“Don’t believe everything you think.” -Byron Katie
Have you ever been so pissed off with someone after an argument that you replay the conversation over and over in your head for days?
You return to the tense moments and reenact the things you should have said and stew over what they said to you.
Or worse than that, has there been a specific person who has been a constant source of grief?
I once had a bully of a boss.
Nothing I did was ever good enough.
She sent me demanding emails from her Blackberry at all hours of the day and night that she expected an immediate response to, so there was no escape.
She told me that my references had over-hyped my abilities, and I was in over my head. (My references also happened to be my mentors and greatest inspirations, which made the remark prick the skin even sharper).
Sunday evenings turned into a sickened vortex of anxiety just thinking about my walk to work the next morning. In time, my work misery trickled into all areas of my life, making me captive to my relationship with one person.
I only lasted at the job for 9 months, but I was so ripped apart after I quit that I took six months off to “travel” (which was code for escaping my discontent).
The years since those gloomy days have been a time of great discovery and growth for me and has led me to the work I truly want to be doing: life coaching (where I’m now in the final stages of certification).
And I’ve discovered a powerful step that can provide immediate relief from a relationship that’s causing you to suffer – and that is to step back.
Step back from the argument. Step back from the person. Step back from the painful thoughts about the person.
When you step back you start to separate from the words that triggered your suffering, which enables you to view the argument with less emotion and more reflection.
Because it’s very often not people who cause you pain, it’s the words they say to you and your interpretation of those words. In fact, most of our suffering in general doesn’t come from a place of pure pain, but rather from thoughts about our pain.
In my old job, my boss wasn’t physically abusing me. But I was allowing her words to make me feel as though I wasn’t good enough, and words such as, “I’m not good enough,” were my source of pain.
(And bear in mind that the person saying the harshest things to you might be you.)
You can step back from painful words and encounters in three ways:
1. Distance. Observe the painful words from a distance.
Go back to the exact argument that pissed you off or caused you pain and view it as a silent observer from overhead, then view it from the clouds, the moon, and another galaxy. Notice the detail, see it in color, and see it in black and white.
As you get farther and farther away, everything becomes smaller and smaller.
2. Time. Put time between you and the painful words.
If you find yourself in a ball of emotions after a verbal bashing with someone, then view the exchange as if you’re a month in the future, then a year, then 10 years, on your death bed, and in your next life.
By creating time between you and your painful memories, you start to dissolve the attachment to the pain and wake up to the fact that all pain is temporary.
3. Inquiry. This is the word used by Byron Katie in her fabulous book, “Loving What Is.”
Stepping back to inquire about the thought helps you to realize that your painful thought is only that…a thought. Ask yourself if the painful thought is true, or if there is another way to interpret the thought.
My old boss’s comments made me believe the painful thought, “I’m not good enough.” If I would have taken the time to step back, I would seen that not only am I good enough, but my boss put a lot of pressure on herself too and may also have been suffering from believing the same painful thought.
Stepping back helps you to realize that you’re so much more than your often untrue thoughts – allowing you more fulfilling relationships with both the people who make you happy and the people who piss you off (often, of course, the same people).
I challenge you to step back the next time you’re pissed off or suffering from a painful thought.
I’d love to know what you think. Who pisses you off? How do you respond? Post a comment below.