Can We Gain Greater Compassion for Those With Bad Habits?


I feel very stressed whenever another person exhibits a nervous habit: foot-tapping, gum-chewing, hair-twisting, nail-biting, etc.

Soon I will visit my son and daughter-in-law. I like my daughter-in-law, but I have difficulty being with her because she chews her nails most of the time, including while driving, walking, eating in restaurants, at home, etc.

My strong reaction really interferes with being with her. I want to have a relationship with them both, but I dread going there because of my problem.

Do you have a suggestion for dealing with this? I don’t seem to be able to handle it.


Whenever I find myself in the company of people who upset my inner peace, for whatever reason, I find that if I can turn my attention away from my own feelings toward God and pray for them, I can change the way I feel.

At the same time, because I am inwardly disturbed, connecting to God and getting my mind off myself is not always easy.

The solution came to me while I was traveling in India. At one point, our group was surrounded. by a group of beggars. For various reasons, it was not appropriate to simply empty my wallet into their outstretched hands.

Besides, I have to say frankly, even if they were needy, I didn’t like their consciousness and didn’t feel inspired to give them the money they were asking for.

Still, they were clearly unhappy, and I wanted to do something for them. Looking calmly into the eyes of those nearest to me, inwardly I prayed intently, “Divine Mother, bless us all!”

The beggars had their reason to be agitated, and I had mine. We all needed Divine Mother’s help. After just a few repetitions of this prayer, I could feel a divine peace descending on me and radiating through me to the beggars around me.

I wasn’t giving the beggars what they asked for, but I was giving them something they needed. They, too, calmed down and seemed somewhat satisfied.

Since then, I have found this to be an ideal prayer in many circumstances. I use it when confronted by angry, homeless, or mentally deranged people, or anyone who makes demands of me that I am not able to satisfy.

Of course, the power of the prayer depends on how sincerely and deeply I repeat it. I hope it is as effective for you as it has been for me.

Now, let us consider this question from another angle. When others disturb your peace of mind, why do you feel this way? And is there anything you can do about it?

What if it were your son who had this nervous habit, instead of his wife? Would your love for your son overcome your aversion to his mannerism? In other words, can you imagine loving someone so much that their nervous habits wouldn’t bother you?

What if it was involuntary – say, a twitching that resulted from a stroke, for example?

What if you developed such a disorder? How would you want your husband, son, and daughter-in-law to respond? And how would you feel if, instead of acceptance, they turned away from you?

Are you repelled by the habit itself? Or is it judgmental? – that is, merely a feeling of annoyance at what you consider to be another person’s weakness? Is your thought, “Why can’t she control herself?”

If it is the latter, isn’t it interesting that you can’t control yourself, but you are upset because she can’t control herself?

No one is saying that these are nice habits. They are unpleasant, and even worse for the person doing them.

But there is a world of difference between observing impartially – “Poor soul, so nervous all the time” – and the response you are describing, accompanied by negative emotions.

What we judge in others is always a reflection of what we find distressing in ourselves. Our anger at our weaknesses causes us to react intensely when we see the same weaknesses in others. We imagine that if we can remove this quality in someone else, it will magically disappear from inside ourselves. Alas, it doesn’t work that way.

Perhaps you don’t have the habits you speak of. But what do these habits represent to you?

A great deal is at stake. Your poor daughter-in-law is not only driven by her compulsion to chew on her fingernails, she also has a mother-in-law who judges her for doing so. You dread visiting her. I suspect the feeling is mutual.

And how do you think it makes your son feel? If his wife becomes so upset by your attitude that he is forced to choose between his mother and his wife, which will he choose?

You say you can’t get rid of your reaction. I ask, how much are you willing to risk to hold on to it? Perhaps you can use your helplessness in the face of this situation to motivate yourself to find compassion and understanding for others who are also out-of-control.

Yes, it is difficult to overcome these deep-seated aversions. But God sent this woman and her annoying habit to you, as a gift to help you grow spiritually. Your relationship with your son could also be at stake. If that doesn’t motivate you, what will?

Sooner or later you will have to expand your heart and develop the compassion to accept others just as they are. This seems like a good place to start.

Divine Mother, bless us all.



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