Accepting my partner for who he was and not trying to change him was not a consideration. At the time, I equated acceptance with surrender and excusing bad behavior—and being weak. I also believed that I had the power to change people’s ingrained ways, which I now know is myth conquering reality!
I have since learned that true acceptance has nothing to do with surrender, backing down, condoning bad behavior, or the like. Rather, true acceptance means accepting people and things as they are without judgment or harboring negative feelings such as fear, anger, resentment, and the like (or at least minimally so).
As such, true acceptance is the detached, even-keeled acknowledgment of the underlying or objective reality—the “how is” and “what is”—of the person or situation.
With that mindset, you are able to accept someone you dislike as they are, and still terminate the relationship if you determine it is in your best interest to do so. You can also change the dynamics of the relationship if cutting ties is not practical or realistic.
Why I Chose Authenticity Over Fitting In or Standing Out
For example, you can accept a divisive sibling (or other family member) as they are, and still set boundaries, such as avoiding problematic topics of discussion, or choosing the type, extent, and frequency of contact you wish to have.
Further, acceptance does not mean that you need be passive or give up principles and values that are important to you. Thus, whether in dealing with dishonest politicians or business leaders, or when you feel an injustice has been done, acceptance does not mean that you shouldn’t take corrective actions that voice your own “truths.”
The Gifts of Accepting People You Dislike
When you are able to accept people you dislike (or anyone for that matter) as they are, you can then recognize the choices that will serve you best.
Why? Acceptance induces a critical shift in focus from what you are powerless to change or do to what you can do to better serve your needs. In short, accepting what is lets you discover what might be—and no less so when dealing with people you dislike.
I certainly had viable choices with my business partner besides pursuing the combative, self-harming course I chose. One choice was to not sue and instead devote my time and energy—and money—to improving my other properties. However, my unprocessed fear and anger obscured this much wiser path.
A related gift of acceptance is that it brings you freedom by releasing the shackles that bind you to troublesome relationships. (This is particularly true when dealing with past parental transgressions, control freaks, and other “crazy makers.”)
Acceptance is also a great stress and anxiety reducer. When you accept people and things as they are, you have little to stress (and lose sleep) over.
Keys to Accepting People You Dislike
Practicing acceptance with people you dislike is challenging. It is often a process that evolves over time and in which incremental steps are fruitful. Certain keys will facilitate the process.
Process your fears.
Unprocessed fear prevents acceptance because it dominates our thoughts instead of allowing us to make the choices that serve us best. Apt acronyms for FEAR are “Future Events Already Ruined” and “False Evidence Appearing Real.”
With my partner, for example, I was in that “already ruined” mode because of my strong fear that his actions would irreparably impact my livelihood—but they in fact wouldn’t because I had other profitable investments.
We thus need to process and reduce our fears in order to benefit from the even-keeled type of acceptance I have described. Most fears are illusory and speculative; they diminish and even leave when they are closely examined.
It helps considerably to examine the objective reality of the person or situation you are dealing with rather than be guided by negative speculations about what might happen and what could be. Face and lean into your fears. Their bark is much greater than their bite. When you so process your fears, their hold over you (and your thinking) will lessen considerably, and viable options and choices will be revealed to you.
Defuse your anger.
In much the same manner, our anger and resentment toward people we dislike obstruct acceptance. Moreover, anger can easily exacerbate situations in ways that are harmful to us, like it did for me when I dueled with my business partner.
The late Carrie Fisher expressed it well in her book Wishful Drinking: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” (I certainly drank a lot of poison while waiting for my former business partner to change his dishonorable ways!)
It softens the edge of your resentment if you try to see things from the other person’s perspective. Many—perhaps even most—times, people’s behavior is based on their fears, anxieties, and self-interests and not on any intent to harm us.
An overbearing and controlling boss, for example, is likely guided by fears and anxiety about his business rather than your job performance. A fierce competitor, whether in business or on the playing field or at school, is likely guided by her need to win rather than a desire to suppress you. And an unkind gossiper is likely guided by her low self-esteem and need to be liked rather than an intent to harm you.
In the case of my partner, looking back I now recognize that he acted mainly out of the concern about how the break-up of my marriage would impact one of his largest investments.
Look for the good!
Some—maybe most—of the time we are so engulfed in the turmoil with those we dislike, that we can’t see the “positive” influences that they have on our lives. I learned an awful lot from my partner during the years we worked together. He’s a very astute businessman. My departure totally changed my career trajectory. It lead to establishing a real estate investment company in which I have been able to apply what I learned from him in my own business dealings with great success.
Another major gift was that he played a major role in helping me to prove to myself that I can take care of myself under severe pressures and adverse circumstances. I always had doubts about that.
Recognizing these “good” things removed my anger and I was later able to accept my partner for the person he was, even offering a toast to his good health at a dinner gathering of friends following the settlement of the law suit.