It can happen imperceptibly if we’re preoccupied, or we know the exact moment it occurs. We feel the sting — a splinter of wood, a shard of glass, a tiny speck of something unidentifiable lodges beneath the skin.
A few evenings ago, I came in from a short walk, kicked off my shoes, peeled off my socks, and plopped for a minute in a comfy chair. Then I put my shoes by the door, passed through the kitchen to the laundry, and tossed my socks in the washer.
Padding back across the living room, barefoot as usual, I felt the jab immediately. Holy Hell, it was sharp! Probably a pebble from the tread in my sneakers, I told myself, as I grabbed my foot to look, then hobbled across the room to sit by a light.
I saw a small “something” sticking out, and pulled it. Out it came, entirely, or so I thought. But the next morning I knew there was a fragment still embedded in my skin.
Poking, Soaking, Squeezing, Tweezing
I did my best to find what I deemed to be a tiny remaining splinter of glass, yet while I could feel it and I could see it, all the poking, digging, squeezing and tweezing were accomplishing nothing — except provoking exasperation.
So I limped through the day, my foot curled awkwardly to take pressure off the offending spot. I tried again, adding soaking and hot compresses to the mix. In fact, I tried every few hours, and facing failure, I repeated my refrain: It will work itself out.
At bed time, still aggravated, I swabbed the area with alcohol, slapped on a Band-Aid and went to sleep.
How often do we do this? How often do we succumb to the easy out for any number of reasons?
I do it all the time. I apply my salve of soothing self-talk: It will all be fine; it will work out; it’s no big deal. More examples? There’s nothing I can do. There’s nothing I can do now.
Can’t manage to solve the problem? Here’s a Band-Aid. End of discussion.
Thick Skinned? Thin Skinned?
Things get under our skin. That’s real life. So we make choices — what to address and what to ignore. We sweep our minor irritations under the rug, hoping they won’t cause any serious problems. And this may be precisely the right choice!
Or, we defer conflict and complications temporarily, until we have more time, or possibly a better one. This is what we do in our jobs, with our kids, with our parents. This is what we do in most relationships. All those little moments that get under our skin, that we ought to talk about… under that carpet. Because talking is hard. Listening is even harder.
The notion of issues that fester in relationships is a common one, though we manage to live in denial time and time again. Why?
This counseling resource explains:
… putting in the effort pays off over time but might feel uncomfortable in the short term. Whereas if we avoid the issue and distract ourselves by doing something enjoyable such as watching a movie or going out to dinner, we can feel good right now!
Picking Our Battles
A bit of glass or wood? Sure, we should extract it if we can, as quickly as we can, and get on with what we were doing. But relationships are tricky. Experience teaches that we should pick our battles. And nothing’s perfect, right?
We make judgment calls. There are times we should go for short-term pain to achieve long-term gain, and that gain is health; the health of a relationship.
Still, we can’t reasonably stop at every raw remark or irritating incident. Even the most blistering words spoken in anger may require that we keep mum and consider the context.
Besides, sometimes small things really are small — an irrelevant blip — and are best allowed to fade and disappear. Many splinters really do work their way out. Maybe the challenge is to assess how deep the wound that’s been inflicted, how often it occurs, how much is accumulating, and which is likely to produce the superior outcome — letting it go or dealing with it.
Two Heads Are Better Than One
Although there are times we know exactly what is causing hurt — we can see it, we can feel it — it’s frustrating when we can’t seem to resolve it. We can continue to try, or slap that Band-Aid on the sore spot and hope it will be fine.
My splinter? I managed to get part of the shard of whatever it is out of my foot. I’m still bothered by what remains — some devillish upstart of a foreign object — and I will continue to poke at it and dig at it until I decide to let it go, or take myself somewhere — a friend’s house, a doc-in-the-box — to enlist help.
That’s another lesson, isn’t it? We can’t always solve our challenges alone, even the silly ones. Some problems require more hands, more eyes, more ears, more tools. We need an assist — clearer vision, a brighter light, specific skills — even for a seemingly simple problem and its fix.
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