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A close-up of a newly opened delphinium flower (Summer 2013).

Friday, November 19, 2010

When Some People Are Difficult

I have encountered difficult people in life many times. There are those who can seem to think only of themselves without regard of others. There are those who are afraid to stand on their own, perhaps feeling they are powerless. There are also those who are dishonest, cruel, and have mental problems. There are also the bullies who are insecure and will try to hurt those who are better than themselves. Some of these people can be toxic and it might be best to stay away from them.
I have always wanted to understand why people are the way they are. Why they make life miserable for those around them. I may not have all the answers but one possible reason for their toxicity is their early childhood upbringing. It has been proven by researchers that children who grew up with uncaring primary caregivers will find it hard to be loving and caring as adults. A mother who is overwhelmed by having to care for eleven children will probably be unable to care for each individual child in a nurturing manner. There are just so many children to care for and she is only one person! How she could cope and still be sane is beyond me. Research indicate that children who are not given sufficient quality time and love in their growing years will probably grow up as insecure adults, always looking for love and attention, even if the process in obtaining them is hurtful to others.
In a book by neuroscientist Norman Doidge, entitled “The Brain That Changes Itself” (2007), he argues that many scientific research suggest that the brain is “wired” by the kind of “nurture” one receives from caregivers. And so the experiences we received (positive or negative) as children, is what we also bring with us as adults and into our relationships. If we received love, care and sufficient intellectual stimulation during childhood, we become “robust” individuals who are secure, capable of loving and caring for others. If we did not receive sufficient love and care when we were children, then we grow up as distrustful and uncaring children with little or no empathy for others.
However, Doidge also discusses “plasticity”, the ability of the brain to “rewire” itself through the conditions in our environment and therefore allowing the brain to change. This implies that the brain is not “fixed” but rather has the ability to be flexible and to be open to new sources of learning and meaning. This re-wiring ability of the brain happens to immigrants all the time who have to experience new ways of living in the host country, ranging from weather adaptation to learning a new language. Therefore, although we have been wired to behave in a fashion based from how we were nurtured as children, we can still rewire our brain circuitry and change ourselves as adults based from our present and future environment. There is that possibility that we can change ourselves from worst to best because of our positively changing environment. Or it could be vice-versa: we can start out as best persons and, because of our difficult environment, change to being worst persons!
So, what do we do with difficult people, especially if they are family members? First, maybe we can understand them by knowing what life was like for them when they were growing up, the kind of parents they had, the crises they have encountered. Second, maybe we can indirectly help them become better persons through our kindness. This might sound simplistic and naive but kindness can create positive ripple effects. However, if these difficult persons continue to be difficult despite our good intentions, and in the process may hurt us, then we may want to steer away from them, otherwise we can get some of their negativity. Worse, we might become like them! We can just hope that they change for the better. The choice is theirs, not ours.

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