I find it hard to cut all connections with narcissists/sociopaths because I feel guilty for not being able to “forgive” them and give another chance to “see them become better people”.
What is the Buddhist way to handle such situations and getting away from toxic people without feeling guilty for doing so?
I know that if one has a trace of anger in their mind towards someone slowly cutting off all their limbs, they are not following the Buddha’s teachings, but I really like my limbs and find losing them impractical.
My own two cents is that it is sometimes just not skillful to be entangled with toxic narcissists or sociopath-type personalities. Separation and boundary settign is required and important. I do not beleive that the Dhamma requires us to maintain poor personal boundaries, out of a misguided sense of compassion. And, in my own view, guilt is kind of a self-harming and useless emotion, in that we punish ourselves for doing or not doing something. Rather than inflicting self-inflicted emotional wounds, it seems better to just evaluate our intentions and our conduct and determine if is is skillful and wise. If not, make a commitment to do better and to cultivate better actions and intentions.
If you set good boundaries, and learn how to manage interactions with toxic personalities, it will free you to feel more positively and act more skillfully. You’ll be able to at least manage interactions with toxic people better, ad not allow these interactions to be harmful to you, or others. You’ll also open the space to cultivate Metta for even these toxic people. Many people with personality disorders suffered invalidation, rejection, abuse, or worse as children, and developed these maladaptive personality traits as a response to poor experiences in their developmental lives. There’s a genetic component to this, too, possibly. So, having empathy even for toxic people is appropriate, but it is equally important to set good personal boundaries and effective, healthy strategies in dealing with them.
In sum, I feel that being a good Buddhist has as equal measure kindness, empathy and compassion, balanced with a lot of wisdom and skillful habits and responses. The Buddha didn’t suffer fools, nor did he tolerate abuse; we shouldn’t either.
Yes. In fact the advise seems to be quite the contrary.
“Not so, Ānanda! Not so, Ānanda! Good friends, companions, and associates are the whole of the spiritual life. A mendicant with good friends, companions, and associates can expect to develop and cultivate the noble eightfold path. SN45.2
So the advice seems to be, to associate with people who you judge to have good spiritual qualities rather than those who are spiritually poor.
One can only forgive the narcissists/sociopaths and be a true friend to them once one has aquired the skills to do this. To aquire those skills one must associate with people who already have those skills to the exclusion of those who do not.
So don’t feel guilty for not having the skills; just go ahead and aquire them. You can always come back for those you have left behind when you see and understand what is further along the path. Who knows, when they see your progress from afar they may well follow after you anyway.
It may be worth trying to investigate your role in things. Why do you think you would be able to change or help somebody who in all likelihood isn’t interested in being “helped”? There is some subtle conceit there to think that. We have to work out our own salvation ultimately and you can only be responsible for your own actions.
Good will (metta) has no baring on whether you deal with a person again or not. In other words, just because you stop dealing with someone doesn’t mean you don’t have good will for them. But you have to have good will for yourself as well.
But aren’t your goal is to somewhat help everyone? Isn’t wishing all beings to be well and reach enlightenment another way of helping them?
I know there are events in the Suttas where the Buddha has left a group of people who weren’t doing their practice right and could not convince them to improve, but still, how do you know when it’s time to leave like that? It’s especially hard to draw the line when you want to help your relatives.
You can only control your own actions. The best way you can help everyone is to work on your own practice. That way you can be a model for others.
If you are operating from the Boddhisattva Vow perspective (it sounds like you may be) where you are committing to “save everybody”, you will likely encounter ennumerable situations like this which will lead to frustration and bewilderment (it did to me when I tried on Mahayana years ago).
Often the ways in which we try to “help” others when we still have work left to be done on ourselves is misguided and can do more harm than good. Something to consider
My interpretation of the Mahayana vow is that it has two parts: the asperation to attain Buddhahood so one can then work tirelessly for the benefit and liberation of all unenlightened beings; and when enlightened then to actually working tirelessly for the enlightenment and liberation of all beings. I think MN-137 touches on this in the context of the EBTs. With that said, in general I think if we can help others without becoming drawn into suffering then that is a good thing, and that involves learning self restraint and setting personal boundaries. How to do this imo
is set out in the 8 fold path.
Wishing all beings to be well and reach enlightenment is the first and best way of helping everyone. When we’ve established good boundaries for ourselves, then we will be ready to help a few, those who are ready to step out of their suffering. Unfortunately some people are so mired in their suffering that there may be nothing we can do in practical terms to help them. Wishing them release, without feeling attached to them, remains a real option.
Thank you @Gillian for this beautiful post. I have a colleague at work who has managed to sabotage his work relationships with almost all of his close colleagues (to be fair, many of the other colleagues played a role in the conflict as well). Since I have started practicing Buddhism I have directed an extra dose of loving kindness towards my prickly colleague. I should add that my colleague is very familiar with Buddhism, having lived in Southeast Asia and being married to a woman from that region. He knows that I have started practicing Buddhism and I have tried to gently coax him into embracing some Buddhist teachings without engaging in outright proselytizing (he is astute enough to understand that I am merely relating how Buddhism has helped me, not that I am attempting to push it on anyone). Alas, by all appearances my colleague is suffering deeply (and seems to know it), but hasn’t been able to figure out how to find release. So I wish him well, do not attach to his confrontational demeanor, and increase effort in my own practice.
We can not behave in a way that makes it worse - not be angry with the angry person, thereby protecting both her and me. Sometimes just being a friend over the long term, can be helpful- they may not have ever had someone they can actually trust, long term. That is of course assuming your practice isn’t going to be damaged as a result (probably not if they have a diagnosed or undiagnosed narcissistic personality disorder).