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How NOT To Allow Nasty, Negative People To
'Rent Space' In Your Heart or Your Head
by Rachel G. Baldino, MSW, LCSW for When I was in my final year of graduate school, working toward my MSW, I interned at a V.A. Hospital in Boston, where I had a wonderful field supervisor named Jerry. He was certainly not the first person to coin the saying, "Don't let them rent space in your head," but he was definitely the first person that I heard using the expression on a regular basis.

He enjoyed saying it to us, his students, and also to several of the veterans that he worked with as a therapist. I even heard him say it to his fellow counselors on a few occasions.

And yet, while he called upon this little motto with great frequency, it somehow never lost its fundamental truth and power each time that he used it, perhaps because he believed in it so strongly.

And I find that it is one of those sayings with so much potential to be applied to so many situations.

Is your boss treating you shabbily?

Don't let him rent space in your head!

Has one of your more judgmental family members been treating you with utter contempt lately?

Once again, don't let her rent space in your head!

It's quite catchy, and it's also pretty easy to remember.

But there's just one little problem: It can actually be extremely difficult to apply in our day-to-day lives.


Well, many of us have been habitually "renting out" the precious space in our minds to totally undeserving, and sometimes quite malicious, people for many years. So long, in fact, that it can actually be very tough to simply "turn off" this type of ultra-self-defeating behavior after all this time and practice.

But when you think about it, you quickly realize that this dangerous kind of emotional arrangement is the furthest thing from a "fair exchange." After all, what do the nasty nay-sayers get out of the deal? Why, they get to have a considerable amount of emotional power and control over us. Specifically, they get the power to dominate our thoughts and our memory banks for weeks, months ... or even years. And what do we get in return? Well, we get a whole lot of angst, heartache and pain.

That's right. Every time that we "rent out our precious mental space" to nasty individuals by continually analyzing and mulling over the cruel things that they have said and/or done to us, we are actually giving them little bits and pieces of our precious emotional strength and personal power ... both of which can be very difficult to get back as time marches on.

A Classic Example of an "Undeserving Tenant"
Who Rents Precious Space in Your Head

renting emotional space

Don't let them rent space in your head!

For example, let's say you had a teacher back in elementary school who had a well-deserved reputation for picking "teacher's pets," and you were not among them. In fact, for some reason that you never did manage to figure out, you were actually one of her least favorite students, and she was not shy about letting you know it.

One day, when you were running a couple minutes late to class, she really let you have it, yelling at you at the top of her lungs just for being a tiny bit tardy, and shaking her long, bony finger right in your face for what felt like an eternity in front of all of your shocked, frightened classmates.

It was a terrible, gut-wrenching, humiliating experience, not to mention a horrible instance of an adult committing an act of emotional and verbal abuse against a child in her care. And it made such a deep, lasting impression on you that you can still recall the bitter wave of nausea that swept through you as she was yelling, and the way your right hand was trembling so hard that you almost dropped your pencil, and how you had to summon every last ounce of your emotional strength not to break down and cry in front of everybody.

It was a relatively traumatic experience-perhaps not in the same way that a physical assault or a terrible car accident would widely be considered traumatic-but in the sense that it left some emotional scars, scars that still have not fully healed to this day.

Maybe it's not something that you think about every single day of your life, but you do think about it fairly often, and when you do think about it, what bothers you the most is the fact that the painful memory of this woman's harsh behavior still has some strange sort of emotional hold on you. All these years have gone by, you've grown up and left your childhood behind, and you've had all sorts of interesting life experiences in the interim ... .

And yet, somehow, this unkind woman from your past still has the capacity to reach out from the deepest recesses of your memory, grab you (metaphorically) by the throat, and bring you to your knees. Indeed, the sense memory of the whole rotten experience is still so powerful that all these years later, you still feel a touch nauseous when you visualize her or recall her name.

This is what it means to rent out the incalculably precious space in your head to some undeserving person (or to the memory of what that person once said or did to you). And perhaps now you can see why the instruction not to rent out your mental space to negative people is often so much easier said than done.

Tips for Kicking Out The "Undeserving Tenants"
In Your Head Once and For All

emotional angry confrontation

You have the emotional strength to kick undeserving tenants out of your head!

However, as hard as it often is to live by the words: Don't let them rent space in our head, it actually can be done. And here's how:

  1. Acknowledge that some cruel, undeserving person is "renting" valuable space in your heart and mind. Perhaps the person is from your past, or perhaps they are bothering you right now, in the present. Either way, you need to admit to yourself that this is going on in your life, and that it has become disruptive to your emotional health and personal growth, and that you want to do something about it.

  2. Brainstorm ways that you can drain this person of the emotional power that they have over you. For example, consider talking to a positive, upbeat person that you love and trust about what this nasty person said or did to you that has been causing you so much emotional turmoil.

    Sometimes the deceptively simple act of saying the words out loud to someone who cares can help deflate the nasty person's power, almost like a needle popping a balloon. In addition, the person who cares about you can listen, confirm, and most important of all, validate your feelings about the experience by letting you know that yes, indeed, you were wronged by this nasty person. But now the time has come to work through that old pain and to try to move forward.

  3. After confiding in your trusted friend or family member, you may also want to consider performing a sort of "goodbye ritual" to the person who has been haunting your memory bank, so that you can continue to work toward letting the painful memory go.

    To return for a moment to the teacher example that I used earlier, since the pencil that you were holding in your trembling little hand at the time is such a vivid, potent part of that awful memory of her reprehensible behavior toward you, you may want to pull a good old Number Two pencil out of your desk drawer, snap it in half, and say something along the lines of: "Mrs. So-and-so, you are no longer allowed to rent out any of the precious space in my head. It's terrible what you did to me, but I'm sick and tired of thinking about it as often as I do. I want you out of my head, and I want you out RIGHT NOW. Consider yourself EVICTED."

  4. Sometimes it helps to re-imagine the mean person in a whole new light. For instance, maybe that teacher who yelled at you had just had her heart trampled by a cruel boyfriend, or maybe she had just had a terrible meeting with one of her school administrators. Maybe her aging mother, who lived with her, had fallen ill the night before.

    Let's face it: this person has been living and thriving and growing in monstrosity in your imagination as a sort of "Wicked Witch of the West" for years and years now. So what could it hurt, then, to imagine her more fully, and perhaps even with just a hint of compassion and forgiveness?

    "That's not fair," you could always argue. "After all, she certainly didn't treat me with any kindness or compassion when she embarrassed me in front of all those other kids on that terrible day." But in order to get yourself "unstuck" from that terrible memory loop ... in order to smash that awful, tortuous mental tape that keeps playing over and over again in your mind ... you need to change the tape.

    And one way to "change the tape" is to add more layers to the story in your memory bank by "humanizing the villain." Specifically, if you make the deliberate choice to change the mental picture that you have had all these years from an evil, grimacing "monster-teacher" towering over your cowering third-grade self into a new (and quite possibly more realistic image) of a then-relatively-young woman, who maybe just broke her heel, stepped in a mud puddle, and got screamed at by her boss before she unfairly and inappropriately took out her frustration on you, this can actually be quite a potent way of draining any remaining power that the memory of her may still have over you. In fact, this kind of "image-altering" exercise may be just the way to finally kick her out of your head for good!

Recommended Reading

How To Most Effectively Pick Your Battles

The Top Six Stressor Areas In Life

Why High School Memories Often Loom So Large In Our Minds


National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists

New Horizons Professional Coaching

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