Why do we sometimes treat strangers better than family?
Through my daily activities I have the opportunity to see the best and worst of human behavior. It always saddens me when I notice people treating strangers and acquaintances better than family and close friends.
There are varying degrees of this behaviour and we all tend to engage in them to some extent. Most of us have a tendency to clean the house and dress up for special guests, but we don’t do that for close friends and family. If we truly value the people closest to us then why don’t we demonstrate it through our actions?
Today’s post is an attempt to deal with this sensitive subject. For some of us this lack of respect is a rare occurence, but for others it becomes so ingrained that we no longer realize we are doing it. My point is that we should try to treat everyone we meet with care and respect and this applies doubly for the people who mean the most to us.
I often see highly educated, very successful people treating total strangers and business associates with much more politeness and respect than their families and friends. The people who mean the most to them are often treated the worst. It happens often and some times in public. Parents yelling at their kids. Married people snarling at their spouses. People disrespecting their friends. I even see rude and unacceptable behaviours between long-term neighbors and within many work teams.
The problem with this behaviour is obvious. Mistreating our family and friends drives them away and can eventually cause irreparable damage to relationships.
While researching this phenomenon I found almost no useful information anywhere on the net. I was hoping to at least find some clinical studies digging into the psychological roots of these behaviours. But I was truly hoping to find some form of explanation about why we don’t always treat the ones closest to us as the respected and valued treasures they are.
For the first time in my writing history a Google search drew a near perfect blank. Granted, I didn’t search every conceivable permutation of the phrase “Why do we treat strangers better than family”. But I tried about five different combinations and got nothing much in return. It seems strange to me that something so common is so poorly researched.
I managed to find one article on the Psychology today site written by Alex Lickerman MD. This article states that a major cause of this behaviour is that, over time, the things that we dislike about those closest to us become more and more irritating. Dr. Lickerman surmised that this ongoing irritation is at the root of our often shabby treatment of those closest to us. You can find the article HERE.
While I agree with Doctor Lickerman’s assessment it is my belief that we treat those closest to us poorly due to carelessness. When we become comfortable with people we tend to let our guards down and can begin to act without thinking. Over time our behaviour degrades and we become less and less considerate of those who we spend the most time with. Familiarity breeds carelessness.
It is this careless behaviour that drives wedges into relationships and drives people apart.
Stress also plays a role. Stressed and anxious people need outlets where they can blow off steam. Unfortunately that outlet is often our friends and family.
Regardless of the cause I see no reason that we can’t learn to change our bad behaviour, We can learn to become much more respectful, kind and caring to the people who are closest to us.
Below are 7 strategies that might help:
1.) Personal accountability
In my blog I write a lot about personal accountability and with good reason. Nothing in life changes unless we do. We simply can not and will not achieve a high level of success in any aspect of our live’s until we accept complete responsibility for our behaviours and therefore our outcomes.
To do better in life then you have to set higher standards of behaviour for yourself. No one can do that for you. (Through my accountability program I can help you to keep the commitments that you make to yourself. Contact me to find out how).
Once you decide to take personal accountability then you can start to make meaningful changes to your life.
If you are not treating the people in your life with the respect they deserve they you have to take personal accountability for your behaviours.
Meditation is simply the very best practice available for building self-control and self-awareness that there is. Over the years meditation has been thoroughly researched. Hundreds of studies from all over the world have proven it to be highly effective at reducing stress, increasing self-awareness and building self-control. If interested check out THIS great article which was posted on the Journal of American Medicine website.
Meditation is routinely practiced by the people who most need self-control and self-awareness. This includes military and police forces from around the world, which in my mind completely destroys the notion that meditation is only for ultra liberal yoga practitioners.
People often say they don’t have time to practice daily meditation. My view is that it is the very people who say they have the least amount of time who need to meditate the most. If you can’t find ten minutes every day to meditate then you have no control over your life.
Modification of a behavior can only happen when we learn to recognise the behaviour. Self-reflection (a core aspect of meditation) is a great way to become more aware of your behavior and is a great step toward behavioural change.
I have personally engaged in daily meditation for a number of years. It has done wonders for both my self-awareness and self-control.
A key to improving our treatment of friends and family is to simply build more awareness and control around our thoughts and actions. There is no better tool than meditation for achieving this goal.
There are many free meditations available on-line.
HERE is an app called Headspace that you can install on your smart phone. It offers 10 free meditations after which there is a slight monthly fee. Each meditation is 10 minutes long and they are truly wonderful. I personally used it for a while but after the trial period I went back to my regular mediation routine.
I also recommend checking out THIS guided meditation on YouTube. Vishen does a great job of walking viewers through a very powerful meditation. Be warned; this is a 20 minute meditation that might be a little lengthy for beginners to get through.
As a note to you beginners out there; when I first started meditating I only started with 2 minute sessions. The key to success with meditation is to start small and be consistent.
As previously mentioned it goes without saying that stressed people are more likely to lash out. Stress often results in angry outbursts and snide comments which can be directed at those closest to us.
Aside from meditation exercise is the best non-pharmaceutical stress reliever there is.
There are multiple clinical studies demonstrating that exercise is a great tool for combatting a whole host of mental issues; including stress, depression and anxiety. To learn more about the value of exercise click THIS link to a great article from posted on Medicinenet.
The great thing about exercise is that it doesn’t take a huge commitment. Engaging in just 20 minutes of brisk walking 5 times per week will do wonders for all aspects of your life, including your relationships
4.) Focussed breathing
An instant form of stress reduction worth exploring is focussed breathing. This form of stress management has been practiced by warriors for thousands of years and is still in use today. Focussed breathing or breath control is used many professionals who have to perform flawlessly under great pressure. Many athletes, musicians and actors routinely incorporate breath control techniques into their preparation. In addition Police SWAT teams and elite military forces also routinely include breath control in their training regimens.
Personally I use breathing in a very proactive way. The moment I feel myself getting stressed or irritated I try to remember to take a deep breath or two.
I have a preference for a breathing exercise called “box breathing”.
Box breathing is as simple as counting to four while deeply breathing in, counting to four while holding that breath, counting to four while fully exhaling and counting to four while holding your lungs completely empty. The process begins again with another in breath.
To learn more about both breathing and meditation from a man’s man check out THIS video from ex Navy Seal Mark Devine. Mark is the author of the best-selling book “The Unbeatable Mind” and founder of Sealfit.
5.) Try disengaging
It is better to say or do nothing at all than it is to say or do something hurtful or harmful.
During times when you do get irritated with a close friend or relative it is perfectly acceptable to create some distance for yourself. Walk away or fall silent, it is also perfectly acceptable to let the people around you know that you need a moment to collect yourself.
Use time alone to calm yourself and think of a proactive way to re-engage in the situation.
You can also interpret this as me telling you to shut up and be quite rather than say something hurtful.
6.) Use the gratitude strategy
If you find yourself focussing on someones faults try creating a daily list of the things you appreciate about that person.
We all fall into patterns of responding to situations and our impressions of people can be heavily influenced by these response patterns. Over time we can fall into a habit where we only focus upon the negative characteristics of a person.
With only a little effort we can train our brains to focus on a persons positive characteristics.
Given that we all have both positive and negative characteristics a critical element for forming and keeping lasting relationships is the ability to focus our attention on the things we appreciate about the people around us.
Focussed gratitude is a technique I use all the time. If ever I find myself feeling unreasonably dissatisfied with anything in my life I begin looking for the positives associated with that situation or that person.
This is a tactic I use quite a lot. While I certainly don’t look at my behaviour as atrocious I still stumble and fall far more often that I would like.
When I realise that I have messed up I apologise, learn the lesson and then move on.
So my friends what about you?
Do you treat the ones you love the most with the respect and consideration they deserve?
Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment or by sending me an email.
I would love to hear from you
Have a wonderful week!!