Why do some people behave in an unlovable manner? Why do some people sabotage every effort made by others to reach out and show them love? In fact, there is no simple answer to this question — for some, the cause may be a misguided fear of friendly interaction, whereas for others, the cause may be harmful past experiences or even a disorder over which the person has no control. Regardless of the reason, working to love someone who refuses to be loved is one of the most noble (yet most difficult) things a person can do. Begin with Step 1 below to show your love to those who need it the most.
Method 1: Establishing a Relationship
1. Look for the positive in this person. When dealing with someone you consider unlovable, take a step back and try to reflect on the person as a whole. Consider this: Is this person truly unlovable? Is she actively resisting attempts to love her, or is she just awkward and standoffish? Is it true that this person has no positive qualities, or have I simply failed to look for them?” Consider ways — even minor ones — in which this person has demonstrated that they are not all bad. These can be small acts of kindness, skills they’ve demonstrated, or simply nice things they’ve said.
Trying to love someone is much easier if you don’t begin by viewing them as “unlovable.” This is why it’s so important to look for minor positive aspects of the person you’re attempting to love. You are disassociating this person from the “unlovable” label in your mind by identifying her positive qualities.
2. Investigate the underlying cause of this person’s behaviour. It’s much easier to love someone who reacts to your efforts to reach out with anger or frustration if you understand why they do so. Some people distance themselves from others because they have been hurt in the past and are afraid of being hurt again, while others may simply not know how to interact warmly because they were never taught. Finally, it’s important to note that some people may act unlovable as a result of a genuine personality disorder, mental illness, or abuse. Understanding why someone who acts so difficultly does so can make it much easier to love them in any of these situations.
Getting to know an unlovable person is one way to learn why she acts the way she does. In this case, you might want to read the section on reaching out to unlovable people further down. If, on the other hand, this person is so difficult to connect with that making a connection with her is nearly impossible, you might try gently broaching the subject with people who know her, such as her friends (assuming she has any), family, peers, roommates, and so on.
3. Kindness should be used to counteract anger. Resist the urge to retaliate if the unlovable person you’re dealing with has a habit of lashing out at you whenever you try to connect with him. Anyone who has earned the label of “unlovable” is probably used to taking the brunt of other people’s snide remarks, insults, and verbal abuse, so this is pointless. Make an effort to be nice to this person instead. React to his hostility with a smile, a kind remark, or an offer to assist him with whatever is bothering him. Because this is most likely an unusual experience for him, it may surprise him, opening the door to further conversation. It will, at the very least, demonstrate to him that not everyone will respond to his rage with their own.
Assume you’re walking down the hall at school when you notice a student who has a reputation for being an angry, awkward social outcast approaching you. “Hi!” you say, and he glares at you angrily. If you can, respond positively without missing a beat here. Smiling and saying “Have a good day!” may seem a little cheesy for a normal social interaction, but to this person, it could be the only kind thing anyone has said to him all day.
4. Set a good example for others. As previously stated, people who are deemed “unlovable” are frequently the target of jokes, mockery, and outright verbal abuse. This type of negative attention can discourage them from engaging in positive social interactions with others, creating a vicious cycle in which the negative actions of otherwise decent, normal people reinforce the “unlovable” person’s behaviour. Changing the actions of those around the unlovable person, rather than focusing solely on the unlovable person, can do a lot of good in these situations. Encourage them to follow your lead by treating the unlovable person with kindness even when she is being difficult.
Assume you’re sitting in a classroom waiting for your professor to arrive, along with the social outcast from the previous example and a few popular students. If you have the opportunity, you should set the example of treating the outcast with kindness by engaging in friendly conversation with him before the popular kids have a chance to mock him. Even if he reacts negatively, you’ll have the opportunity to set a good example by responding to his rage with kindness.
5. Pay attention to this person. Some social outcasts and “unlovable” people behave in this manner because they believe they are unable to make genuine connections with others and, on the rare occasions when they do, they are not listened to. While it can be difficult to discern the “signal” of what an unlovable person is trying to express among the “noise” of hostility they may bring to their interactions with you, simply stating that you are attempting to do so can be enough to make an impression.
For example, suppose you sit next to the social outcast from the previous examples at lunch because you notice he’s alone in the corner. He gives you the silent treatment at first, but eventually sneers, “Geez, can’t you tell I want to be alone?” You could respond calmly with something like, “Hey, I’m sorry, I couldn’t tell — I was just trying to meet new people. But I’ll leave if you want.” This person is unlikely to immediately apologise and invite you to stay, but he may notice that you’ve actually considered what he’s just said, rather than ignoring or dismissing his words.
6. Recognize the early warning signs of mental/personality disorders. Unfortunately, some people with a reputation for being “unlovable” act in this manner due to a genuine biological problem that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for them to behave in the way that most people do. In these cases, the “unlovable” person’s bad behaviour may not be intentional, so reacting negatively may be not only unwise, but cruel. If you suspect that someone with a “unlovable” reputation is suffering from any of the following disorders and is not receiving treatment, contact a qualified authority such as a counsellor, social worker, or priest. You should also try to speak with a trusted contact of theirs before disclosing any information about them:
Clinical depression can cause irritability, sadness, a lack of motivation, self-loathing, and risky behaviour.
Antisocial Personality Disorder: Characterized by irritability and aggression, poor impulse control, a lack of guilt or remorse, and callous, selfish behaviour.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Can result in an inflated sense of self-worth, an overabundance of entitlement, envy of others, a strong desire to be admired, a lack of empathy, and excessive anger in response to insults or slights.
Avoidant Personality Disorder: Causes an extreme fear of being embarrassed or rejected, an overly meek and restrained personality, constant anxiety, a fear of risk-taking, and social awkwardness.
7. Recognize the warning signs of trauma and abuse. Those who became “unlovable” as a result of external trauma or abuse are perhaps the most tragic of all “unlovable” people. Extremely traumatic experiences, particularly in childhood, can have a significant impact on how a person thinks, behaves, and perceives the people around her. While it can be difficult for an inexperienced person to identify the signs of past abuse, seeing any of the signs listed below should prompt immediate concern and intervention, so contact a qualified professional (such as a teacher, counsellor, social worker, etc.) right away.
Unexplained or mysterious injuries or illnesses are examples of physical abuse. Injuries are frequently justified as “accidents.” May wear clothing designed to conceal injury marks (long sleeves, sunglasses, etc.) and/or miss work, school, or social outings.
Low self-esteem, anxiety, and social withdrawal are all symptoms of emotional abuse. If this person is in a relationship, they may be overly anxious to please their partner, avoid going out without their partner, have limited access to their family, friends, and/or possessions, and may have to frequently “check in” with their partner.
Method 2 Reaching Out
1. Begin by inviting this individual to group events. Hanging out with a “unlovable” person one-on-one may be awkward and stressful for both of you if you’re trying to get him or her to come out of his or her shell. Instead, invite this person to a large event with a large number of people in attendance. Do your best to make this person feel welcome at the event, but avoid making her feel singled out, as this can be extremely awkward and may discourage her from attending in the future.
As an example, suppose you throw a party and invite the socially awkward outcast character from the previous examples as a gesture of goodwill. You’re pleasantly surprised when he shows up. However, you shouldn’t make a big deal about welcoming him to the party, or he’ll get the impression that he’s the centre of attention, which has been a bad thing in the past. Instead, greet him the same way you would any other guest to the party. During the party, you could try striking up a friendly conversation with him, introducing him to your friends, and incorporating him into group discussions if you notice he’s being left out. He’ll most likely appreciate your assistance.
2. Gradually progress to more intimate gatherings. As this “unlovable” person becomes more at ease in group settings, he may or may not naturally open up and become more pleasant to be around. If he does, you should invite him to events with fewer people so that he can have more meaningful interactions with others. You should never feel obligated to do this; in fact, acting as if someone is a close friend when you don’t care for him is deceptive and unkind. However, if you are beginning to like this formerly “unlovable” person, you should not be discouraged from trying this out.
In our continuing example, if this person has responded positively to being invited to a few parties, you might want to invite him to hang out with a smaller, closer circle of friends when you go bowling or to the bar. If he continues to behave well, you can probably proceed as you would with any other friend.
3. Negative reactions should not discourage you. The preceding steps assume that you get positive reactions after inviting a previously “unlovable” person to hang out with you. It’s also possible that you won’t get a favourable response. The “unlovable” individual may revert to her previous behaviour or begin lashing out at people at the social event, making things awkward for others. In such cases, you can cut your losses and refuse to invite this person to any future social events, or if their behaviour becomes too distracting, you can politely request that they leave.
It’s not necessarily cruel to stop inviting a difficult person to social events after she’s already sabotaged a few; it’s simply a matter of learning from experience. It’s probably more stressful for everyone involved (including the “unlovable” person) for her to continue attending in situations like these.
Method 3: Using a Religious Perspective
1. Seek scriptural guidance. Some people feel compelled to reach out to those deemed “unlovable” by others for religious reasons, such as because their religion requires them to extend a loving hand to others even when it is difficult, or because they believe that such selfless behaviour is desirable. All major world religions encourage their followers to act with love and kindness toward others in some way, so if you’re looking for inspiration when it’s difficult to love another person, turn to your religion’s scriptures. Below is a small selection of religious quotes on the topics of love and empathy from a variety of world religions (many, many, more exist).
Christianity: Anyone who says, “I love God,” but hates his brother is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.
“None of you has faith until he loves his brother or neighbour as much as he loves himself,” says Islam.
Judaism is a religion that is practised in the United States “What you despise in yourself, do not despise in others. That is the entire Torah; everything else is just commentary. Go ahead and read it.”
“When a person responds to the joys and sorrows of others as if they were his own, he has attained the highest state of spiritual union,” according to Hinduism.
“Compassion is a mind that savours only mercy and love for all sentient beings,” says Buddhism.
“Even kings and emperors with vast dominion and heaps of wealth cannot compare with an ant filled with God’s love,” says Sikhism.
Because “loving the unlovable” is a popular phrase in Christian circles, the rest of this section will refer to Christian concepts and terminologies. However, it is critical to understand that virtually all major religions advocate love of others, particularly “unlovable” people, who require love the most.
2. In imitation of God, show love to the unlovable. The source of all love is God, the creator of the universe. When we love, we are imitating God. In fact, when we make an effort to love others even when they behave in ways we find unlovable, we are imitating one of the most wonderful characteristics of God, which is that he loves all people unconditionally. If you’re having trouble justifying your continued kindness to someone who doesn’t seem to deserve or appreciate it, try to think of it as a way to practise God’s love rather than an action you’re performing for another person.
3. Recognize that even the most unlovable people require love. As previously stated, God loves everyone unconditionally. People who have strayed from God’s path, rejecting his love, require love the most. These people can only be brought back to God’s light through love (never through force or coercion), so by showing them love, you are opening this spiritual door for them.
Returning to God’s love after wrongdoing is widely regarded as one of the greatest personal victories of all time in Christianity (for a textbook example, see the parable of the prodigal son). By expressing your love for another, you make this person’s victory more likely.
4. Consider your attempts to love this person to be acts of faith. Consider this act as a sign or testament to the power of your faith as a way to motivate yourself to extend your love to someone who is making it difficult for you to do so. If you would normally have difficulty loving someone because of your behaviour, consider this a test of your faith — doing your best to love this person is a way to demonstrate your devotion.
5. Recognize that God loves this individual. Some people’s actions are so heinous that it’s extremely difficult to love them, especially if they’ve personally hurt you. Even if you can’t bring yourself to truly love someone, remember that God loves them just as much as he loves you. As a result, even if you can’t bring yourself to love him, the unlovable person is deserving of your kindness and forgiveness.
See the storey of Robert Rule, who famously forgave serial killer Gary Ridgway for the murder of his daughter, Linda Rule, because it was “what God [said] to do,” for an inspiring example of forgiveness.
6. Keep the Golden Rule in mind. Treat others as you would like to be treated — this rule is found in almost every culture and religion on the planet (several are listed in the selection of quotes above). The Golden Rule states that no matter what someone does or says to you, you should treat them as you would like them to treat you. If someone is practically unlovable, remembering the golden rule can help you justify continuing to extend your best kindness and love even in the face of this person’s hostility.
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