. So, if I don't like my best friend's new romantic partner, but I love her and can see that the new guy isn't harmful (just annoying), then maybe I can be more patient. If not, well, I'll give them some space, respectfully.
  • Acknowledge when there's something else going on: Consider that your sense of dislike might be a real warning of danger. Sometimes our kids bring home new friends whose behavior we, as parents, recognize as dangerous. We can't choose our kids' friends, but we can make clear boundaries in our homes and we certainly owe our children the respect of explanations. Pay attention to signs of danger, and promote protection. Such clues are priceless, and acting on them requires confidence as well as delicacy.

There's more to disliking someone than feelings, and there's good reason to reflect on the root of the emotion. Is it an expression of personal taste or a clue about more profound danger? Does the most constructive response involve dealing with dislike, personally (within yourself)? Or is there something that must be done regarding the external situation and even the other person? Clarity is key to applying some wisdom here. And while there's no simple solution to dealing with dislike, bringing mindfulness to the process can help.