Why do you worry? What keeps you up at night?

Sometimes things people say will run over and over through my mind. It usually takes the form of an imagined conversation with someone I think might have something against me.

There’s this scene in The Office (U.S.) where Pam says, “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me. I hate even thinking that al-Qaeda hates me. I think if they got to know me, they wouldn’t hate me.” That really describes well my basic motivation during those endless circular conversations that reel through my head whenever someone seems to dislike something about me.

Earlier this year, I was forced to spend a lot of time with this guy who didn’t see eye to eye with me on much of anything. I felt like everything I tried to say to him was either totally ignored or misunderstood. He would gradually pick at me in this passive aggressive sort of way, smiling while hinting indirectly at everything he thought was wrong with me.

It got to where my imagined conversations with him were non-stop. In my mind, I’d be pointing out everything wrong with his perspective, perfectly defending and explaining myself. But I couldn’t sleep; I couldn’t work; I couldn’t have quality time with loved ones. No matter what I was doing, I’d be instantly whisked away to be locked for hours in heated (pretend) debate.

Finally, it just got to be too much. I knew I couldn’t give any more of my life and attention to make-believe fights with someone I knew wouldn’t ultimately matter in my life.

Since I reached that limit, I’ve been working on developing the ability to not resist or react at all, but to stay unaffected emotionally no matter what anyone says or does.

Now, that ability is not because of anything specific—like, I don’t have to remind myself each time that the other person is just a human like me, that what they think can’t really do anything to me, or that I know who I want to be, etc. even though those are all good reasons to let go of inward arguments before they happen.

Honestly, I’ve been learning to let the tension that would have stuck me in that state of ceaseless wrangling instead push me to develop as a person.

It’s still a process, but I find I can handle anything anyone might say (or think) now, and I can even measure their words objectively to see if there’s any truth or things I can work on.

But I’m no longer imprisoned in imagined battles. In fact, I find I literally don’t have to defend anything at all, not when I’m watching myself taking steps toward becoming the person I’ve always hoped I could be.

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