Why Does Mrs Smith Get On My Nerves?

IF you want to know the true answer to this question it is "because

you are unwilling that Mrs. Smith should be herself." You want her

to be just like you, or, if not just like you, you want her to be

just as you would best like her.

I have seen a woman so annoyed that she could not eat her supper

because another woman ate sugar on baked beans. When this woman told

me later what it was that had taken away her appetite she added:

"And isn't it absurd? Why shouldn't Mrs. Smith eat sugar on baked

beans? It does not hurt me. I do not have to taste the sugar on the

beans; but is it such an odd thing to do. It seems to me such bad

manners that I just get so mad I can't eat!"

Now, could there be anything more absurd than that? To see a woman

annoyed; to see her recognize that she was uselessly and foolishly

annoyed, and yet to see that she makes not the slightest effort to

get over her annoyance.

It is like the woman who discovered that she spoke aloud in church,

and was so surprised that she exclaimed: "Why, I spoke out loud in

church!" and then, again surprised, she cried: "Why, I keep speaking

aloud in church!"--and it did not occur to her to stop.

My friend would have refused an invitation to supper, I truly

believe, if she had known that Mrs. Smith would be there and her

hostess would have baked beans. She was really a slave to Mrs.

Smith's way of eating baked beans.

"Well, I do not blame her," I hear some reader say; "it is entirely

out of place to eat sugar on baked beans. Why shouldn't she be


I answer: "Why should she be annoyed? Will her annoyance stop Mrs.

Smith's eating sugar on baked beans? Will she in any way--selfish or

otherwise--be the gainer for her annoyance? Furthermore, if it were

the custom to eat sugar on baked beans, as it is the custom to put

sugar in coffee, this woman would not have been annoyed at all. It

was simply the fact of seeing Mrs. Smith digress from the ordinary

course of life that annoyed her."

It is the same thing that makes a horse shy. The horse does not say

to himself, "There is a large carriage, moving with no horse to pull

it, with nothing to push it, with--so far as I can see--no motive

power at all. How weird that is! How frightful!"--and, with a

quickly beating heart, jump aside and caper in scared excitement. A

horse when he first sees an automobile gets an impression on his

brain which is entirely out of his ordinary course of

impressions--it is as if some one suddenly and unexpectedly struck

him, and he shies and jumps. The horse is annoyed, but he does not

know what it is that annoys him. Now, when a horse shies you drive

him away from the automobile and quiet him down, and then, if you

are a good trainer, you drive him back again right in front of that

car or some other one, and you repeat the process until the

automobile becomes an ordinary impression to him, and he is no

longer afraid of it.

There is, however, just this difference between a woman and a horse:

the woman has her own free will behind her annoyance, and a horse

has not. If my friend had asked Mrs. Smith to supper twice a week,

and had served baked beans each time and herself passed her the

sugar with careful courtesy, and if she had done it all deliberately

for the sake of getting over her annoyance, she would probably have

only increased it until the strain would have got on her nerves much

more seriously than Mrs. Smith ever had. Not only that, but she

would have found herself resisting other people's peculiarities more

than ever before; I have seen people in nervous prostration from

causes no more serious than that, on the surface. It is the habit of

resistance and resentment back of the surface annoyance which is the

serious cause of many a woman's attack of nerves.

Every woman is a slave to every other woman who annoys her. She is

tied to each separate woman who has got on her nerves by a wire

which is pulling, pulling the nervous force right out of her. And it

is not the other woman's fault--it is her own. The wire is pulling,

whether or not we are seeing or thinking of the other woman, for,

having once been annoyed by her, the contraction is right there in

our brains. It is just so much deposited strain in our nervous

systems which will stay there until we, of our own free wills, have

yielded out of it.

The horse was not resenting nor resisting the automobile; therefore

the strain of his fright was at once removed when the automobile

became an ordinary impression. A woman, when she gets a new

impression that she does not like, resents and resists it with her

will, and she has got to get in behind that resistance and drop it

with her will before she is a free woman.

To be sure, there are many disagreeable things that annoy for a

time, and then, as the expression goes, we get hardened to them. But

few of us know that this hardening is just so much packed resistance

which is going to show itself later in some unpleasant form and make

us ill in mind or body. We have got to yield, yield, yield out of

every bit of resistance and resentment to other people if we want to

be free. No reasoning about it is going to do us any good. No

passing back and forth in front of it is going to free us. We must

yield first and then we can see clearly and reason justly. We must

yield first and then we can go back and forth in front of it, and it

will only be a reminder to yield every time until the habit of

yielding has become habitual and the strength of nerve and strength

of character developed by means of the yielding have been


Let me explain more fully what I mean by "yielding." Every

annoyance, resistance, or feeling of resentment contracts us in some

way physically; if we turn our attention toward dropping that

physical contraction, with a real desire to get rid of the

resistance behind it, we shall find that dropping the physical

strain opens the way to drop the mental and moral strain, and when

we have really dropped the strain we invariably find reason and

justice and even generosity toward others waiting to come to us.

There is one important thing to be looked out for in this normal

process of freeing ourselves from other people. A young girl said

once to her teacher: "I got mad the other day and I relaxed, and the

more I relaxed the madder I got!"

"Did you want to get over the anger?" asked the teacher.

"No, I didn't," was the prompt and ready answer.

Of course, as this child relaxed out of the tension of her anger,

there was only more anger to take its place, and the more she

relaxed the more free her nerves were to take the impression of the

anger hoarded up in her; consequently it was as she said: the more

she relaxed the "madder" she got. Later, this same little girl came

to understand fully that she must have a real desire to get over her

anger in order to have better feelings come up after she had dropped

the contraction of the anger.

I know of a woman who has been holding such steady hatred for

certain other people that the strain of it has kept her ill. And it

is all a matter of feeling: first, that these people have interfered

with her welfare; second, that they differ from her in opinion.

Every once in a while her hatred finds a vent and spends itself in

tears and bitter words. Then, after the external relief of letting

out her pent-up feeling, she closes up again and one would think

from her voice and manner--if one did not look very deep in--that

she had only kindliness for every one. But she stays nervously ill

right along.

How could she do otherwise with that strain in her? If she were

constitutionally a strong woman this strain of hatred would have

worn on her, though possibly not have made her really ill; but,

being naturally sensitive and delicate, the strain has kept her an

invalid altogether.

"Mother, I can't stand Maria," one daughter says to her mother, and

when inquiry is made the mother finds that what her daughter "cannot

stand" is ways that differ from her own. Sometimes, however, they

are very disagreeable ways which are exactly like the ways of the

person who cannot stand them. If one person is imperious and

demanding she will get especially annoyed at another person for

being imperious and demanding, without a suspicion that she is

objecting vehemently to a reflection of herself.

There are two ways in which people get on our nerves. The first way

lies in their difference from us in habit--in little things and in

big things; their habits are not our habits. Their habits may be all

right, and our habits may be all right, but they are "different."

Why should we not be willing to have them different? Is there any

reason for it except the very empty one that we consciously and

unconsciously want every one else to be just like us, or to believe

just as we do, or to behave just as we do? And what sense is there

in that?

"I cannot stand Mrs. So-and-so; she gets into a rocking-chair and

rocks and rocks until I feel as if I should go crazy!" some one

says. But why not let Mrs. So-and-so rock? It is her chair while she

is in it, and her rocking. Why need it touch us at all?

"But," I hear a hundred women say, "it gets on our nerves; how can

we help its getting on our nerves?" The answer to that is: "Drop it

off your nerves." I know many women who have tried it and who have

succeeded, and who are now profiting by the relief. Sometimes the

process to such freedom is a long one; sometimes it is a short one;

but, either way, the very effort toward it brings nervous strength,

as well as strength of character.

Take the woman who rocks. Practically every time she rocks you

should relax, actually and consciously relax your muscles and your

nerves. The woman who rocks need not know you are relaxing; it all

can be done from inside. Watch and you will find your muscles

strained and tense with resistance to the rocking. Go to work

practically to drop every bit of strain that you observe. As you

drop the grossest strain it will make you more sensitive to the

finer strain and you can drop that--and it is even possiple that you

may seek the woman who rocks, in order to practice on her and get

free from the habit of resisting more quickly.

This seems comical--almost ridiculous--to think of seeking an

annoyance in order to get rid of it; but, after laughing at it

first, look at the idea seriously, and you will see it is common

sense. When you have learned to relax to the woman who rocks you

have learned to relax to other similar annoyances. You have been

working on a principle that applies generally. You have acquired a

good habit which can never really fail you.

If my friend had invited Mrs. Smith to supper and served baked beans

for the sake of relaxing out of the tension of her resistance to the

sugar, then she could have conquered that resistance. But to try to

conquer an annoyance like that without knowing how to yield in some

way would be, so far as I know, an impossibility. Of course, we

would prefer that our friends should not have any disagreeable,

ill-bred, personal ways, but we can go through the world without

resisting them, and there is no chance of helping any one out of

them through our own resistances.

On the other hand a way may open by which the woman's attention is

called to the very unhealthy habit of rocking--or eating sugar on

beans--if we are ready, without resistance, to point it out to her.

And if no way opens we have at least put ourselves out of bondage to

her. The second way in which other people get on our nerves is more

serious and more difficult. Mrs. So-and-so may be doing very

wrong--really very wrong; or some one who is nearly related to us

may be doing very wrong--and it may be our most earnest and sincere

desire to set him right. In such cases the strain is more intense

because we really have right on our side, in our opinion, if not in

our attitude toward the other person. Then, to recognize that if

some one else chooses to do wrong it is none of our business is one

of the most difficult things to do--for a woman, especially.

It is more difficult to recognize practically that, in so far as it

may be our business, we can best put ourselves in a position to

enable the other person to see his own mistake by dropping all

personal resistance to it and all personal strain about it. Even a

mother with her son can help him to be a man much more truly if she

stops worrying about and resisting his unmanliness.

"But," I hear some one say, "that all seems like such cold

indifference." Not at all--not at all. Such freedom from strain can

be found only through a more actively affectionate interest in

others. The more we truly love another, the more thoroughly we

respect that other's individuality.

The other so-called love is only love of possession and love of

having our own way. It is not really love at all; it is sugar-coated

tyranny. And when one sugar-coated tyrant' antagonizes herself

against another sugar-coated tyrant the strain is severe indeed, and

nothing good is ever accomplished.

The Roman infantry fought with a fixed amount of space about each

soldier, and found that the greater freedom of individual activity

enabled them to fight better and to conquer their foes. This

symbolizes happily the process of getting people off our nerves. Let

us give each one a wide margin and thus preserve a good margin for


We rub up against other people's nerves by getting too near to

them--not too near to their real selves, but too near, so to speak,

to their nervous systems. There have been quarrels between good

people just because one phase of nervous irritability roused

another. Let things in other people go until you have entirely

dropped your strain about them--then it will be clear enough what to

do and what to say, or what not to do and what not to say. People in

the world cannot get on our nerves unless we allow them to do so.

Where There Is A Will There Is A Way! Why Fuss So Much About What I Eat? facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail