Thanks, Jerk! What You Can Learn From Folks Who Drive You Nuts

Written by Sara Seinberg

You've been looking forward to a party for three weeks. Finally the night is here: you look fantastic, and you feel great. Then you spot your ex-boss, an arrogant man who spent four years making your life twice as difficult as it had to be. He micromanaged your work to death. Now you spend the party trying to avoid him, ruminating on past professional humiliations suffered at his hands.

Or maybe it's slow at work. You’re on Facebook and see an update from a friend who is presently annoying you more than Bobcat Goldthwait on a silent meditation retreat. Although she's simply stating her political opinion, you find fault with it, then feel compelled to visit her page.

Before you know it, you're spending the rest of your break working yourself into a negativity lather regarding every irritating thing about this person who, just six months ago, was such a fun lunch companion.

Look, everyone needs a nemesis. This person can act as our guiding light to humanity and calm. This is the person who can lead us to the moments of presence. She is our teacher.

Yup: This asshat is precisely the one who can help us find what we're always saying we want: serenity, authenticity, ease, grace and happiness.

And here’s how:

1. They force us to identify the quality we need to develop. 

It’s never the whole person we can’t stand. It’s what they represent that drives us bananas. Is it the arrogance? Neediness? Maybe it’s the sarcasm or the mean streak. There are a billion things we highlight in the nemesis that we readily accept in friends. But in the nemesis, these highlights can become a map to our own freedom.

Of course this is a version of that old saying, “That which we reject in others is exactly what we fear in ourselves.”

Duh. Paging Dr. Freud. While identifying these things are great: THEN WHAT?

2. They force us to get real with ourselves. 

Once we find the characteristic(s) about our arch enemies that make us want to spit, we jot them down and carry them with us until we have a moment. We then sit quietly with the list and find where those little human foibles are prancing around in our own lives. It’s time for Real Talk with Ourselves, not as a berating lecture on how we have failed in life, but rather an observance of how we are NOT perfect, and therefore actually doing our jobs as humans, being imperfect.

3. They get us to practice forgiveness. 

We picture the enemy. We sit with them until they become real. We allow them to have a family, to be daughters and brothers. We picture things about them we like, their humor or work ethic. Maybe their attention to detail. We see them laughing. We recall the time we spied them hunched in the stairwell, crying quietly on a flip phone. We acknowledge their complexity as people and we forgive them their bad behavior. Then we practice the exact same thing for ourselves. Shame and everything.

4. They show us gratitude. 

And like anyone who does us a good turn, we say thank you. We thank the exact jerk who is bugging us for the opportunity to make a gateway back to our true selves. We also thank them for helping us to lighten the toxic load. This is heavy baggage and it is slumping our spiritual posture. Then, again, we use that practice for ourselves. We thank ourselves for being willing to try this practice. We thank ourselves for letting go of resentment at least long enough to acknowledge our co-humanness with our nemesis teacher.

5. They help us practice. 

We do this a little bit every day. We let people be whole and we practice it. We forgive idiots and jerks because we ARE idiots and jerks sometimes. We let ourselves see others as imperfect instead of kicking them off pedestals over and over because we have fallen from the same pedestal and it’s a long way down. We forgive ourselves for not being perfect because there is no such thing. It is our job to make mistakes and at try to make new ones because these old ones are holding us back.

I remember a conversation with my friend Allison one day. She was sad because her ex-friend had made her into a new monster, talking around town about all the awful things Allison had done.

"That must feel so unjust!" I said.

Allison sighed and said, "I feel sad about it, but I can be that for her. Everybody needs a nemesis."

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