“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more from imagination than reality.” – Seneca
We make so many assumptions – those stories that bounce around in our heads about why someone did something or what people are going to do. Someone didn’t say hi when you passed one another on the street or you were left off of some work emails. Or you assume a potential business partner is going to turn you down. Where does the mind go? For many, the automatic reaction is a negative interpretation of an event: “He’s upset with me.” “She doesn’t like me.” “I’m not good enough.” The fear the negative perception raises is real and painful.
But it gets tiring, all the suffering that goes along with those uncorroborated, negative stories. This is where a mindfulness practice focused on becoming aware of our automatic reactions to life events can really help. But once you have a heightened awareness of your automatic reactions and negative self-talk, then what? Here are some tips I have found useful:
Show yourself that you care about you. Feeling emotionally bruised, is an opportunity to take responsibility for your own emotional needs. Engage in your go-to “soothe me” activity. It may be a nature walk, sitting quietly with a cup of hot tea, a prayer of comfort or meditation, soothing music, or some intimate time with someone dear to you. Soothing activities can help get you out of your head. Another way is to notice where you feel the emotion in your body. If it is emotionally safe to do so, sit with the disturbance in you, noticing where you feel it most, and slowly breathe through it in that part of your body. The breath can often be a powerful (and free) antidote to what ails you.
Place the incident in perspective. These incidents are also a reminder that the only person’s universe you are the center of is your own. When the negative self-talk rears its ugly head about how someone else’s actions are about you, come up with alternative reasons why it happened. Say, as an example, a senior manager passes you by in the hallway without acknowledging you. You may immediately think it reflects a lack of regard while the manager may simply have been so deep in thought she didn’t see you. Often, there is an underlying fear the negative assumption raises. Name it. Consider the need that is not being met and what other ways that need can be met or already is being met. Our moods and emotions are constantly changing. Ask yourself if a year from now you will even remember the incident.
Consider that the incident may reflect where you are in your own journey. Maybe it is at least somewhat about you after all. Perhaps there is a need for a gentle but honest conversation with a family member, friend, or colleague. You may find it useful to reflect on how you typically respond and if it is worthy of your time and energy in light of your priorities. Or perhaps it reflects a change in your own focus or behavior, a signal, that you are in a midst of change and growth in your personal or professional life. As a quick example, if you are suddenly left out of certain events or conversations perhaps the people around you are reflecting back to you that your own focus is changing or that this is behavior you yourself exhibit. Honest self-reflection can bring a deeper understanding of your own personal journey.
An awareness of what actions by others triggers negative self-talk is the first step to your turning your assumptions into growth opportunities. Nurturing this growth by taking care of your own needs in the moment, placing the incident in perspective, and engaging in honest self-reflection is a meaningful opportunity to create greater peace and balance in your life.