I have been very concerned for a younger friend over the last few weeks as they have been pushed into a change that has had them obviously devastated and emotionally distraught. The cause was an action unintentionally taken that highlighted someone else’s lack of accountability and this friend has blamed themselves and has been beating themselves up for it since.
So what is that has us become so caught in our own emotions that we continue to punish and blame ourselves long after the event and its outcome has passed? We know the brain is negatively biased i.e. it will go more easily to the worst case than to the best case. We also know that once we are in that place the brain will continue to respond to events – either real or imagined – as though it was under threat and release a range of powerful neuro-chemicals to keep us in a hyper-aware state until that threat has passed.
What appears to happen is that the shock of the event can anchor us to the very powerful emotions released and these become etched in both memory and our body. When a similar event happens, either observed, real or imagined, we link straight back to the surge of emotion felt in the first instance with all the power of the threat response we had originally, and then we start to loop into those emotions and responses.
It’s like being trapped in a maze of our own making, captured in state by our negative thinking.
In this state which we call a cognitive emotional loop, we predict the worst-case outcome, chastise ourselves for our lack of (insert the characteristic or skill) and punish ourselves with self-loathing and anger. We diminish ourselves.
Nearly all of us have done this and possibly many still do. Given that we usually continue to berate and punish ourselves for days, months and for some, years afterwards you have to wonder how this serves us and to what purpose does this approach lend itself?
The answer simply is that it doesn’t.
Certainly, we need to be aware and learn from mistakes or keep ourselves out of danger. It’s naive to think otherwise, however ongoing it can create such dis-ease that we make ourselves ill either physical or most certainly psychologically in other words create disease within ourselves.
How do we get out of it or move beyond it?
One of the most important things that I have learnt is to focus on what I can control and that quite literally is me. My thinking is my own responsibility and my own choice. While events happen that I have no control over I can control how I choose to respond. It’s simple – you either hold onto it or you let it go.
A situation is simply a situation. It is what it is. The emotion you give to it is your choice. Everything around that is the story you tell yourself.
Life is a practice where we get to apply learning to experience. We gain resilience by realising that these events are just moments in time.
My suggestion is to think back over the last year or so and remember those events that seemed so challenging at the time and see how much time they take of yours now. Likely not much as life has moved on and other things take their place. If that’s the case, then why waste emotion on something that will not be important in a few weeks or months. Just deal with it as it is not as you think it is.
Seem too simple? Einstein apparently said “Make things as simple as possible and no simpler”. Try it, it’s good to practice.