The notion that we rent people space in our heads (meaning allowing them to occupy our thoughts, usually in a negative way), isn’t quite accurate in my experience.
To rent someone space would imply that we get some form of compensation or gain for allowing them to occupy. But what do we gain? Typically nothing.
So do we really rent them space or do we let them stay for free with no damage deposit and throw in heat and cable?
I think the latter. I have someone staying in my head today. A guy who believes I cut him off in traffic today and reacted with hostility. I honestly do not believe I did, but rather, I think he preferred to be in the front of the line of traffic and didn’t like the fact that I was.
He pulled ahead, slammed on his brakes, then dropped back to beside me and yelled threats and profanities at me. I rolled my window down and told him to chill and asked him what he was wound up about. He told me… in no uncertain terms. I apologized saying if I had that it wasn’t intentional, then I ignored him.
The whole exchange was maybe 20 seconds. Yet, it has taken me hours to dial it down in my own head and stop giving him the space I have been.
So what is my task in all of this? What actions support my recovery and align with my beliefs? The actions best suited for these would be to forget the whole thing other than to be aware that perhaps I can come across as a little hostile in traffic if I am not being careful.
But letting stuff like this go does not come naturally or easily. I think of all the things I could have said to diminish his rage. I think of what a fool he sounded like implying he was a gang member or in some manner connected. I think of what a lousy life he must have if this is how he interacts with people. I think of how, although unlikely, I may have been in more danger than I realized.
In the scheme of things in my life, this incident bears basically no importance. So why give it any free space. In fact, not free, I am subsidizing it for him by keeping it alive with thoughts of the what-ifs.
But what kind of a person do I want to continue to grow to be? One who wins every little battle, including these little traffic blips? Or one who can shake this off quickly and instead, use my time for the benefit of me and those who are important to me.
How much of my head space does an enraged stranger deserve? And why should those who rely on me give up the time and energy I normally allocate to them because some hot-head who I will never see again went berserk for 20 seconds?
So what is the recovery lesson here? The lesson is that goofy things can still continue to happen, but I have the opportunity to develop and live in that oh so amazing skill of shaking it off quickly and moving on. It never happened. I am now free.