The other day I was reminded of an elementary school classmate who refused to eat in front of anyone. She had quite a phobia in the lunch room. She was obsessed and absolutely sure that everyone was watching her eat. If any of you recall your lunchroom days, her thoughts were absolutely NOT true: there was so much scurrying around at lunch- finding the table, jostling sitting positions among friends, buying milk, opening the milk carton, gulping the food down in two minutes, cleaning the area so that the lunch lady would dismiss you outside for the rare ten minutes of freedom- that one had enough trouble eating one’s own lunch much less watching someone eat hers.
I think of it now and wonder what was her problem? Did she have a diagnosed psychological issue, does she still suffer from this or was it some childhood idea that eventually she outgrew? I also remember that her mother fussed over her sooo much whenever there was an opportunity for parents to visit and help out in the school. Perhaps that contributed to it?
I have been thinking a lot about what we perceive others are thinking of us and how we respond.
Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night, reliving a past conversation? You find yourself performing a middle-of-the-night revision: the stammering replies become sitcom-worthy quips, the questions turn into insightful inquiries and the rebuttals transform into argument-changing succinct points.
In the dark quiet hours of early morning I will either replay a past situation or create a future one all based on an assumption of my limited knowledge. I can create a whole imagined dialogue and even find myself annoyed and angry as if things happened when in actuality they have not.
For the last six months I have been engaged in this night time ritual as I have been enmeshed in some personnel issues at a local non-profit. I can get all keyed up when in actuality all that I have imagined has not happened nor will it.
This was brought home to me last week. There was a new twist to our employment sage and I once again found myself waking up in the middle of the night preparing a mental list of all things that I had to say at the following morning meeting. When the meeting occurred and the different parties spoke, I realized that all my preparation was for naught. I had worried and fussed over nothing. For what was spoken was so different than I imagined. What I thought I knew was the farthest from the truth. It was not that I had wrong information, rather it was that I had taken what I knew and then expanded it to a whole different unrealistic level.
I had the epiphany that I should never think that I know what someone will say, do or even think. I certainly do not need to be worked up thinking that the other person is thinking of me. That is probably the crux of the situation: I worry, fuss and overthink conversations, not to be prepared for future conversations, but because I am, at my core, self-centered. But the reality is no one is thinking of me and my reaction. Very rarely do others think of us- either the good or the bad. So when we are worried that folks are not thinking good thoughts about us, it is most likely untrue.
Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, The Four Agreements, reminds us in two of his philosophical statements: don’t take anything personally and don’t make assumptions. It is not about you. What others say and do is really about them. In thinking of how others will respond, I forget that there is a whole other side to the equation- did the person get a good night’s sleep, did they have great news from the doctor, did they get a raise or were they up all night, is their kid sick, did they lose their job? The way someone responds to another is largely dependent upon the factors in their own life.
The other activity that I know I am prone to do is to make assumptions. My middle-of-the-night scenarios are mostly made up of those. Mr. Ruiz cautions us to not do this:
“We have the tendency to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking—we take it personally—then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word. That is why when we make assumptions, we’re asking for problems. We make an assumption, we misunderstand, we take it personally, and we end up creating a whole big drama for nothing.”
Gosh what freedom when I realized this. I can just concentrate on doing what I can do. I can just try and be as true to my word and true to the interpretation of the events but not to worry what others think, say or feel. If I want to know a specific answer or response to a situation I need to just ask. Find out directly what is going on. What a relief and lifted burden.
What about you? Do you participate in the rewind of past conversations? Do you have mental engagements and dialogues in your head? Have any of them been true?
I am sure that I will revert back to my middle-of-the-night “writing” sessions, but I am trying not to. I am enjoying this lighter mental load. Maybe I will finally get a good night’s sleep. (But I don’t want to make any assumptions!)