Malumir, I think you’ve lost it. And not even because of the intuition, energy, and all the other stuff that’s sometimes a little “woo-woo” to me. But do you realize in your recent post you told me to SEND LOVE TO THE JERK WHO CUT ME OFF?! WTF??
Doesn’t sound sensible, does it? Why on earth would you take a perfectly natural response of anger toward someone who behaved badly toward you, and choose to send them love of all things instead?
We’ve all heard sayings that get at the idea that what you put out there is what you get back:
- The Golden Rule: Do to others what you would have them do to you.
- What goes around comes around.
- “Violence breeds violence” (Robert F. Kennedy’s speech to the Cleveland City Club, April 1968).
- “Which wolf wins?” “The one you feed.” (Cherokee parable that each person holds two wolves within themselves; one constructive, one destructive).
While most people generally get the idea of these seeming platitudes, these concepts have stuck around for a reason and really do merit some sincere thought.
This post will look at why it’s actually in your best interest to send love to people who behave badly. The post will walk through how to send love to yourself, and to others. And it’ll also be clear about what it doesn’t mean to send love to someone. If you’re already convinced and just want to skip to how to do it, go to TL;DR.
Why should I even consider sending love to a**holes?
The University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center (a collaboration with the social innovation lab HopeLab) has argued that “Practicing kindness is one of the most direct routes to happiness: Research suggests that kind people tend to be more satisfied with their relationships and with their lives in general.”
UC Berkeley champions the use of loving-kindness meditation, also known as metta sutta. This form of meditation has been practiced by Buddhists since the late 7th century, and is based on the concept of universal love. Academic research* over the past decade has shown that a loving-kindness practice results in an increase of positive emotions, enhancement of personal resources, and reduction of depression, social anxiety, chronic pain and even reduction of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms over time.
Seriously. That’s quite the laundry list of significant positive effects of sending love to people.
Of course it’s easier just to go with the momentum of the moment (or ongoing moments) and stay angry or miffed at someone. Especially if you feel righteous in your anger, if someone has genuinely wronged you. But if you’re brooding and stewing away, all that does is focus your mind on the negative.
From a neurological perspective, focusing on how much of a jerk someone is programs your brain to focus on the negative in life, more broadly than just that person who was a jerk. From an energetic perspective, it’s the idea of like attracting like; putting negative energy out there just attracts more negative energy. Regardless of your beliefs, neither of these produces optimal outcomes. Presumably we all want to be happier (if not, this is not the right blog for you!), right?
What sending love to someone is NOT
Let’s be really clear on a few things before jumping into how to send love to yourself/others.
Sending love to people does not mean that we should be doormats for people who behave badly.
As discussed in the boundaries post, boundaries apply to everyone. Choosing to direct love to others is not mutually exclusive from self-compassion and having healthy boundaries.
For example, I don’t speak to my childhood abusers, because their overall behaviour hasn’t changed. Even though they would no longer be able to physically harm me, their interactive choices/character haven’t changed, and I’m unwilling to be mistreated by anyone for any reason. However, that doesn’t mean I hold anger or judgement toward them (anymore). And yes, I have sent love to them.
Don’t think you should stay in an unhealthy or unsafe situation because of an impression that it’s contradictory to being a loving person.
Sending love to people is not only for troublesome people.
You can send love to anyone in your life, whether you know them or not and whether you like/love them or not. If you send love to someone, and they don’t want it, you’ll still have focused your attention on and put out all this positive energy to the world, so you have nothing to lose.
Sending love to people does not mean that you’ll never feel incredibly angry toward or hurt by someone.
It is completely natural to feel angry at being treated unjustly, whether it’s real or perceived injustice. The choice is what you do next. We can’t always control our circumstances, sometimes life just happens. But we can absolutely control how we respond.
You can choose to focus on constructive, life-giving energy or you can choose to focus on deteriorating, life-sucking energy. That’s a choice over which you have complete control. You can simultaneously feel like garbage and take steps to breathe love into yourself and the world around you.
If you’ve encountered a significant trauma, you may not feel in a place to send love to the perpetrator. Don’t do anything out of obligation and don’t rush yourself. Get the help you need. As you’re accessing the appropriate supports, be aware that what you focus your attention and energy on is neurologically what you’re training your brain to deliver, and energetically what you’re putting out into the world around you.
To be clear, I do not personally subscribe to the idea that we deserve or are the cause of bad things that happen to us. My own thoughts are that it frankly matters less why something happened to me and matters more what choices I make for myself after the fact. That’s me, and it’s not my place to tell you what to believe. What I do know is that I had the choice to let all the bad things that happened to me—that had affected me in very real physiological and psychological ways—dictate how I experienced the rest of my life. Or to decide I wasn’t going to accept that, and that I was going to be happy and find the powerful me that had been oppressed. I always encourage others to do the same.
We can aimlessly direct energy at something that no longer serves us, or we can redirect that energy toward finding our power in love.
And as I’ve said before, if you are dealing with difficult emotions or memories, if you have experienced or are experiencing trauma, make sure you’re accessing the appropriate help and support for yourself.
Sending love to people does not mean you have to forgive them at the same time.
You can choose to send love to someone who has wronged you, without feeling ready or willing to forgive them. Although I haven’t heard it argued this way, in my view, forgiveness is a choice that has to come from a place of self-empowerment (otherwise it’s probably just acquiescing), and self-reflection.
You may not feel ready or interested in forgiving someone initially (or maybe ever, but that’s a separate post for the future). What I would ask you to consider is that if someone is in a place that they’ve flown into a rage or they’re otherwise behaving horribly, they’re lacking love in their lives and they’re acting out based on that. You’ve been given witness of that, and you have the opportunity to send them the love they clearly need.
And remember that none of us is remotely perfect, so those moments are also a good time to send love to them and yourself for all the times that you’ve f-ed up and behaved badly. Choosing to send love to yourself is different from choosing to forgive yourself, and the two are not mutually exclusive. Same thing applies to loving or forgiving others. So don’t withhold sending love to yourself or someone else just because you’re not ready or willing to forgive.
Sending love to people does not mean that you have to do it purely for their benefit or purely because it’s the right thing to do.
Sure, it’s great if you’re in a place where you’re sending love to people altruistically. But that doesn’t have to be the reason you do it. You can totally practice “transactional consciousness” (as described by author and amazing human being Rachel Stavis) where you’re doing something good for others to help yourself feel better. Less guilt and obligation, more choice and power.
Now let’s get to the good stuff.
How to send love to people (yourself, and to others) | TL;DR
Here I’ll share three steps for sending love to yourself and sending love to other people. If you’re interested in the traditional Buddhist loving-kindness meditation practice, you can look it up online. The approach I outline below is a bit less regimented than a traditional loving-kindness practice, but still hits all the same points.
I suggest not waiting until someone is a jerk to start this practice, and not only doing it when something bad happens. All those clinical outcomes resulted from people doing a regular practice. Additionally, I am not a medical doctor and you should discuss any medical issues, concerns and treatments with your healthcare professional.
Step 1: How to generate the feeling of love
- Before you even think about love, take two or three slow breaths and think about something you’re grateful for (anything at all). Think about it for a moment and savour how awesome that something is. This is also a great time to do some square breathing or grounding.
- Say the word “love” to yourself (out loud, or silently) and imagine or feel that the word becomes a bright neon light that says “love”.
- Repeat the word “love” over and over, really concentrating on it, imagining all the repetitions of the work “love” are forming a big bubble of neon lights above your head. Make it a happy-to-you neon colour.
- Keep going and make the bubble bigger and more dense with the word love. Imagine or feel how you’re filling the bubble with all these neon lights of love. Start to feel the love in the bubble.
Step 2: Send love to yourself
- Gently move the bubble down around your head, enveloping your head.
- Gently continue to move it down toward your chest.
- Keep repeating “love” to keep the bubble nice and dense and bright with love.
- Feel into this and see how it feels. Intend that you will feel the love that you’re putting into the bubble, and you will.
- Sit in the neon bubble, imagining that all the neon light from the bubble is filling your heart and your whole chest with the love.
Step 3: Send love to someone else
- First, generate the feeling of love, and send love to yourself (steps 1 and 2).
- After you’re well practiced, you’ll be able to quickly generate love to send to someone in the moment, but when you’re starting out, make sure you send yourself love first.
- Once you’ve generated the love and you’re filled with the love, imagine or feel that you’re sending that bright neon light to someone else.
- Really concentrate on imagining the neon light going from your chest to the other person.
- Don’t move back into your head, don’t think about what they did or said, keep your attention on what it looks or feels like to send all the bright neon light from your chest to the other person.
- When it feels complete, you can stop the flow of the neon light.
- Take a moment to send more love to yourself. Really feel into it.
- Take two or three slow breaths down into your pelvis and gently bring yourself back into the moment.
This practice can be challenging, but I encourage you to give it a go. Perhaps take it on as a three-day experiment, where you decide you’ll send love to yourself and someone else in your life for three days. See what happens, and let me know how it goes!
Normally I would encourage you to look up evidence yourself; however, I recognize how outrageous the idea is of sending love to someone who is overtly a jerk. So here are some academic references to studies that have shown significant quantifiable improvements across a range of participants who practiced forms of metta sutta. I still encourage you do to your own searching and come to a decision yourself.
As previously noted, I am not a medical doctor and you should discuss any medical issues, concerns and treatments with your healthcare professional.
Ahmed, M., Modak, S. & Sequeira, S. (2014). Acute pain relief after mantram meditation in children with neuroblastoma undergoing anti-GD2 monoclonal antibody therapy. Journal of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, 36(2), 152 – 155.
Bormann, J., Weinrich, S., Allard, C., Beck, D., Johnson, B. & Holt, L. (2014). Mantram repetition: An evidence-based complementary practice for military personnel and veterans in the 21st century. Annual Review of Nursing Research, 32(1), 79 – 108.
Carson, J., Keefe, F., Lynch, T., Carson, K., Goli, V., Fras, A. & Thorp, S. (2005). Loving-kindness meditation for chronic low back pain: Results from a pilot trial. Journal of Holistic Nursing, 23(2), 287 – 304.
Fredrickson, B., Cohn, M., Coffey, K., Pek, J. & Finkel, S. (2008). Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95(5), 1045 – 1062.
Galante, J., Galante, I., Bekkers, M. & Gallacher, J. (2014). Effect of kindness based meditation on health and well-being: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 82(6), 1101 – 1114.
Hofmann, S., Petrocchi, N., Steinberg, J, Lin, M., Arimitsu, K., Kind, S., Mendes, A. & Stangier, U. (2015). Loving-kindness meditation to target affect in mood disorders: A proof-of-concept study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015(2), 1 – 11.
Hofmann, S., Grossman, P. & Hinton, D. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(7), 1126 – 1132.
Kearney, D., McManus, C., Malte, C., Martinez, M., Felleman, B. & Simpson, T. (2014). Loving-kindness meditation and the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions among veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Medical Care, 52(12), Supplement 5), S32 – S38.
Kozasa, E., Tanaka, L., Monson, C., Little, S., Leao, F. & Peres, M. (2012). The effects of meditation-based interventions on the treatment of fibromyalgia. Current Pain and Headache Reports, 16(5), 383 – 387.
Rao, N. & Kemper, K. (2017). Online training in specific meditation practices improves gratitude, well-being, self-compassion, and confidence in providing compassionate care among health professionals. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 22(2), 237 – 241.
Salzberg, S. (2004). Lovingkindness: The revolutionary art of happiness. Boulder, CO: Shambhala Classics.
Selfe, T. & Innes, K. (2013). Effects of meditation on symptoms of knee osteoarthritis. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 19(3), 139 – 146.
Zeng, X., Chiu, C., Wang, R., Oei, T. & Leung, F. (2015). The effect of loving-kindness meditation on positive emotions: A meta analytic review. Frontiers of Psychology, 6(1693), 1 – 14.