When Someone Gets Under Your Skin

September 24, 2012


No wonder he looks unhappy.

Sleepless nights, tossing and turning: you just can’t get that man (or woman) out of your head. It could be a persistent bully, or it could be an irritating colleague. Either way he or she gets under your skin like an itchy bug, burrowing deeper and deeper into your consciousness. The more you think about him, the more entrenched he becomes. One memory links to another, one incident finds a connection to a previous ones. Soon a pattern emerges about your experiences with this person. Your imagination expertly weaves a narrative, constructing an invincible giant of a monster out of him. Whether that person entered your system by invitation (as a friend who turned enemy), or barged in uninvited, it never ends well.

I once had an underling at work who was irritation in human form. He was lazy, stupid, insolent and enjoyed undermining my work–imagine a stubborn toddler and age him by fifty years. At first I thought I must be imagining it, making a monster out of a molehill. It turned out HR had a six-inch thick file on him. Many of his previous supervisors had determined to terminate his employment. Yet he prevailed. I worked for the military you see, and his previous supervisors had all been officers who were deployed after a couple of years. They were lucky. It got to the point where the very sight of him tensed me up. His voice was as grating as nails on chalkboard. The mention of his name was enough to raise my blood pressure, accelerate my heart rate. At that point I could not leave him behind at the office. He followed me home, was never far behind in my leisure and he even took up residence in my dreams. It was because of him, I believe, I had my heart attack. The military finally succeeded in getting rid of him after that, but it was too late for me.

Looking back on this unhappy time I realize now that what irks me the most was my inability then to control my emotions. I wish I’d had a mental concierge, like the one at my condo building— 24/7 security who screens all potential visitors. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have such a guard at the gate of my consciousness, questioning each visitor whether he or she has any rights of entry. Because once an interloper gains accesses to your inner sanctum, he wrecks havoc with your peace of mind. With it out goes your intelligence, your wisdom, your clarity and your objectivity.

This happens routinely in romantic relationships also. During the dating phase everyone is on his best behavior. All is sweetness and light. You spend sleepless nights weaving intricate portraits of the beloved in your mind. You soon get attached. Then he or she dissapoints you. In love or in hate, either way, you’re screwed, buddy.

Sometimes it isn’t even anyone you know personally. What about that annoying celebrity who refuses to go away? (I’d give an example of one but there are so many to chose from). Politicians like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter make a career out of getting under people’s skin. A friend even complained to me about a television drama he had seen. The situation portrayed was so horrific to him, it kept him up for two consecutive nights. With the pervasiveness of social media our mind is no longer a private sanctuary, it is a public dumping ground where anyone from casual strangers to fictional personalities are free to dump their garbage.  So what can we do to install that doorman at the entrance of the mind?

By giving attention –by attention what I mean is a detached, non-judgmental examination, bringing all of your energies, every last ounce of it, into observing the machinations of the emotions. Think of it as watching a cinema. Careful though. Don’t watch it as the film’s director, shaping the contents. Nor as a censor, suppressing parts you find offensive. And please don’t be a film critic, running commentary on what you observe. Rather, watch like a dedicated movie fan, seated comfortably on a velvet chair, pop-corn in hand, enjoying in the darkness of the mind this melodrama unfold. You know it is make-believe, nothing to get too worked up about, but you are interested, you care what is going on.

It is a skill, and like any other skill, it takes time to master, but is worth the effort. Haven’t we all put in time and effort into the things that are worthwhile? Education, careers, family? This skill is the start of intelligent living. Out of the seven billion on this planet, you will become one of the rare few living a mature, rational way of life.

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One Response to “When Someone Gets Under Your Skin”

  1. reems86 said

    I liked the analogy you used to help control emotions – “watching it like a cinema” so that it’s viewed in a nonjudgemental way. Definitely a skill we can all learn & work on…

    In the past year, i’ve noticed that what helps me control emotions is mentally having a ‘time cap’ on those issues. For example If I am annoyed at some person/issue/problem, I will give myself X time (ie 20 min) to vent or write it down in a journal which helps me arrive to a solution..

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