Stressed Out by Difficult People? Try Loving-Kindness Meditation
We’ve all got that person in our lives. You know the one: the neighbor, colleague, relative, or even a friend who brings out strong negative feelings in you every time they’re around. The person you dread communicating with because they make you tense, even if their negativity isn’t directed at you. Perhaps they once crossed you, and you still haven’t forgiven them. Or perhaps they’re just a complainer who never has a positive outlook on anything. The worst, right?
In some cases, it’s possible to cut this kind of negative person out of your life entirely, but it’s often not that easy. If this is a person who’ll be in your life indefinitely, and you don’t feel comfortable or safe having a heart-to-heart about how stressed or angry they make you feel, what can you do? Just hope they’ll change? Not likely! Luckily, there is something you can do for yourself in this situation. First, let’s talk about why anger and resentment are so bad for your health.
Negativity vs. Your Body
Although you can’t see the effects of negativity on your body, know that whatever tension, anger, or resentment you’re holding in your body is quietly tearing you down from the inside. According to Dr. Karen Swartz of The Johns Hopkins Hospital, anger triggers a fight-or-flight response, which elevates your blood pressure and heart rate, while suppressing your immune system. What’s more, uncontrolled negativity sometimes pushes people towards substances like alcohol or drugs to dull the feelings, which is even worse for your health in the long term.
Of course, there’s no way to live a zero-stress life, but it’s worth it to learn to control the negative impacts of others on your mood. That’s where metta meditation, also called loving-kindness meditation, comes in.
How to Get Started with Metta Meditation
Now, before you object with “As if meditation is going to fix my annoying neighbor!” or “Meditation just doesn’t work for me,” keep reading and consider giving this a shot, because metta meditation isn’t the woo-woo meditation you’re imagining. You don’t even always need to be seated, silent, or alone to get the benefits, though we’d recommend trying it for the first time in a comfortable, quiet place.
To get started with loving kindness meditation, first you’ll need a script. Here’s a simple one:
May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you be free of suffering.
Keep in mind that there is no single script for metta meditation, and that you can adjust the language so it flows naturally and feels more right for you. If “May you be free of suffering” feels a bit silly for you, for example, you could say “May you find joy” or “May you be completely well” instead.
Now, with your eyes closed, follow the process below:
- Think of someone who makes you happy, like a friend, partner, or even your cat. Use the words above to wish them well.
- Think of someone who you have neutral feelings about, perhaps someone you don’t know well, like your company accountant or a worker in your local coffee shop who you see sometimes. Use the words above to wish them well.
- Think of someone who causes you negative feelings, like a scowling neighbor or a difficult co-worker, but maybe not your worst enemy (not on your first try, anyway!). Use the words above to wish them well.
- Metta meditation also generally incorporates additional recipients of your loving-kindness, so you can choose to send positive wishes to any or all of the following: the community around you, your state or country, the world as a whole, yourself.
For **Step 3 **in particular, you may feel awkward, or you might even smile at the absurdity of sending that person good wishes! The most important thing is to find whatever small bit of compassion you have available, and offer it to this difficult person in your life.
Observe the Benefits of Loving-Kindness
The next time you see a difficult person you’ve meditated about, call up the feelings from your metta practice. Do you notice a difference in your physical response to this person? Maybe you’re a little less tense than usual. Perhaps you’re even smiling involuntarily! Even if you sense no big changes in your demeanor around the individual in question, keep practicing as often as you can, and you’ll find it getting easier and easier to shoot positive vibes their way when you’re face to face. You may even observe a slight change in the other person’s behavior, as they absorb subtle cues about your attitude and start mirroring your energy.
With practice, you’ll be able to pull out these feelings of loving-kindness even on the go, launching a silent “May you be safe” or “May you be well” at someone who cuts you off while driving or the barista who’s taking forever with your order. Of course, to build your loving-kindness muscles and be able to send out kindness on the fly, even when you’re annoyed, you have to take the first step. Set aside the next 5 minutes for your first metta meditation practice, and see for yourself!