Have you ever, upon meeting someone new, instantly not liked them but can’t figure out why that is?
Have you ever not trusted someone—without them having done anything to warrant that mistrust—and don’t know why? Yeah, me too.
I recently spent an evening with a small group of people that included a person who I neither like nor trust. I did this at the urging of a friend who disagrees with me and tries to convince me that this person is totally trustworthy.
And did this mistrusted person do anything throughout the evening to prove me correct—or even incorrect? No.
But I spent the entire evening silently berating myself for being so unreasonable, judgy and unfair. Every time they spoke or I looked over at this person, I asked myself, “Now what is it, again, about this person that is so very horrible, Grace? Why are you judging them so harshly?”
An answer never came. What did appear though, was a continued feeling of mistrust and aversion. It grew even stronger throughout the evening—to the point that I started doing my mind-escape thing of going to my happy place inside to get away from them and the situation. This also meant I wasn’t very available for socializing, which was why we were there in the first place.
And from there, I began to feel childish and dysfunctional. I started in with more self talk like, “This won’t kill you, Grace, just buck up and do this. Be an adult!”
Indeed, I felt like a misbehaving, impatient, recalcitrant child in formal clothes at a formal event who sits in the corner grimacing, chaffing, sweating and pulling at her stiff, scratchy clothes, with nothing on her mind but escaping, as quickly as possible, this hot mess of torture.
This person appears to be nice, polite, funny and well adjusted. But from the first time I met them, I didn’t like them, and I have continued to question and berate myself about these feelings.
I see this person in my social sphere of acquaintances only occasionally, and I am uncomfortable with this person always. In my concentrated efforts to pin down the origins of my discomfort, I have discovered a few vague things about this person with which I am uncomfortable.
This person seems to want to be way too chummy, way too quickly. There seems to be a “neediness” or desperation or something similar that I find overwhelming coming from this person. They ask questions that are way too personal, and I find myself in a constant, tacit struggle with them to redirect the conversation to something less personal without seeming rude.
So is this just a difference in social/personal boundaries? I am a private person, and have explored the possibility that they are just more open.
The next day, after my experience of self-interrogation in this person’s company, I was still belittling myself, still trying to figure out what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t give this person the benefit of the proverbial doubt.
I mentioned my confusion to a friend—who also happens to be a preschool teacher of over 30 years. I asked, “Have you ever not liked someone, because of the feeling you get from them, but have no real reason not to like them? I mean, I want to be a loving person, a person who is kind and patient, even with those I don’t seem to like.”
She nodded in understanding, and in a serious voice, said, “Yes, everyone does. And I’ve always taught all my students to honor that feeling in themselves. “Stranger danger doesn’t really make much sense, because most kids are hurt by people they know—close or extended family, or ‘friends’ of the family, so I teach them to pay attention to what they feel in here,” she pointed to the middle of her chest.
“I tell them they don’t have to figure out in their heads why they feel that way. Just trust that feeling anyway and stay away from that person and tell someone they trust about that feeling.”
As she spoke, I felt myself releasing something I’d been holding on to way too tightly. A big breath I hadn’t realized I was holding, whooshed out of me; my shoulders dropped. I felt tears of relief wash up and out at being validated.
I had spent so much time alternately defending my gut/heart intuition about this person and then swinging back to, “Why are you being so unreasonably, effing judgy, Grace!?” that I had not even considered a middle ground where I could simply trust myself without having to defend those feelings.
She went on to briefly explain that this was the same way she lives her life. She lets herself pause enough to get a feeling about everything, then she chooses the one that feels best—even down to the choice of her route to work each day.
It was then that I had my a-ha moment.
I too live that way—in every way, except apparently, when it comes to trusting how a person feels to me. I too do a mental/heart check about my route to work, my route to the grocery store, which pair of shoes to buy, what to eat for lunch, as to whether I want to go out and dance or stay in and veg and watch a movie or just meditate.
Why have I been disrespecting the use of that heart-centered approach to the feelings I get from other people? And why was I beating myself up about not getting the “right” feelings—like that is somehow my fault?
Does this mean that this person—the catalyst of this whole query—is a bad person? Not necessarily.
Maybe we just have different ideas about what constitutes comfortable, appropriate boundaries. Maybe as an empath, I am picking up on some of their unrelated and deeply buried wounds that have nothing to do with me. Or maybe that person is wearing a social mask to hide his or her own insecurities, and I am picking up that lack of authenticity.
Maybe we have a past lifetime where we didn’t get along with each other. Maybe we were enemies in that lifetime. Maybe the stars aren’t aligned correctly. Maybe my chakras are all out of line, and my aura is just too cluttered, my shoe came untied, the sun was in my eyes, I lost my keys, and I was really missing my momma that day.
Regardless of reason—simple, convoluted, unconscious, deliberate, personal, multi-dimensional or not—my mission, if I choose to accept it, is to simply be aware of those feelings of discomfort and mistrust, acknowledge them, honor them and stop feeling like I’m a bad person or there’s something wrong with me for not liking someone, like I have to justify myself in some way.
I will now use these feelings as the tool that they are. Just like I use them to choose my path to work every morning, I will similarly use them to choose who I want to hang out with—and not.
Without question. Without having to figure out why.
Have you ever had this experience? What do you do with it?
Author: Grace Cooley
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Philippe Put/Flickr