Wrestling Pigs (Relationship Brain Surgery #2)

Having a relationship with mean people is like wrestling pigs.

Listen to this week’s podcast to find out how.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone in your life was kind, generous, friendly, loving, and acted out of a spirit of service and helpfulness all the time?

If everyone in your family sought to follow the Golden Rule? If everyone at work looked out for each other’s best interest and not their own?

If those things were true, the entire personal development industry and probably 90% of the consultants working in business today would be out of business immediately.

Because if everyone was always just nice, life would be so much easier, right?

But the truth is, we often have to deal with difficult people at work, in our friendships, and yes, even at home.

Back in episode 068, we talked about the kinds of Cancers that can kill our relationships. But those things were mostly focused on what WE can do to make our side of relationships better.

Unfortunately, though, there are some people who won’t be nice, won’t behave properly, won’t like you back or be team players, no matter what YOU do.

And those folks can cause us tremendous pain, disrupt our families, hamper us and our business at work, and generally make life very unpleasant.

So what do you do when someone is mean? Selfish? Passive aggressive?

Today we’ll find out.

When you’re dealing with a nasty person, the most important thing is to make sure you don’t get dragged into the mud with them.

Today we’ll go deep, get real, and get after the difficult task of relationship brain surgery.

Learning to deal more effectively with difficult people is one of the secrets to becoming healthier, feeling better, and being happier at home and at work.

Listen: you can’t change your life until you change your mind. And if you’ve got a difficult relationship in your life, you can’t wait around for the other person to change.

You have to take action.

You have to start today.

Welcome to You Start Today! I’m Dr. Lee Warren, and this is my podcast to help you change your mind to accomplish real changes in your life.

Hey, you’re the hero of your own life’s story. But if your brain’s not working right, if your thinking is stinking or you’re not seeing things clearly, you’ll have a hard time winning the battles this life will inevitably bring to you. Sometimes you need a guide, some help, some brain surgery. That’s why I’m here.

This is Episode 071: Wrestling Pigs (Relationship Brain Surgery #2). You can get the show notes and more on my website at www.wleewarrenmd.com/071

Listen: you can’t change your life until you change your mind. This is where we learn the art of do-it-yourself brain surgery to change your mind. It’s where we learn how to become healthier, feel better, and be happier. It’s where we learn to start today. Let’s go.

I’ve got some bad news for you, my friend: You’re going to encounter some mean people in your life.

Seriously, there are some people who will never be nice. They won’t play fair, be your friend, stop gossiping about you, stop trying to undermine your authority, or start trying to make your life easier.

Why? Because they are mean.

Now you know as a neuroscientist, I hate labels. I teach that we should never say, “You are selfish,” or, “You are mean,” because research shows it’s far healthier (and more accurate) to discuss BEHAVIORS rather than labeling a person with a particular quality.

So, it’s better to say, “You’re acting selfish,” or, “That was a mean thing to do,” than to apply a label to a person.

But having said that, there clearly are some people who simply cannot be nice. They refuse to participate in societal norms or Christian behavior or best practices for teams, or whatever you want to call it. Some folks are just mean, plain and simple.

Back in episode 068, we talked about relationship brain surgery, from the point of view of how WE can change OUR behavior to try to improve our relationships. I told you that there are six kinds of relationship cancers:

Anger (Unforgiveness)
(Lack of) Empathy
(Being un)Reliable

Those six cancers will hurt any relationship, and we should constantly be looking out for symptoms of them in our relationships.

But there is a limit to how much we can impact a relationship, because there is always another person involved.

So if you’re encountering a mean person in your life, here’s a checklist you can run to help you decide where the problem may lie. And if it’s you, then YOU have to fix it. Do-it-yourself brain surgery is required to change your thinking about the relationship and your behavior in it.

Here’s the checklist. If you encounter a person who is consistently mean to you, ask yourself these questions first:

– Have I done something to offend them?
– Is there something going on in their life that might be producing this behavior?
– Have I made them aware of their behavior?

The first question is there because most people in the world are not truly terrible people. But at the same time, most people act in their own self-interest most of the time, and most people treat you the way you’ve treated them, or at least how they PERCEIVE that you’ve treated them.

And in terms of YOUR peace of mind, quality of life, and emotional health, some of the most dangerous things you can do are to assume that other people are as selfless and altruistic as you are, that they’re as emotionally healthy and mature as you, or that they will ever treat you like they would like to be treated.

Those are bad assumptions.

So, when you have a person who is being mean to you, acting selfishly, gossiping about you, acting passive-aggressively toward you, the FIRST THING you need to do is ask yourself, “Have I done something to offend them, make them mad, or in some way provoke this behavior?”

Many times, we can readily identify some point in time when the other person started acting in a mean way, distanced themselves from us, etc. And it’s sometimes not easy to admit it, but the answer in those cases is always to go tell them you’re sorry.

So the first thing when someone is being mean, is self-inspection. In brain surgery the first thing I do when a patient tells me their symptoms is to perform a thorough examination of their nervous system. And when someone is being mean, the first thing to do for do-it-yourself brain surgeons is to thoroughly examine yourself and your behavior.

But let’s assume for the purpose of this episode that the answer to your question is actually, “no.” You absolutely cannot think of ANY reason why this person might be acting ugly to you that’s related to anything YOU did or did not do.

Then the next step is question two: Is there something going on in their life that might be producing this behavior? This is basically empathy. The fifth form of relationship cancer is a lack of empathy, remember? And when someone is being mean to you, you should apply EMPATHY to their situation and see if you can spot something that they’re displacing onto you. Or, SHOCKER, that maybe they’re not just BEING MEAN TO YOU, but maybe everything in their life is being affected because they’re in financial trouble or their wife left them or they found out they have cancer or their kid is on drugs.

I’m willing to bet that when you have some major stressor in your life, it sometimes affects how you treat other people, even if they’re not connected to or even aware of the issue. Right?

I’m not making excuses for bad behavior. But I’m saying that sometimes, if we recognize the motives behind someone’s actions, it makes us more able to overlook some things, tolerate their behaviors more patiently, etc. Look: we can’t allow someone’s problems to destroy our peace of mind, the culture of our workplaces, or our other relationships. But if we understand WHY someone is doing something, it can at least help it not hurt us as badly, or help us find ways to help them, right?

Even when we can’t easily determine, or if we’re totally unaware of what’s driving someone’s bad actions, there is always something we can do or should do about it: TALK TO THEM.

That’s the third part of the checklist. Have I made them aware that they’re behaving this way?

Look, the bible says in Matthew 18:15-17 that if you have a problem with someone, you’re supposed to go talk to them first. Not to someone else. Not to gossip about them. Not to retaliate against them. Not to hate them in your heart. But to talk to them.


Because in talking to them, you give them an opportunity to look at their behavior and recognize it. I don’t know about you, but I frequently do or say things I don’t even realize I’ve done or said, and I really appreciate it when someone cares enough to let me know if I’ve offended them. And more importantly from your standpoint, by talking to the person who’s being mean to you, you CLEAR YOUR CONSCIENCE and make sure they’re not just reacting to something you’ve done or they think you’ve done.

Now, what happens when you’ve run the checklist and found no reason for the behavior, AND made the effort to talk to them about it, and they STILL keep being mean?

Then, my friend, you have a choice to make.

Recognizing that you have a choice should make you realize that you are not powerless in this. You do not have to be a victim of their meanness any more. You can choose one of two options:

First, you could choose to ignore them, to deflate them with a lack of acknowledgement that they are hurting you, and to just turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, or keep smiling as if you are immune to their behavior. This is the advice Jesus gave in Matthew 5- be nice to people even when they are mean to you. Love your enemies. Don’t expect life to always be fair.

Sometimes ignoring mean people makes them realize you can’t be bothered, and they move on to bother someone else. And sometimes they come to realize they’re being unfair and they’ll come around, apologize, and thank you for being so gracious.

The problem is, there are certain situations in which we cannot just ignore the mean person’s behavior. If it’s tearing a family apart, if it’s ruining the order and discipline of your business or if the mean person is your spouse and it’s threatening your marriage, then sometimes you have to engage the other choice: sometimes you have to confront it.

The purpose of confronting the behavior is this:

YOU REGAIN POWER in the relationship. Every person who’s been a victim of meanness loses power, control, peace of mind, and self-confidence. But summing the courage to talk to the other person sets things right again. You won’t be bullied, you won’t be over run, you won’t be a hapless victim.

You’re going to them in love, but it’s with a message of, “Hey, I hope I haven’t offended you in some way. If I have, I’m sorry. Please know I had no intention of hurting you. But you’ve been mean to me lately, and I want you to know that your behavior is hurtful and I’d like it to stop. As I said, if I did something to hurt you, I really apologize and I would like your forgiveness. But I cannot tolerate this behavior either, so I want us to get it right.”

Do you see that? It’s meek and kind, but it’s also powerful. You’re not a door mat. If you’re wrong, you’re ready to make it right. But you have rights too. And you need to be confident enough to expect to be treated fairly and with respect.

Now I’m talking here about people who constantly mistreat you even if you’ve done everything you can do to make sure you’re not the problem, you’ve been empathetic and patient with them, and it’s come to the point when the meanness is affecting your life, your family, your work, your business to such a high level that it simply cannot be tolerated any more.

The point of talking to them is not that we have a right to always be treated fairly. If you think that, good luck in life because you won’t be. And it’s not that you should keep a running list of every time someone is mean to you. You shouldn’t. If you try, you’ll soon decide that everyone except you is terrible. You’ll become an injustice collector, which is a good way to never be happy.

The point is this: if your life is constantly being made worse or more painful or more difficult by another person’s bad behavior, then you can choose to go to them and make it known that the behavior is mean and it needs to stop.

Now, Lee, you might ask: what if I do ALL of those things and the person is STILL mean?

Good question.

And the answer is this: recognize that there are many people who have psychopathology, bad problems at home they are displacing onto you, bad upbringing, spiritual poverty, jealousy, or other issues, and that (provided you’ve followed the steps above) ARE NOT ABOUT YOU.

So, if you’ve done what the bible says in Romans 12:18, which says “As far as it is possible for you, live at peace with everyone,” then you’re clear to live your life without further worry about this mean person.

In other words, if you’ve really done everything you can do, than you just have to decide to remove from that person the power to hurt you any more. I told Lisa once, when this one horrible woman kept hurting her feelings by being awful and mean and jealous and gossipy and spiteful over and over, that it was clear that that woman had some sort of psychological issue, and that she shouldn’t feel bad about the other woman’s problem any more than she would let someone’s diabetes offend her. The psychiatric or character issue of a mean person is not about you, my friend, and it predated you in their timeline and will live through their life even if you move away and never see them again.

Thus, if you’ve done everything you can do, there’s really only one more thing to discuss.

Your job is to be yourself, to live according to God’s plan for your life, and to honor God and yourself.

When someone is mean to you, there is a strong temptation to RETALIATE. To be mean back to them. To gossip about them.

But that’s always the wrong move.

You simply cannot become healthier, feel better, or be happier in your life if you lower yourself to the bad behavior of another person.

Matthew 5:44 says to “Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them, and pray for them.”

Why? Because if you’ve tried to help someone and failed, and they’re still mean to you, and you’ve confronted them and that hasn’t worked, then you’ve come to the point where you realize that it’s obviously not part of God’s plan for your life for you to be able to help this person not be so mean. And it’s bad for you brain and your heart to keep throwing yourself back into that fire and getting burned.

So once you know someone is not your project, they are not your friend, and you cannot see a way for them to become nice or tolerable enough for you to continue in a relationship with them, the only other thing the bible and good brain science requires of you is to pray for them, to wish them well, to hope that someday they will change, and that they will find an answer to why they are so badly broken and mean.

If you can do that, my friend, then you will have truly broken the spell of the mean person. And you can live in peace.

My dad used to say, “If you wrestle with a pig, two things are guaranteed to happen: One, you’re going to get really dirty. And two, the pig is going to have a good time.”

Mean people love when someone fights back, because it gives them an excuse to keep being mean. To focus on YOUR behavior instead of theirs.

You need to focus on your life, your work, and winning the battles life brings your way. Remember this: Winners focus on winning. Losers focus on winners.

Listen: not everyone is going to be nice to you all the time. If you encounter a consistently mean person in your life, you don’t have to feel powerless.

You have choices. You have a checklist. You have power.

Start living free from the power of mean people.

And start today.

If you have a question or a comment, email me via lee@drleewarren.com

Remember: Life isn’t brain surgery; it’s harder. It’s a war. But even though life is hard, God is faithful. You can have the life you were created to have, but you have to start today. But don’t forget that wrestling pigs is a great way to get dirty, and the pig is always having a great time.

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I’m Dr. Lee Warren and you’ve been listening to YST. Be sure to subscribe via iTunes so you automatically get new episodes. I’m trying to get to 30,000 downloads a month, so you subscribing and sharing the show with your friends will really help. Thanks!

You can get the show notes to this episode at www.wleewarrenmd.com/071

I can’t wait to talk to you next week, but you start today.

We’re gonna roll out with our theme music, Podington Bear’s Blue Highway, which you can download for free at freemusicarchive.org

Have a great week my friend, and don’t forget to start today!

Theme Music is Blue Highway by Podington Bear, license courtesy of Creative Commons. http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Podington_Bear/Soul/Blue_Highway


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