I think it might be one of the laws of thermodynamics. Something Sir Isaac Newton discovered after being bitten by a mosquito. It is an invisible, but impossible force.
When we itch, we scratch.
Scratching is a response to an intense feeling. And when we first put our fingernails against our skin, there is the tiniest bit of relief. But scratching often makes the problem worse. The bug bite lasts longer. The skin swells more. Sometimes there is blood.
I know in my head that the best way to deal with a bug bite is to ignore. To refuse to scratch. But scratching still happens.
Reacting quickly and impulsively to what we feel is a common route to doing the things we don’t want to do. Whether it is a bug bite or an emotion aroused by the actions or words of another, we spend too much time reacting to our circumstances.
When somebody else says or does something that irritates us, we feel. And then we react to the feeling. We scratch our anger. We scratch our hurt feelings. We scratch our annoyance.
Feelings hurt. Damaging words said. Berry chai lattes thrown, splattering the wall, and requiring a new coat of paint to cover the mess. Relationships damaged. All because we had and itch that we couldn’t help but scratch.
Think about the worst things you have ever done or said. Was it what you wanted to say, or did you react to a feeling? And then, how did you feel once the emotions died down?
The key is learning not to react. To pause and consider. To choose how we respond.
We do this in 3 ways.
1. Accept who you are. If you are a scratcher, accept it. And then forgive yourself. Self-acceptance isn’t about remaining the same. It is about moving on and making changes.
2. Focus on who you want to be. When the itch isn’t there, and you aren’t responding to it, remind yourself of how you want to respond. If you wait to think about your desire response until the itch shows up, there is a good chance you will scratch. Develop a system to remind yourself what you want to do when the itch isn’t there.
3. Become aware. When the feelings of anger and hurt rise up, see them. Feel them. Acknowledge them. And then realize it is an opportunity to make a choice. Scratch or ignore. Scratch or speak words of healing.
Bug bites will happen. Itching is a part of life. But scratching doesn’t have to be.
PS: A common term for this is mindfulness. If you are interested in learning more, check out this book, Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world (affiliate link).