We’ve all been there. There’s these moments in our past—these things we said or did either in the heat of a moment or out of confusion or a lack of maturity—and we really hurt someone. Or someone hurt us. Maybe they never properly understood due to the heat of the moment, or maybe they were confused or immature, Or maybe they’re reacting to something we never even did. Or maybe someone slandered or libelled us—leading others to believe things that are not true for purposes of their own. We’ve all got things we’re defensive about, be they things we really did or things that people believe we did that we didn’t do.
What happens is that we tend to re-live these moments in our life in vain attempt to rewrite them into something we feel is more honest. We want people to understand the state of mind we were in at the time, or we want them to have a perspective that is ours. So it gets replayed and replayed in our memory, turning those circuits into super-highways. The energy around our brain finds those like water finds low ground. So if someone hits on a part of our brain that we have spent a lot of time defending ourselves in, then it’s no wonder our reaction is quickly and strongly defensive. It’s our go-to reaction when we encounter that event, meaning people witnessing us in that state of mind are likely to come to the conclusion that we have overreacted to the current events.
So how do you get over a profound regret? How do you forgive cruelty and surrender the fight? These things visit you a lot because you think about them a lot. They’ll always be a part of your life experience, but they don’t need to be accessed that regularly. That’s what mental health is—spending time in the healthier parts of your brain rather than trying to retell a past narrative (or worry about a future one). So when you encounter those kind of thoughts you’re best to simply feel how lousy they feel and then respond very naturally to that feeling and set the idea down. It’s like a bicycle made of words. It goes nowhere unless you peddle it.
We’ve all had angry exes lie about us. And the people in school we bested. Anyone who was jealous of us—and if you’ve ever had a stalker they’re unlikely to say nice things about you. Anyone with opposing views will colour and hue any tales of you. And then there’s how our work impacts our human relations. I used to be the head of creative at a TV network. I’d get over 1600 submissions a year and I had enough money to develop about 25 and shoot about 6 of varying sizes. 30 things out of 1600 got money before my budget was gone. So I disappointed a huge number of people and these creative works are understandably like children to them. So their very real feeling is that I crippled a child of theirs and it makes sense they don’t like it.
I’ve been slandered. I’ve heard rejected writers and producers tell complete fabrications that make me look bad, but an older wiser friend who had the same job with another network warned me about this eventuality. This happens in much the same way that anyone who’s ever been a boss knows that it’s unlikely that people we fired or scolded are going to be going around saying nice things about us. Which is why you can’t care. Because you still did what felt wisest at the time and you have requirements other than just nurturing their ego. So when people say that stuff—those people have agendas. Your ego would too if you started defending yourself. So don’t. Surrender to the inevitability and relax. None of that fluff ever affected your real friends anyway.
Sure, when they initially happen those experience can sting. It feels unfair for people to describe us as exactly what we are not. That kind of thing hurts anyone. But the point of this blog is that you can’t let those inevitable events bother you. Even in the worst cases I won’t indulge thoughts about whatever’s happened to me for too long—maybe 90 minutes.
After the most recent attack I can recall happening to me, I called a friend and told him I needed an empathetic connection. He’s a wiser sort who knew to give me a quick connect via empathy and I was ready to move on. Forget about the events—I didn’t like the feeling I was experiencing so I switched to thinking about something more enjoyable. I wasn’t going to harbour discontent. I understand that people do that sort of thing all the time. I’ve done it. We shift responsibility for our guilt. Who wants to own that? So I accept that people are human and that egos all do some giving and we all do some receiving. But those experiences are painful, so I’m not interested in replaying them repeatedly. And nor should you with your versions of similar events.
The same applies to things you actually have done. I’ve written before about the eight people I was willing to hurt to elevate my own status. I wince every time I think of going for a laugh and sacrificing their feelings. I literally get physically sick with shame. I’ve found five of them and apologized. But rather than waste my life feeling terrible, I use the unpleasant feelings to motivate me to notice that if I’m bothered by hurting people then that’s actually a sign I’m a good person. I feel bad about doing something that hurt people. Only good people do that. And so I forgive myself because as I said, we all give and we all receive. And then I endeavour to do better. I don’t ruminate and regurgitate those thoughts. I leave them in my past and use them as platforms to build a bigger, better, more inclusive and loving me.
We cannot live with a desire to have a good reputation. Because that is impossible due to perspective: Gandhi was a freedom fighter to many but he was a terrorist to the British rulers in India. Jesus disrupted the Roman Empire. The Chinese want to de-legitimize the Dalai Lama. Extremely attractive people are often hated by other people. Smart people are derided for making less intelligent people feel insecure just by their presence. Everyone’s being judged unfairly. You have to go by your own character. That’s why it’s so important.
You can’t try to get everyone to like you, you have to find a way to be where you like you. Where you have a set of limits—a set of guiding principles that you apply to yourself as well as all others. And those limits define your character. If you’ve never really thought about those limits then you do not yet have character because character is what you believe in overall, not what you think about an individual circumstance. It’s why I sometimes have to agree with people who are abhorrent to me. Because despite their hateful discourses, my character is that I value quality information. So I cannot dismiss quality information because of the source, despite my person feelings . Because character is above personal feelings.
Forget being defensive. Recognize your mistakes, apologize whenever you’re able, and forgive others their immature and cruel moves, and move on yourself. Move on to a new moment and a blank slate. Start fresh each moment with an aim toward realizing your character and you will have no reason to revisit your worst days for much time at all. Save yourself the daily agony and invest yourself in loving people today instead. It feels great and it’s probably the most productive thing you can do.
Love you all. Have a great one.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.