How to break the cycle when you can't seem to stop reflecting on negative events.
I am sure you have heard it said before, “Feel your feelings. Don’t repress them.”
When a person invests time and resources into personal development, it's with the hope of becoming healthier in every way. Yet, it is easy to get stuck in old patterns of repression and denial. In this therapeutic purgatory, a person processes and cycles emotions that are better off left behind.
Repeatedly discussing or ruminating on negative events, using negative language, and/or replaying even a mildly negative event in your head only strengthens the connection in your brain between the experience you are focused on and the negative emotions it evokes in you. The strengthening of this connection is really the strengthening of neural pathways that support negative habits, locking in your belief that “this is just the way things are.”
Whether you engage in this negative cycle over coffee with your best friend or while sitting in a therapist’s office, the results are the same — your ability to change your situation becomes literally limited.
Of course, there are benefits to talking about your experiences.
When going to therapy or telling a trusted friend about painful experiences, a person can gain some valuable things:
- Insight into our experience.
- Recognition of patterns in that behavior.
- Increased trust in others.
- Experience with bonding and connection.
- The release of pent-up or denied emotions.
Reliving and rehashing negative events becomes unproductive when you pass the point at which you are able to articulate how you came to be in your current state, as well as to identify, feel, and connect with your past and present emotions. When this point is reached, you risk in doing increasingly more harm than good, as you've moved past feeling the emotions and into replaying them.
A person can get stuck in this place, perpetuating the problem rather than solving it. Without knowing what healthy emotions look like, it's hard to know how to work with them.
Here is a brief look at the fundamental nature of emotions.
What Healthy Emotions Look Like
Healthy emotions are emotions that match the experience. For example, a person gets angry if someone violates a boundary and lets the offender know. Or, a person gets sad after a disappointment and cries. After the emotion passes, and unless the situation is extreme and the person is unable to deal with the intensity of the emotion, the individual is done with the emotion completely.
What Emotions Should Not Look Like
Emotions should not become an event that is played over and over again in the mind each time the negative emotions are re-experienced. Healthy emotions do not last for days and weeks without reprieve. Alternatively, it is also unhealthy to repress emotions and pretend that everything is fine.
What our Emotions Mean
Feeling feelings means being aware of how situations and experiences impact you so that you can use this information to make the best possible choices for yourself in the future. Emotions are part of your guidance system.
What our Emotions Do Not Mean
Emotions are not meant to become a story about how life will be for all time or in situations like what was experienced. They are not predictive of the future, of who you are, or of what you are meant to have.
And here are 3 ways you can truly heal from the past to create the life that you want to live in the future.
1. Clear your emotional baggage.
Just as repeating negative experiences in your mind helps lock them into place, you can do things to help oust them. The goal is to disconnect the negative emotions that are stored with painful events so that as you remember the event without having to experience the negative emotion. When simply talking through your experiences does not seem to shift them, techniques such as EMDR, EFT "tapping", and MER help you do just this.
2. Create your new way of being.
When you let go of repressed emotion and the stories that you have around it, you need to have a vision for what you are trying to create for yourself in its stead. If you do not create a new vision of how you want to be, then you have no choice but to do things that maintain what always has been.
3. Reinforce that new way of being.
It isn't enough to simply come up with a vision of how you want to be. You need to take actual steps in the direction of your vision to reinforce the results that you are getting. Daily deliberate action and acknowledgment of your progress are critical to seeing the kind of transformation you want to see.
True transformation must involve these critical steps.
You need to learn about emotional intelligence so that you can be more skillful in your day-to-day life.
You need to release emotional baggage so that you are free to encounter life in the present.
You need to create a vision of who you want to be, and then take action to be that person each and every day.
Dr. Kate Siner is a teacher, mentor, and author who helps clients create lives of meaning, fulfillment, and purpose. She helps gifted, dedicated, and caring people to live fiercely, love fully and care more. LifeWork Community Personal Transformation Training is starting soon. Click here to find out more and to apply!