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Taking the High Road When Others Let Us Down

By Suzanne Harrill

Many of us give of our resources to good causes because we value helping people less fortunate than ourselves. When we give financial donations to organizations it removes us from the emotional aspect, because we never meet the individuals face to face benefiting from our gifts. When we volunteer through an organization there is a boundary of time and place where we assist another, working under the umbrella of the organization's system with rules in place. When we give to people we know it gets a little more complicated. It can tug at us emotionally when we have different expectations than the person we are helping has for themselves. For example, you learn that money given to a relative to pay rent was used for something else. You then watch them being evicted. When disappointed with the results of giving to someone we know, there are usually opportunities for our own growth. We can learn such things as the difference between our good intentions and giving unwisely beyond what is needed for the other person's growth. As we work though our own issues involved with giving to someone we know, such as feeling taken advantage of or disappointed in their level of self-responsibility, we can learn to take the high road of practicing compassion, unconditional love, and unconditional forgiveness. This is the antidote to getting pulled down to a lower level of thinking and behaving with criticizing, blaming, shaming, and value judging.

Have you ever thought you were helping someone in your extended family by giving your time, your guidance, or your money and learned later that you were duped? It is hard to get through life without this experience when you have a big heart and like to help others in need. When living a full life, it is a good thing to give from your overflow to help those struggling. When there is a match of giving and receiving it feels good to see someone get back on their feet with your boost. There is a risk, however. With some people our money or emotional support enables unwise behavior in them, delaying the feedback of difficult consequences that we helped them avoid. If another, for example, does not take responsibility for their choices, stays a victim blaming situations or people for their misfortune, and acts entitled to your help, it is difficult to help them grow and take responsibility for their lives with your giving.

Sometimes disappointment with another's actions happens when no money or time is invested. I have experienced shock when a distant family member that seemed trustworthy did something unconscionable and their offensive behavior has serious long-term consequences for themselves and others. I have also gotten caught taking it personally when another hurts or takes advantage of someone I love. I share this to let you know I realize how difficult it is to take the high road and how important it is to work on ourselves to change unwanted responses.

What is the first thing we do when we learn another has made unwise choices and is not willing to see their part in a bad situation? It is common to criticize and judge the unwise, immature, or aggressive behavior in the other person. When we do this however, we match their level of awareness and pull ourselves down to their level of operating. We lose our inner peace and kind heart. How might we take a higher road, one where compassion, unconditional love, and unconditional forgiveness reign?

Before I go further, compassion, unconditional love, and forgiveness are not about advising any behavior or actions on your part. Instead, they are part of your inner consciousness, your intentions, thoughts and feelings. You do not have to like or condone behavior, attitudes, or level of functioning of another to be compassionate and practice unconditional acceptance. You do not need to be around them or continue an active relationship with them.

Now let's return to my question. How do we take a higher road, one where compassion, unconditional love, and unconditional forgiveness reign? How do we move out of our first responses of criticizing and judging the person for their unwise actions and responses? Before you can consider the higher road, you need to feel your feelings, anger, fear, shame, sadness, etc. If you have been physically harmed, you need safety and strong boundaries to stay safe. If you have been betrayed, you may need to grieve. Professional help is strongly advised if you feel unable to do this on your own.

To help us take the higher road, it is helpful to see how another could have such poor judgment and make poor choices. The oldest cause is a troubled childhood that sets up beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors patterned after dysfunctional parents. When we observe we may see a conflict in the person's needs and values and how each chose to get them met. Understanding how another could be immature and make such poor choices helps us build compassion for their unaware choices.

Loving is a choice. This is not the emotional love but impersonal unconditional acceptance without strings attached. At the highest level you can decide to love all of humanity, even those with severe problems because you have compassion for them. When you forgive another, it is really about you, as it frees you from being in charge of value judging anyone. As you focus on your own lessons you realize you are not perfect either, and therefore do not need to send critical, hurtful thoughts to anyone.

It is usually a process to take the high road, beginning with honestly experiencing our feelings and emotions of anger, sadness, disappointment, shame, hurt and grief. As we feel our feelings we can move beyond staying stuck here. We have the right to set boundaries with people who hurt or disappoint us. We can choose to stop giving to someone and not have an active relationship with them. We have the right to say no to them.

The higher road is not an easy process. It may go against everything you believe. If so, simply consider what I am saying and ponder the ideas; over time you may find this path will serve you as well as others. By choosing to practice compassion you let go of the need to judge another. You can understand how another got to be a person with a character disorder. At the same time, you can remove yourself from the role of thinking you should continue to help them. Tough love, in other words, is needed when another has no intention of changing themselves, admitting their faults and problems, or taking responsibility for themselves.

A new script is needed by you when they return to play the old script where you enabled them to stay unhealthy. Such things as your sense of duty, obligation, guilt, or history together has kept you tolerating their bad behavior and helping them for so long. If you play your part differently you can change the impact of this relationship on you. A new script might be to find your voice and communicate with few words, being able to say no, or even not responding. Part of the new script is to set new boundaries with the toxic person, who may be an aggressive perpetrator, a bully, a compulsive liar, or a manipulator. As your awareness grows you find it is perfectly okay to remove yourself from much or any contact depending on the degree of dysfunction they manifest. Most of us need support from others when making changes in dysfunctional scripts.

I invite you to take the higher road the next time another's actions and choices let you down. Let us be the leaders moving beyond value judging anyone. Let us be role models in practicing compassion, unconditional love and acceptance, and unconditional forgiveness.




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