So often I talk with people about situations that have past in which the outcomes were not desirable. I watch as people beat themselves up over the things they cannot change. I’ve seen them ruminate over the small details for weeks, days or months at a time. I have noticed the energy which is invested in the storytelling process which just gets them worked up all over again. It can be something such as an argument or criticism that didn’t seem fair, an embarrassing mistake or behavior of another individual. Whatever it is, it’s renting enough space in the mind to prevent them from moving on. Think of all the things we miss in the present when we’re stuck on the past.
Letting go is not an easy task but a necessary one. I believe we need to go through three stages in order to truly move on. Here they are:
First, we almost always start in the venting stage. This is unproductive repeating of the story or injustice which has occurred. This is the initial WTF! stage (excuse my abbreviated language). This may have a lot of “can you believe she..” or “he said… then I said… then he said back…” kind of conversation. One has to be very careful in this stage because venting can just work us up and make us relive the event over and over. Also, people normally vent to whoever they know will agree and be on their side. You know which friend to go to if you want pity… You know what friend to go to if you want to get angrier… and you know which friend is going to challenge this thinking and not let you feel bad for yourself. We always avoid that last person in this phase and that’s not always the best for us.
Next, we move on to a more productive phase, the processing phase. Processing is very different than venting. This stage is no longer about the specific details or the story; it’s more about the feeling and thought patterns associated with it. This is where people begin to understand why they responded the way they did, what the intentions of the situation were and what was really going on for them. Some people get so caught up in the story they struggle to get to this stage without the help of a therapist or a friend who challenges them to get in touch with a deeper level, this is so important because the only way to heal from feelings is to actually feel them.
Once we can identify and feel, then we can move in to the reflecting phase. Every experience has something to teach us. When we can learn from a situation and make changes accordingly. Regardless of how crappy of a situation it was, we can grow from it. Look at everything as an opportunity, take what you can from it and then free up all the space and energy and use it for something more positive.
Think of how much time you spending ruminating over something you can’t change. Know that it is possible to let go. Continue to be kind to yourself.
Erin Corey, MA, MHC, CASAC