When making up stories comes to no good…

I will admit it, though I’m not proud.  I will admit it because I don’t think I’m alone in this… I will admit it because admitting you have a problem is the first step…

I make up stories about people in my head.  I don’t mean the fun kind when you’re sitting around a cafe and start imagining the lives of the other patrons (“oh, that one’s a spy… and that one’s on a first date”).  I mean the kind where you think you know what your partner, sibling or friend is thinking and then spend time having an imaginary conversation about it… an imaginary conversation, which can lead to real emotions.

Ever so often, I have spun myself into a tizzy because I think I know what’s going on in someone else’s head, and I don’t like it.  I am especially guilty of this with my poor, ever-tolerant husband.  We have an awkward conversation.  I think he is upset with me because I have left him to take care of our toddler for a few hours.  I start feeling self-righteous because heck, I watch him all week and I deserve a few hours off and I need a little alone time and why should I have to feel bad about needing a break and … and… and… you get where I’m going.  Pretty soon, I am angry, resentful, hurt, and guilty about the situation and I’m ready to go to war.  Just then, poor, unassuming husband pops his head into the room and says, “Hey!  Conall and I are having such a laugh!  I love our boy.  You doing okay?”  Thankfully, he hasn’t noticed the defiant, defensive, stony, blizzard of an expression I had on my face, which is quickly melting away.  Suddenly, all I feel is foolish.

How much time have I wasted over this non-existent fight?  How much time have I spent feeling bad for no reason at all?  And how many fights have I caused because of what I was sure he was thinking, or worse, of what I was projecting on to him?

And it isn’t limited to the husband.  I have walked about carrying on arguments with everyone from my senator to my cable service provider.  You know who benefited?  No one.  It’s not like these head-fights prepare me for the real thing… more often than not, the real thing never happens.  Or never happens the way I have planned it out.  And so often, I am angry over something without a full understanding of the situation.  Then, when my mental-fights spill over into reality, I unwittingly poor gas on a fire I didn’t know existed.

And that’s the thing, isn’t it?  We can’t really know what’s going on in someone else’s head.  Even when we are sure we are completely in the right, there’s always another side to the story – or at least, more information that could mitigate our reactions.  There’s often so much more to another person’s perspective than to what we are privy… our suppositions are at best inaccurate, at worst, completely unfair.

So what do you do when these thoughts are spilling over and tumbling about and the steam is starting to come out of your ears?  How do you stop that argument from playing like a skipping record?  In the last year or so, I’ve learned a few tricks that help, though I think it takes a lot of practice to get good at this.

1) Think a helpful mantra. When you catch your brain spinning out of control on any subject, whether it’s an argument or not, pick a word or a phrase you find calming to gain control of your thoughts.  At night, I tend to think to myself, “sleep… sleep… sleep…” over and over.  It works wonders for my occasional busy-brain-induced insomnia.  During the day, I revert back to calming phrase – something like “I’m in control of my world.”

2) Remember that you don’t know the whole story. Maybe your boss had a fight with his partner on the way to work and takes it out on you.  Maybe your friend got bad news and won’t return your calls.  Acting on whatever anger, frustration or resentment you feel could just ignite a tinder-box and have  far-reaching repercussions.  If you just take a deep breath and let the moment pass, you could avoid an argument all together.

3) Refocus yourself in the present moment, in your own, immediate world. This is especially helpful when you are angry with someone who isn’t immediately around you.  If you can physically separate yourself from the source of your frustration, you can pretend, just long enough to calm down, that the person and their problems don’t exist for you.  Remind yourself that you are okay.  That you can get through any moment.  Distract yourself.  Change your environment.  Focus on what you can see directly around you… that is what’s real in your world for that time.

4) Other people’s problems only become yours if you let them. If someone wants to be mad at you, that’s their issue.  You can choose not to involve yourself.  Let them stew in their poison.  You don’t always have to clear the air with people; sometimes you can just let them deal with their own demons and keep yourself above the fray.  Other people’s stories are their own.  You are the hero of your story – make it what you want it to be.

For more good advice and inspiration, check out these wonderful podcasts (there’s usually just one quick song at the beginning).

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Published in: on March 30, 2011 at 8:24 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. GREAT Post, Meghan! You’ve hit the nail right on the head with this one! You’ve masterly described what we all go through and at times, are unable to get a true handle on ourselves.

    As always, I’ll be waiting for your next post!

    Christine

  2. I should’ve read this a couple of days ago. It would have taken the edge off an argument. Keep this up girl!


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