A girl at work is always attacking me with little comments or behind my back. She lies about things just so I’ll look bad but I don’t understand how her saying those things to other people is just my personal reality?? I don’t think it can be right that every problem is just our thoughts when she’s saying mean stuff to other people.
Thank you so much for your excellent question. I appreciate your honesty. I understand your confusion and I’ll do my best to give you the simplest, clearest answer I can muster.
If I’m understanding right, you feel you are being hurt because this person is running you down in front of co-workers, and that because other people are involved that means there is an external reality everyone shares. Let’s look at them in that order.
Okay, first off, other than physical pain—which is not what we’re talking about—any hurting we do will take place in our consciousness. We will think about a scenario we either believe is happening, believe did happen, or believe might happen, and we tell ourselves the story of that scenario almost like it’s a movie or book or radio play. And just like with a narrative drama, we get a dramatic conclusion. We get a result of our thinking. We feel something. It’s is a chemical dose that we assemble within ourselves and then administer to ourselves, and we experience that dose as our emotional reaction to the story. Unfortunately we also often innocently associate that suffering with the person we are thinking about. So in short, just as you have, you’ll blame your co-worker for what happened inside your head, and there is no mechanism by which they have the power to make your mind do what they want as opposed to what you want. It is definitely your brain.
So any emotion you feel is an assembly of your personal chemistry and that is done by you, for you, and people outside of you cannot cause any damage to you without your full cooperation. Now on to question two, about how the gossip is contaminating your fixed, external reality.
You don’t have to worry about this because there is no such thing as a fixed, external reality. Let me describe it this way: you’re assuming that because she is saying things to undermine you, that you’re actually being undermined. If you think that’s true then you’ll act as though it is even if it’s not. But it can’t be. Because that would mean everyone would be thinking the same thing.
Think about it: where would this undermining take place? It would be in the consciousness of your co-workers. It would be in their opinions about you. But you don’t experience those, they do. So that isn’t your suffering. Those are chemical experiences within those other people. And for all you know your c0-worker is listening to the gossiper, nodding, smiling, and thinking “I’ll bet this crazy bitch starts running me down the second I leave the room.” So in your consciousness you hear the gossip’s story and you witness your co-worker listening and nodding, and in your reality that person believed the lie, when in their reality they may not believe it at all and they could in fact be a supporter of yours.
Everyone has their own perspective. Everyone applies their own values. Everyone has their own personal narrative. Every reality created by that narrative is essentially a separate reality that is only experienced by that thinker.
So imagine the woman insulted you but you never heard about it? Then the event has never happened in your reality. Remember the old Zen Riddle: if a tree falls in the forest and there’s no one there to hear it, did it make a sound? That’s exactly what that’s about. So if you don’t think about her actions she doesn’t even exist in your reality. And each person she speaks with will have their own unique reaction, and that will have far less to do with what she says and far more to do with the personal thought-opinions they already had about you.
People will like you for reasons that are untrue. And people will not like you for reasons that are untrue. They are welcome to their personal thinking just as you command yours. But the chemical reactions they are conjuring are their own internal weather systems and they do not affect you. That’s like saying that because someone’s spouse is jealous that must mean their partner is cheating. Peoples thoughts are not actual things, they are experiences. So conjure them with wisdom.
Let this woman think whatever she wants. Gossips tend to reduce their own respect levels by being gossips so if your enemy is choosing to commit credibility suicide then I would suggest that you not interrupt. But there’s no point in letting her dictate your personal thinking. You can choose to think anything you like so I cannot imagine why you would want to choose to think about one of the most unpleasant subjects in your life. There is nothing to be gained from it, and it hurts.
People will do this your entire life. Learn to not give it any thought. Because no one ever made it better by thinking anyway, so you might as well go for peace. So it’ll take a while to get used to not thinking about irritating things, but they’re only irritating because you keep thinking about them. The irritating quality to them is supposed to act as a thought-deterrent. So choose other thoughts. Pick them because they feel better than thinking about gossip. Pick them because when you feel good you have a lot to offer the world and we could all benefit from your contributions.
All the best,
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.