Don’t Let People Live In Your Head – Rent Free!
One of the themes that comes up again and again in my seminars and counseling sessions is the degree to which other people can trigger our anger, anxiety, frustration, and stress. This is understandable, because from the moment we were born, we were interacting with others, and these interactions played a significant role in how we saw ourselves and the world.
Unfortunately when these interactions were negative, our middle brain, or limbic system, encoded them in a way that made us more susceptible to negative or “difficult” people, now and in the future.
In other words, given that the middle brain’s mission is to keep us safe and alive, it tends to remember negative experiences with more intensity than positive experiences, and this sets us up to be triggered by all sorts of difficult people. This might be helpful if our being triggered resulted in our either fighting or fleeing a truly dangerous situation. However, given that the interpersonal interactions we have with others today are rarely dangerous, the result is that we find ourselves triggered by all sorts of people, many of whom we don’t know or aren’t truly important in our lives.
This is where this week’s quote can be helpful. If we can begin to be more purposeful about who we allow “inside our head,” or with whom we become, angry, annoyed, irritated (or whom we continue to think/ruminate about long after the interaction is over), we can become more influential in our experience of life.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t me telling anyone that they have no right to be angry or upset. We all have the right to feel whatever we are feeling. I just like to help those who want to have more influence in this area understand the neuroscience behind the reaction. In other words, we need to understand that it isn’t the person, or even their behavior that is the cause of our anger or resentment, but instead, the fact that our middle brain has interpreted them as dangerous. Therefore, the middle brain believes that we must continue to think about them in order to be safe, and this results in us running their behavior over and over in our mind. Once we are aware of this true cause, we can then decide whether we want to keep this up.
One question that I feel can help us in making this determination is, “Would I teach or recommend this way of thinking/being to someone I love?” If we are dealing with a truly dangerous situation, then being aware of the danger, and taking whatever steps we need to take to avoid it is indeed something that we would recommend to someone we love.
On the other hand, if this person is some driver on the street, or some clerk that doesn’t give us the service we feel we deserve (in other words, someone who isn’t important to us), then I am confident that we would not recommend anger, resentment, irritation and stress as a reaction to those we love.
Of course, this awareness comes from the “aware” brain (the neocortex, what I call the Top of the Mind) and therefore, won’t always be our first thought. However, if becoming skilled at “who we let inside our head” is important to you, the good news is that whatever we practice becomes a habit. Therefore, I suggest that we begin to use life versus life using us, and practice responding versus reacting to difficult people in a way that we would recommend to someone we love.
What would that look like? Well, chances are that the way we respond to people who aren’t important to us is that we don’t give them a second thought. In other words, if we can’t always control our first thought, we can certainly influence all the thoughts that follow, and as we become practiced at this process, we become more influential in our experience of life, in general.
The bottom line is that if you don’t want people jerking your chain… don’t give your chain to jerks, or don’t let those that aren’t important to you live inside your head in a way that you would not recommend to someone you love. Life is too precious to give it over to those who don’t deserve our continued attention.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill