Reality Check: There will always be an Irma

Are there people in your life who bug you? Treat you badly? Is this the story of your life?

Sweet little Mary was picked on throughout her first year of school. Her nemesis was Irma, a big girl in a big grade. Irma taunted and poked fun at Mary for no reason. Such an unpleasant girl was Irma.

Finally, the school year was over and Irma moved. Mary was ecstatic, looking forward to a peaceful year.

But another big kid decided to pick on Mary. Mary started feeling like she had a target on her back.

Throughout Mary’s childhood, there was always someone who had it in for her. Mary would go over and over each unpleasant incident in her mind. “Why me?”

In spite of her challenges, Mary studied hard, did well, and went to university. In a new town and a different environment, what did she find? A person in her class has chosen Mary as the target of her scorn. What is going on?

Mary decided to hash this all out with her mom. Starting with Irma, Mary detailed the whole unhappy history: every slight, each insult, when she’d been ignored, laughed at, or the target of anything that could possibly be perceived as offensive.

It wasn’t hard for Mary to remember these incidents. She’s recited them to herself all her life. She keeps each incident fresh in her memory, tied to all the others through their common thread of injustice.

When she finally completed her litany, she asked mom, “Why is this always happening to me?”

With the wisdom that sometimes comes with life experience, mom offered this six-word life lesson: “There will always be an Irma.”

Now what does that mean? Here’s one interpretation.

No matter where we go, we will find people who are difficult to deal with. If we are fortunate, we will also find people who are wonderful: kind, compassionate, helpful, and caring. But we can pretty much count on having to deal with at least some who are unpleasant or worse.

The other constant is that we carry ourselves with us. As I heard from a Cape Bretoner: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Wherever we go, we carry our perceptions, our filters and our skills.

Even if we were all confronted by the same Irma, we react differently. Mary perceives any Irma-like situation as confirmation that she is a target. Someone else could perceive the identical situation as an indication that Irma is fundamentally unhappy. Another may choose to simply laugh off Irma’s attempts to control.

If you’re Mary, what can you do?

We can’t control Irma, but we can control what we bring to a situation—our own behaviour. It may not sound like much, but it’s a lot of control.

Much about “getting along” has to do with skills—assertiveness skills, relationship skills, and so on. The good news is that we can learn skills to help us deal effectively with the “Irmas” in our lives.

Learning skills can help us have good, satisfying relationships rather than unpleasant, unsatisfying ones.

How would we learn those skills? Reading “Take Charge of Your Life” by Dr. Glasser is one way to start. There are many other resources, such as “Make Today Count” by John Maxwell, or “Mastering Happiness” by Joel Wade. No need to buy; ask at your library. Then decide for yourself whether the message is helpful.

Thank you to Svante Olson for permission to share “There will always be an Irma” with you. My story has wandered from his version, but as “Irma” takes many forms, I hope it still offers a helpful message.

Do you have an Irma in your life?

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