The world can be a horrible place at times. People can, and do, say harsh, hurtful things that end up causing us emotional pain. What can we do about this? I see two obvious answers. One, we can attempt to change the world and the people around us, to prevent them from causing us any more emotional trauma. At times this can be the right thing to do. Working to prevent injustice in the world and attempting to make the world a better place are both noble, justified pursuits. However, I think that in many of our lives in the ‘developed’ world, so much of the emotional pain we experience is a direct cause of insensitive, ill-conceived words spoken by people we encounter. Unfortunately, it is these circumstances that I think you’ll have a great deal of trouble trying to change or avoid.
The other option available to us all is to take charge of the major part we play in our emotional lives. A person may say something to us with selfish intent, but it is ultimately us who make the choice to react how we do.
Often this choice is made so quickly and out of such habit that the choice is almost invisible. But it’s there, occupying the brief moment between the hurtful comment uttered and our reaction to it. We ultimately allow the comment to affect us, and hurt us.
Any comment made with hurtful intent is never a reflection of you, but is always a reflection of the person that uttered it. But, all too often the comment is not even made with malicious intent. Yes, it’s usually insensitive and ill considered, but it usually comes from a selfish place, with your feelings never properly considered.
So we then take the criticism or judgment on board and even integrate it into our self-image. Many times we go even further, thinking about the comment over and over, adding increased emotion, and even embellishing the words uttered, to make them have an even greater negative impact on our psyche. From a purely physiological view, this intense attention fuels these feelings and fuels these memories. It causes growth in neural pathways and synaptic connections in our brains and ensures that we will be constantly reminded of the experience and the feelings. In doing this we have now magnified the hurtful feelings and emotions well beyond what we originally experienced.
So what’s the solution? Something that can be easily applied to all manner of personal mental malaise: attention and mindfulness. Bringing attention and mindfulness to such a scenario will help increase the brief period of choice we have over the emotional path we will go down. Simply taking a slow, deep breath in such a situation can be all that is needed to prevent you sliding down the slippery slope to emotional turmoil. The same can be said of any past scenario that you may have fed in your mind over days, months, or even years. Those same neural pathways that you have built by giving so much energy and attention to your mental monster can dissolve just as easily by consistently shifting your attention elsewhere.
I am not suggesting that any of this is easy. A lifetime of habitual mental responses to situations that elicit such traumatic emotional experiences will not dissolve overnight. But by consistently bringing attention and mindfulness to work for your benefit on past memories and in future situations is something that I can guarantee you will find infinitely rewarding. Persistence is the key and the benefits will be magnificent.
You have a choice. Make it consciously.
Such mental peace and calm is your birthright, it’s time to claim it.
Do you have trouble with past experiences that you play back over again in your mind? How do you best deal with this?