The Boggart appears in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, one of the series of books about the boy wizard Harry Potter by J K Rowling. In these books, a Bogart is a shape shifting spirit that will appear disguised as your worst fear.
Often hidden, it will burst out when you least expect it. To ‘overcome’ your initial terror, Harry and his friends learn from Professor Remus Lupin to use a Riddikulus charm to change the appearance of the Bogart into something less fearful or ridiculous. Neville, a particularly nervous pupil, tries out the spell, re-dressing the Bogart (who’s appeared as his nemesis Professor Snape) in a green silk gown, bonnet and high heels. The comedy breaks the grip of terror.
Like a Boggart, difficult people seem to pop up in our lives and disturb us (and sometimes hang around a LONG time). I wanted to share my ever evolving understanding of this topic, as it often come up in sessions I facilitate.
At first it can look as if the difficult person needs to change for us to find peace. Or perhaps we just want rid of that person. Because they are SO difficult and annoying.
Perhaps, we sense, we may have something to do with our experience of the difficult person
If we have some inkling that our experience of the difficult person is actually all ours and nothing to do with the person in question, we might realise at one level that we are dealing with ‘difficult thinking’ about the person which gives us the experience of a difficult person. Rather than an actual difficult person. After all other people get along with this person perfectly well.
However if this is more theoretical than felt or realised, we might still wrestle with this experience, and innocently reach for a better ‘story’ to rid us of our uncomfortable feelings.
Different stories come in all shapes and sizes, like:-
He/she doesn’t communicate well
He/she is having a hard time/has problems/has had a hard life etc etc
He/she is over-reacting
He/she is so judgemental
He/she is so negative
He/she is an a**!#%#e
He/she just can’t get over it
Or if you’ve been around the Principles understanding for a while it can come out in more subtle story making:-
It is just his or her thinking
They are not self-aware
I did the best I could
They did the best they could
They must be suffering, it must be so hard to be them
Subtle and sneaky: ways we try to avoid discomfort
These are all subtle ways we seek to avoid the discomfort we are experiencing that seems to be about this difficult person. It’s like dressing up the Bogart in different clothes to force quit our experience of difficulty.
But why would we avoid feeling discomfort? What’s the big deal about feeling uncomfortable? If we now that it is temporary and inherently unreliable as an indicator of anything other than our state of mind, why would it bother us to feel uncomfortable?
And yet …. it’s very seductive, this ‘making a better story’, easing ourselves away from discomfort.
But this is where we’ve got the wrong end of the stick (again!).
While we are busy story making, we are moving further and further away from engaging in our experience (uncomfortable though it may be) and seeing the heart of the other person.
Both of which are far more interesting and less draining than the endless merry go round of story making. Which, you remember was all about not being uncomfortable.
Let’s look at what can happen……
We have a story about something that happened: say a ‘difficult’ person didn’t answer an email and ……… we don’t like that.
So we make a story about why they didn’t answer the email.
e.g. they don’t care about us, they don’t like us, we don’t matter, why don’t they give us an answer, they’re so annoying, etc etc then we can begin to add more layers to try and come up with a story that feels better.
So the story goes round and round, with more flesh being added to the bones e.g. they always do this, why are they such hard work, how am I supposed to make arrangements when they don’t answer etc etc. We move from blame to judgement to self-judgement and back again. Before we know it we have moved into a movie of our own creation where we play the aggrieved party and the other plays the offending party (or we take turns).
What’s interesting about this, is that by the time we actually make contact, we have already written the scene with our part and the other person’s part laid out ready. So we’ll be resentful and hurt, they get a blast of judgement even before any words are exchanged and they are likely to be either off hand, defensive or equally hurt and so it goes on.
Lights, camera, action!
You get the picture. We create a story and hey presto, if we don’t see what’s going on, it happens again and again in ever more resourceful and imaginative scenes where hurt, slights, misunderstanding and counter hurt, play out on endless repeat.
Next time you catch yourself feeling hurt, offended, jealous, bewildered or uncomfortable and it looks like it is because of someone else, check out how cranked up your story making machine is.
Before the story completely takes over, what happens if you pause and just feel the discomfort rather than trying to avoid it?
If you truly know that it is not created by the other person, it’s more likely that you’ll have the wherewithal to pause. When that subsides (as it will, of its own accord, if you leave it be), see what else arises? What’s new?
The stories we make up about our ‘difficult people’ are fascinating
They reach back into the past for evidence and predict the future based on the past. They leave no room for people (including yourself) to be as they are. Have you noticed how you’re not relaxed and easy when you finally get in front of the ‘difficult’ person?
When we meet someone in a story like this we’ve made up, we only ever get to experience that story, not the actual living breathing person in front of us.
If we use these stories to try and take decisions in the present, they are pretty much guaranteed to backfire. They’re not helpful. They’re based on a simulation of that person that is entirely self-created, like an avatar in a computer game. Have you noticed how your difficult person has no redeeming features, their every action is suspect and they become like a cartoon baddie? Irredeemable.
It’s very human to do this.
We are, after all, story making machines. And even knowing what you know, something ‘bigger’ will likely crop up that looks entirely and utterly as if your experience is coming from someone (or somewhere) else. Go easy on yourself. In this case…..
Love will do if understanding is absent
But if you can see it in action, you get curious: though better stories might be appealing, there is something beyond all the stories.
If for one moment you can step out of the story and simply breathe and open to the heart of the person in front of you, the invitation is there for both of you to have a new experience.
Without the script from the story, you can simply be interested in who is in front of you in that moment. Like a stranger you meet on a train journey when you have all the time in the world and as they begin to speak, you find yourself curious and fascinated by who this person is, what their experience is. You forget yourself as you get immersed in this exchange.
And in this space, what you experience might surprise you.
And what about the ‘easy’people?
Funnily enough, you might notice, with the ‘easy’ people in your life, the stories you carry about them are very sparse.
You just love them. Enjoy them. You don’t endlessly analyse their words and actions. You don’t tend to worry about them. You don’t mind if you don’t see them. When you think of them, there’s a warm feeling. You love their foibles and funny little ways. When you’re with them it’s fun and easy whether you’re doing the dishes or dining out.
Notice with the difficult people (especially when this feels like a long standing problem), there is a mountain of thinking. You analyse things they said and chew over things they failed to do or say. And it comes with uneasy feelings. If only they would give you want you want: a fair hearing, understanding, love, acceptance?
You aren’t meeting them in the here and now, you are meeting them in chapter four of the block buster novel you wrote about them.
Until you see the story for what it is – a huge great bundle of thought – you are destined to experience only the person you made up and not the living breathing being in front of you.
Funnily enough, the love and understanding you so desperately want from the ‘difficult’ person are likely the very same things you are denying yourself in some aspect of your life.
Nowhere is this easier to miss than in your own story.
Which chapter are you stuck in?
The one where things never work out; where it’s better to be alone rather than risk getting hurt; the one where you’re too old or too young to do what you dream of doing; the one where you blew it and there’s no get out of jail card; the one where you are too depleted from illness, disappointment, loss, heartache or chronic conditions or the one where other people’s expectations and demands are too crushing? It’s so easy for this to look and feel true.
If you see it for what it is. You can turn the page and open to what is. Go from there. And who knows what might happen.
I love the story of the Bogart and the pink frilly gown. While the Bogart looks real, dressing it up in a pink frilly gown might be temporarily helpful. However, until you see the Bogart for what it really is – a figment of your imagination – made of thought – it will keep appearing attached to so called ‘difficult’ people, difficult situations, difficult memories, or difficult imaginings about the future. When one bows out, a new one will be ready and waiting to play the part.
When you see it for what it is, the Bogart diminishes of its own accord and what remains is the essence of your experience (whatever or whoever it is): that essence is love and beauty. Anything else is opinion, judgement, belief ~ in short, a story.
While there is no magic wand for seeing the illusory nature of thought, in the case of a difficult person or any other so called difficulty, if we have glimpsed the understanding that all of our experience comes via the Power of Thought then we can at least, look away from the story and get curious about the awesome creativity of that Power and what lies beyond it.
As ever thank you to those I am in conversation with. This article was inspired by a recent group and various conversations I’ve had recently. It occurred to me to write this and in doing so, I have seen deeper into my own stories. It is a joy to be in this conversation. If you are interested to join me in conversation please contact me.