The neighbor’s not the problem

Joey Garcia

My neighbor screams constantly at her kids. They usually yell back or cry, but I haven’t heard anything that sounds like hitting, so calling Child Protective Services doesn’t seem right. Unfortunately, listening to her reminds me of my childhood and gets me too emotional to be rational. I am in my mid-40s and have struggled with social anxiety my entire life. Meditation helps, but my space for sitting is on their side of my house. My neighbor is a nonstop talker, which I find exhausting. Her husband is avoidant. The boys seem anxious, and one is aggressive. I have joked with the mom, saying raising the three boys must be like trying to fight a small army 24-seven. She said they always want to be around her, which is either a lie or a fantasy. I think about calling or ringing their doorbell to interrupt the anger pattern. But what do I say? Part of me wants to threaten, another part wants to offer parenting techniques and another part wants to move away.

Your neighbor doesn’t need threats or parenting advice. But isn’t it interesting that your brain tries to seduce you into believing otherwise?

The longing to advise her and the desire to intimidate her are your ego’s clumsy attempts to equalize the relationship between you. Each time you hear your neighbor unleash her temper, a part of you time-travels back to your childhood. You feel small, the victim of an adult’s whims. Your brain counterbalances that imagined humiliation with fantasies of bullying her into submission or educating her with your parenting tips. Those fantasies propel you into feeling bigger, smarter and more important than her.

That’s right—you respond to feeling powerless by cutting her down to a size you can manage. Then, when she rants at her kids again, you obsess about gaining control over her. Hmm, is it obvious yet that she isn’t the problem? The real crisis here is caused by how you are handling this challenge.

Meditation is motionless, silent, introspection. The practice of being fully present internally builds awareness so that we are more skilled in being conscious during the other hours of our lives.

But if you ricochet backward into your history every time your neighbor yells, consider her voice to be your temple bell. It’s an invitation to meditate more often or, better still, to set your meditation practice aside and engage in serious psychotherapy. Find a therapist who can help you learn how to be direct and open in communication. It’s a better option than casting a joke and hoping your neighbor bites hard enough to understand what you’re really saying.

With therapeutic support, you can learn how to have a straightforward talk with your neighbor. Let her know that you hear every conversation that she has with her children. Be clear that you would prefer to respect their privacy by not hearing the details of their life. Explain that hearing their arguments inspires your worry about their safety. Explain that, in your experience, she has no “inside” voice. Most importantly, be willing to repeat this conversation, or at least parts of it, several times. Most people are asleep to the ways that their noise pollution impacts the social soundscape.

Don’t be dismayed if your neighbor dismisses your concerns, disses you on Facebook, complains about you loudly to her husband or avoids further conversation. Gently repeat the same concerns until she is able to hear you. It would also be kinder not to pathologize your neighbor or her family. It distracts you from admitting your own patterns of anger, aggression and avoidance while keeping you from dealing with the nonstop talking that is going on in your head. (That must be exhausting!)

Meditation of the week
“I have learned silence from the talkative, tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind; yet, strangely, I am ungrateful to these teachers,” wrote the Lebanese-born American philosopher Kahlil Gibran. How can you expand your gratitude practice?

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