When I meet people and they find out what I do, they want to know, “Have you worked with hoarders?” “You must see some strange things, don’t you?” Aren’t you shocked/disgusted/ etc by how some people live?” Occasionally this is about their own space, and reflects how they feel about themselves or their homes.
Sometimes they then ask, “How can you NOT be disturbed by the extreme situations?” Every so often, “Was it just a good moral upbringing?” – judge not, lest ye be judged. Although this was integral to my upbringing, it was not what crystallized the significance of how we look at others, or even ourselves.
A novel, Demian by Hermann Hesse, solidified it for me – where in the middle of the book someone says, “If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us.” This statement disturbed me and took a while for the depth of this to sink in fully.
Before long, I realized this truth for myself. When I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, I struggled a lot with feeling that I was being a bum, I was sick, though I did not look it and in many ways did not feel it. I found myself suddenly very critical of people griping about work, or complaining about not getting enough things done. My hackles would rise, I was intense about “helping” them and adamant that they just needed to this or that.
It was not about them. It was about me. I was struggling with those very issues in myself – I was desperate to get back to work; I was depressed about how little I was getting done; and I wanted solutions and answers, though it was not so simple. Just like it is not that simple for anyone else!
When I was disturbed by someone or by something they did, it was about ME, and not them or their actions. The more I started applying this idea to whatever was generating strong reactions in me, the more clear that it spoke to my own struggles. It could be simply fear that I was perceived in certain ways. It was fear that I was a certain way. It was something I was struggling with inside myself.
Now, if I find myself reacting or even feeling intensely about something, I stop and ask myself how it relates to me. Sometimes it is simply that I am on edge and less tolerant – when I find myself getting frustrated while driving – I now recognize this as a sign of my level of frustration in general and rarely is a true reflection of the other driver. It is time that I take some time to refocus myself, rejuvenate and focus on some self-care.
My reactions at other times can be more extreme, yet it still comes down to a reflection of me. The more that I recognized this; the less I reacted to things. Now compassion wells up and I give everyone, myself included some lenience. We are all human and therefore fallible. The best we can do is work at growing and improving – perfection is unrealistic – so let’s make the best of what we have.
The things people can struggle with are not always obvious by looking at them. Crohn’s Disease is not something that reveals itself in appearance, and there are so many things that do not manifest themselves visibly. We cannot truly know what others are struggling with and the complexities they face.
I am not perfect, even often flawed. As we all are. For me, by recognizing what the real issue was, I was able to find compassion. When I use the word compassion, I think of the Buddhist definition of “loving-kindness.” This is what I aim to offer to everyone, including myself. We need to be able to love ourselves even with our flaws and find our way to “judge not, lest we be judged.”