Have you ever heard the song by REM, “Everybody Hurts”? Well, it’s true! We all go through difficult seasons in our lives, either because of the things others do to us or because of the things we do to ourselves. The people in our lives play a vital role in whether or not we have the strength to get back up on our feet and keep moving through life’s journey. I was considering the types of people that wait for us on the way down. Who are they and how should we respond to them. Here’s my list:
The Vulture: This is the person who is openly antagonistic. They have been waiting for this moment as long as they have known you and they have no qualms about letting you and others know their pleasure in your pain. This is the boss that can’t wait to fire you, the frenemy who posts the embarrassing picture on their Facebook account, the sibling who uses you to get in good with mom and dad, the church member who wants you off the pulpit, the journalist who smears your public image. The list could go on and on. Nine times out of ten, the best option with the vulture is to keep your head high, ignore them, and distance yourself from any further interactions. Let your actions be louder than your words, be the better person, and trust that they will learn their lesson from someone else someday. An old proverb says, “Don’t cast your pearls before swine!!”
The Vampire: The vampire is definitely an antagonist, but in a more subtle way. They pretend to be your friend, invite you to open up to them in the midst of your struggle, and then take advantage of you in your weakness. They are smooth and seductive. Think traveling elixir salesman or corner prostitute! And they may not be selling anything material. They might simply want you to buy into their philosophy about life, feed their psychological need for power, or use you to assuage their own hurts. Your suffering is only a means to accomplishing their own purposes in life. They will suck your blood and keep coming back for more if you let them. The way to protect yourself against a vampire is to hold your cards close to the chest. You might be suffering intensely and they always seem to be right there ready to help, but smile and make them believe you’re doing just fine without them. Tell the salesman politely you’re not interested at this time and then hang up the phone! Don’t wait for the rest of the sales pitch.
The Voyeur: The voyeur doesn’t necessarily have a hidden agenda, but they will milk you for all the juicy details of your struggle. After a while, you get the sense that they really don’t care about you. They just love a good story. And trust me, someone who loves a good story is usually a magnificent story teller. The voyeur loves being in the know and spreading news. They feel better wallowing in other people’s suffering. Here is one way to test whether or not someone in your life is a voyeur: tell them something exciting and positive that has happened in your life and see if they take as much interest. You will know very quickly who your true friends are by who is able to celebrate with you, not just mourn with you.
The Freak: This person does not have a malicious motive. They simply “can’t handle the truth!” (Said in an aggressive, airy, Jack Nicholson voice). Usually, the freak is someone very close to you who suffers when you do. They love you desperately, but freak out when you’re in pain. They are empathetic to a fault. You wish they’d take your shoes off after one lap around the track, let alone a mile. With these people, you may have to share burdens gradually over time. Let the issue sink in so that they have time to process it and come to terms with it. In doing so, you will create less damage in the long term.
The Fixer: The fixer is the opposite of the freak. Lots of solutions. Very little empathy. I knew someone who did informal counseling who said, “Look, I’ll meet with you for one session. You do what I say? Great! You don’t? I’ve got better things to do with my time!” Now, to be sure. Individuals like this might have a lot of helpful wisdom to pass on, but you need tough skin and the ability to take everything they say with a grain of salt. They have a cookie cutter solution to every problem. Some advice might be worth chewing on and some of it, well, in the words of the comedian, Jim Gaffigan, treat it like a Hot Pocket: “Open package and place directly in toilet!!”
The Father: The sage. The guru. The sensei. An older individual who is not in competition with you, has a deep yearning to mentor and genuinely wants to be a listening ear and an advisor in your life. Draw from them deeply, but realize that they may not be entirely able to relate to your circumstances. Every generation is faced with nuances in the suffering and pain they face. Culture, technology, styles, and relationships change over time, so look for a wise man that is willing to remain teachable and empowers you to tell your story. Remember as people age they naturally become fixers (minus the attitude), in part because they have had a lot of experiences we have not. The good ones remain humble in spite of all their knowledge. Hold onto them like a precious jewel (or your i-phone these days!!)
The Friend: This person doesn’t have all the answers, but they can relate to your struggle. They care about you, want to see you succeed, and will continue to walk with you every step of the way. There is loyalty here. A history. A brotherhood or sisterhood. You may have disagreements, but if someone butts into your inner circle, they will fall on their sword for you. Cherish these relationships. Be that kind of person to someone else. If you have one or two of these people in your life, you can weather any storm.
Question: What kinds of people wait for you when you fall? What kind of person are you when others fall?