There they are again…
Those anger fits, anxious preoccupations, worries about the future, or other recurring and random thoughts and feelings that play in your head like a neighbor’s overpowered sound system on a constant loop.
Who is making that racket?
While not all of your mental narrative can be traced to what others have said to you, there may be a lot that can. Throughout your life, you may have experienced, for example, a hypercritical teacher, an overly anxious parent, or a mean-spirited partner. In more extreme circumstances, one (or several) of these people may have even risen to the point of being abusive toward you.
Maybe there was a longstanding pattern of mistreatment, and it’s even possible that the hostile, anxious, hypercritical, or otherwise negative person had little to no awareness or acknowledgment of their effect on you. Coincidentally, you may also not be very aware of how the relationship affected you. They may even be long-gone from your life, but yet, their influence remains in these thoughts and in your unexplained behaviors.
How’d we manage to fit such big voices in our heads?
Doesn’t it seem that you have less space for your own thoughts than that of your personal influences? Isn’t it time to let your own thoughts predominate?
When it comes to these people occupying your headspace, I distinguish between “renters” and “buyers.” Renters tend to be more transient. They may be a recent love interest, a caustic coworker, or even someone with whom you’ve had a rough encounter in public (a certain nameless South Florida motorist comes to mind for me, though the most common renters are those a bit better known to you).
Renters can “push your buttons” and dredge up some awful feelings, perhaps the most powerful being that of resentment. They generally are easier to “evict,” especially if it’s obvious to you who the person is, and how their offense affects you. Simple principles such as these three “R’s” can help cast out the noise:
- Recognize that the source has much more to do with the words than the words have to do with you. That doesn’t mean you’ve played no part (see the next point), but it’s important to remember, if something said is overtly offensive or troubling, it has much more to do with their defenses than any of your offenses.
- Reassess your role. Avoid the “blame game” and take a more accountableposition (much like an accountant does in reviewing your taxes: It’s not for blame, it’s for accurate assessment). Develop a tolerance for accurate self-reflection by understanding what led to the difficulty, how you responded, and what you were trying to accomplish. Recognize that you or the “renter” were trying to be “right”, yet it’s not a win—lose scenario.
- Remove. Look at the situation like the owner of your mind that you are. Are the harsh feelings or worrisome thoughts worth the time and attention? After you’ve looked more carefully at them from the perspective of recognizingtheir intent (and making it less personal!), and reassessingto know and accept your role in the exchange, you might surprise yourself at how easy it is to simply decide that the situation or memory doesn’t deserve further thought.
“Owners,” on the other hand, are a different breed.
Not only are they not nearly as obvious to detect (as they are often an integral part of your social or familial fabric, so their difficult ways become your “normal”), but they also enable the renters by normalizing their brief encounters with you, leaving you vulnerable to absorb negativity. You may not notice the “owners” as easily, again, because their behavior often seems normal to you, and there are many times where their input isn’t even particularly caustic. In fact, you may even think of some of these behaviors as nurturing, and the owner may truly intendnurturance, but you still somehow find yourself acting in a way that’s against your best interest, even if the owner is not currently in your life. This is often their legacy.
If this sounds familiar to you, you would likely benefit from the help of some more objective eyes. Whether that is a friend, another close and trusted family member, or a professional, you owe it to yourself to do what you can to move past the blocks created by this kind of history. If you detect this might be a pattern in your life, don’t delay! You can certainly live with the results (as you have until now), but why would you want to, when you can discover what it’s like to live without the limitations?