What do you do when someone is openly hostile? While this doesn’t happen often, I have had a couple instances of dealing with women who show open hostility and seem to go out of their way to make sure I know how much they dislike me. In each instance I made plenty of mistakes. But I also learned a few valuable lessons:
Realize their behavior says everything about them and very little about you. Nobody forces another person to be rude, unkind or hateful. It is possible to disagree with someone while showing respect and courtesy. Don’t internalize the unkindness.
Choose to respond with grace. You don’t have to pretend like everything is OK. But you also don’t have to stoop to their level and behave badly. Refuse to lower yourself to someone else’s level of immaturity. Pray for them- they obviously need it.
Be willing to speak the truth. I don’t like labeling someone toxic. But when someone’s behavior is disrespectful to you and the people around you, there are times it needs to be addressed. It is not kind to allow someone to continue in a behavior that is hurtful to you and to themselves. Unfortunately, if someone is a grown-up bully they are probably accustomed to getting what they want when they treat people rudely. Just because someone has a difficult past doesn’t give them a pass on treating others with respect. Instead of talking about them, consider going directly to the person and addressing their behavior. As someone who strongly dislikes confrontation, this has been very, very difficult. Yet choosing to not let it slide and to directly talk about it gives that person an opportunity to realize how they are being perceived and change.
Find the humor. I’m not going to lie. There are times I would almost double-over laughing at how hard this person tried to insult me with her snide behavior. Yes, it was ofen irritating, but who couldn’t find it hilarious when someone goes out of their way to behave like a preschooler?
Don’t play the game. Just because this person has chosen to engage in inappropriate behavior does not mean you have to do so. While I found it extremely uncomfortable and awkward to have someone so openly hostile, I reached a point of recognizing that I could not allow her behavior to dictate my own.
Remember you don’t know the whole story. Sometimes people are going through so much more than we can imagine. While it is not an excuse, it can help us respond with compassion. Several years ago we had an issue with a neighbor and my initial reaction was to label her: toxic! Since that time I have gotten to know her and been amazed at her kindness, generosity and pleasant demeanor. I had no idea that when we first became acquainted she was going through a very difficult situation and it, unfortunately spilled over into our relationship. While we don’t have to excuse bad behavior, there may be contributing factors. The truth is, we never really know the extent of what is happening in someone else’s heart or the pain they may be feeling. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply acknowledge you may not have the full picture.
Ultimately, regardless of how challenging a situation may become, it is always possible to pray for someone and choose kindness. It is easy to respond with sarcasm or perpetuate the cycle of rudeness. But to choose not to zing someone when the perfect retort is on the tip of your tongue…to choose to ask God to help you see beyond the bad behavior..is to be empowered.
Kindness is never weakness. It is easy to be hard. It is freeing to forgive and respond with grace.