You don’t have to like everyone under your care. And you probably won’t, which is okay.
Own how you feel. If you insist on telling yourself that you should like someone when, in fact, you don’t, it will come out in other ways: The tone of your voice, the expressions on your face, the way you position your body.
There might completely understandable reasons why you don’t like the person under your care. Maybe he never seems to hear what you say. Maybe he doesn’t follow any of your recommendations, but he blames you for lack of healing. Maybe he expresses opinions you find offensive. Maybe he calls you racial slurs. Maybe he’s thrown things at you. Maybe he threatens to rape you. Maybe he’s told you that he will kill you and your family.
People do things like that for reasons that make complete sense to them. You may disagree with or misunderstand their reasons, but despite that, they are still people. Even though you may dislike some people under your care, you must still recognize that they are still human beings. The moment you refuse to recognize the humanity of the other person, you are at risk of inflicting violence upon them. Violence can manifest in many ways, including neglect.
First, do no harm.
It is possible to dislike someone and do no harm.
When we don’t like someone, it is much easier to assign blame entirely to the other person (e.g., “He’s an annoying @$$hole”). While it is possible that the problem has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person, that doesn’t change the fact that you cannot control other people. You can’t make someone less of an @$$hole. You, however, can make yourself view the situation in a different perspective.
Own how you feel. Let’s say he is, in fact, an @$$hole—something you cannot change. What if you focused instead on yourself?
“I really don’t like him. I feel dread whenever I have to see him.”
The reasons behind your dread make complete sense to you. When you acknowledge your dread and dislike to yourself, you give yourself more options as to how to proceed. You now have more control over the situation.
When you don’t like someone who is under your care and you acknowledge this, you can:
- get support from your trusted colleagues. You can tell them how much you don’t want to see this person, how anxious and annoyed you feel about having to do this, and how much you don’t like this person. Get it out of your system ahead of time so you can be the professional you want to be when you actually see this person.
- activate your internal coach. You can take some deep breaths and say a silent prayer before the interaction begins. You can rehearse some evacuation plans in case things start to run off the rails. Your internal coach can recruit your internal cheerleaders afterwards if the conversation goes well.
- pause and remind yourself of your purpose. Your job does not include judging or shaming the person under your care. Your job isn’t to like the person under your care. Your job is to help the individual improve his health. Sometimes the people you care for have terrible life circumstances that contribute to the behaviors that you don’t like.
- ask a colleague to see the individual so you don’t have to. Sometimes it is clear that the clinical relationship won’t work out at this time. We can’t be effective with 100% of the people we see (though we can try). Sometimes, the best way we can help the people under our care is to remove them from our care. (Sometimes, though, this isn’t an option.)
It’s often helpful to focus on the behaviors of an individual. When you focus on behaviors, you are more likely to remember and respect the person’s humanity. This keeps us professional and kind, even if we aren’t warm and smiling.
Indeed, he may do things that you don’t like… but he may also do things that you do like. And when we offer genuine thanks to people when they do things we like (e.g., “Thanks for your patience while I was asking you all of those personal questions,” “Thanks for summarizing your story quickly for me,” “Thanks for not calling me names today”[1. I have actually said, “Thanks for not calling me names today!” to people under my care and, no joke, the vast majority of them never address me with bigoted phrases ever again.]), people are almost always going to do those things more often.
You don’t have to like everyone under your care. Once you start owning how you feel, though, you might find that, most of the time, you do.