2 Keys to Enjoying People as They Are
I spent my middle-school years in a tiny town in the northern part of South Africa in the early 1980s, and my very favorite memories from that time in my life involved going to the game parks.
Game watching was serious business. We’d get up early in the morning with tin cups of instant coffee, milk and sugar in hand, to drive quietly and slowly through the African savannah looking for animals.
Speaking was reduced to whispers and very low tones. Windows were usually open — unless monkeys were around, and insect and bird sounds of the African veld infused our airwaves.
I could happily spend long stretches of time just watching elephants grazing, baboons playing on the roadside, or warthogs foraging for food in the red dirt.
These trips taught me how to watch and listen, how to attune to natural rhythms and movements, how to enjoy the innate temperaments and personalities emerging from living beings. They also taught me about our interconnectedness and the neutral brutality of predator-prey dynamics.
This experience instilled in me a deep sense of oneness with life, and I often draw on that awareness today when I interact with other humans.
I’ve learned to watch and listen, to observe closely and look for the ways in which people make sense.
I’ve learned to enjoy the incredible diversity of defenses, adaptations, preferences, wounds, and strategies that we will all use as we navigate our individual paths from self-separation back to wholeness, from disconnection back into authentic community.
During a recent session of Conversations from the Heart, someone asked how they might learn to enjoy people more, to see complex human relationships as “fun.” (You can watch an excerpt from that conversation here.)
Here are two core practices that have helped me in my own journey to be able to relax and enjoy people as they are:
1. It’s not personal.
Remember that other people’s reactions to you are not a report card on your worthiness or lovability.
Their reactions to you tell you about where people have failed them and hurt them in their past, about how they have tried to protect and defend themselves in a world that hasn’t loved them well. They’re simply showing you what’s happened to them, and how they’ve adapted.
When someone attacks you or judges you, see through their defenses and lean into their pain. Bring presence, empathy, and curiosity. See them, hear them, and receive them.
2. Relax around pain (and other distressing emotions).
One of the most powerfully healing things you can do for yourself and others is to relax your own nervous system when you or other people are in pain.
When we’re able to relax in the face of strong emotions, we find ourselves more able to watch, observe, welcome, and attune to what is actually happening in the moment. Once we allow emotions to rise up and move through us and others, we free up tremendous amounts of locked up energy. As these emotions course through us, as they get seen and heard and felt, they release and discharge, allowing us to be more fully present and less stuck in memories and experiences from the past.
Feelings simply need to be felt, even the unpleasant ones.
Adopting these practices has helped me to lean into relationships instead of habitually bracing against them and has opened up a world of connection both to myself and to others.
For more inspiration and encouragement to live from your heart in all your relationships, join me on Wednesday mornings at Conversations from the Heart. I’d love to see you there.
Dr. Yvette Erasmus is a psychologist, teacher, and consultant who specializes in transformative education for human healing and growth. Synthesizing mind-body medicine, somatic experiencing, diversity and inclusiveness, nonviolent communication, and integral-relational-cultural psychology, Dr. Erasmus integrates core insights from multiple wisdom traditions and offers various programs for community learning as well as one-on-one consulting. To learn more, visit yvetteerasmus.com.