Did you know your beliefs keep emotional pain alive?

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Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Do you agonise over past events? Are you furious at how someone treated you? Chances are your unhelpful beliefs keep emotional pain alive. 

Learn to let go of past hurts and injustices. Make your emotional health a priority and restart your life.

Replaying the distress

What happens when you relive distressing events? It’s like playing a DVD in your head. You see, hear and feel everything said and done:

The exact words, tone of voice, body language.

The exact emotions you felt back then.

It’s as if you’re in the same situation all over again. And the same obsessional thoughts haunt your brain.

How could the other person have acted that way?

Can’t they see what they’ve done to you?

Did you misinterpret what was said?

1 Doubting yourself

Then you start questioning yourself. You wonder if you’re going mad.

That triggers another surge of frantic thoughts. Your mood swings between rage and despair. And your body gets more and more agitated.

Each remark or injustice wounds you again. And your brain reacts as if it’s happening now. It feels so real, you can’t believe it’s in the past. You feel just as devastated now as you did then.

2 Reliving the pain

You’ve felt like this dozens, if not hundreds of times. In fact, every time you go through the events. And every time, you feel emotionally exhausted.

This continual emotional upheaval affects your stability.

You start to feel fragile, out of kilter. Small annoyances make you flare up or fall to pieces. Soon you doubt you can cope with daily life. It’s too much strain holding it all together.

3 Is it worth it?

So is this emotional strain worth it? What benefit is this continual replaying of old hurts?

How does this help you live your life?

Life isn’t fair

Part of the problem is that you believe that life should be fair. You’ve fallen for the old saying: 

“Good things happen to good people.”

If you do the right thing, life will be kind to you. If people do the wrong thing, they’ll fix it. And they’ll take you seriously if you’re upset.

That’s the theory.

But life has a way of producing unpleasant surprises. Not everyone works by the same rules. Occasionally you’ll meet someone who doesn’t act the way you’d expect.

Their focus is their own well-being, not yours. And they may think very differently to you.

But perhaps you haven’t realised this yet. So you’re still trying work out what went wrong and how you can fix it.

Your beliefs keep you hurting

You probably have a set of beliefs you’re not aware of. But these beliefs keep emotional pain alive. You may tell yourself something similar to these statements:

1 I have a right to be upset.

2 In fact, I believe I should still be upset.

3 My anger and hurt prove how badly I’ve been affected.

4 The other person should realise how they’ve hurt me.

5 The other person should admit they’re wrong.

6 They should make amends or repair the situation.

7 I can’t get on with your life until they do.

That’s a lot of “shoulds.” Unfortunately life doesn’t take much notice of “shoulds.”

1 Are these beliefs helpful?

Have you ever questioned how realistic these beliefs are? Is what you’re hoping for likely to ever happen?

If it doesn’t, how helpful is it to stay so emotionally distressed? Does it move you closer to the type of life you want?

What cost to your well-being are you willing to pay?

2 Are your hopes realistic?

For days, months or years you’ve focussed on this issue. Perhaps you’ve contacted the person several times. You asked them to consider your position.

Were they willing to see your point of view? Did they apologise or offer to make amends? Or did they brush you off?

Is there any evidence that they think the way you do?

a) Lukewarm response

If they responded positively, that may be good news. But if it’s taken them this long, don’t hold your breath. What they do may not be what you want.

But it’s probably the best you’re going to get. So accept that they’ll do this much and no more.

It’s sad, but that’s the way it is.

You’ll probably never change their thinking much. But hope against hope, you may believe there’s a chance. So your unhelpful beliefs keep emotional pain alive.

b) Negative or no response

More likely, you had a negative response. Or none at all. There are a number of possible reasons.

1 They don’t believe they’re in the wrong.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

2 They know they’re in the wrong, but don’t care.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

3 They know they’re in the wrong, but don’t want the hassle.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

4 They don’t want to return to the way it was.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

5 They’re ashamed of what they’ve done. They don’t want to be shown up as being in the wrong.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

6 They don’t realise they’re in the wrong. They may be lacking in empathy or understanding.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

7 They don’t even remember what you’re talking about. It didn’t even register with them. Or they’ve moved on.

You’ll probably never change their thinking.

Would it help anyway?

Even if you could get answers, would you be happy? And if they tried again to do what you want, would it really work?

You’re still puzzled by the person’s behaviour. You’re still asking what makes them act the way they do. So chances are you don’t really understand how they think.

1 Can you make them change?

Many factors – upbringing, early experiences and heredity – shaped their development.

Can you really change any of those factors? What if they can never be the person you want them to be? Or if they can never act the way you want them to?

Unfortunately, you can’t make them change to suit you. You can only change yourself.

2 Little chance of success

Sadly, there’s little chance you’ll change their behaviour. No matter how much you believe you’re right. No matter how many times you contact them.

No matter how long you wait.

And sure, it’s not fair. And it may not be right. But it’s the way it is. Your wish to be taken seriously or proven right is probably doomed.

3 Not an ideal world

They’ll probably never see your point of view.

This might happen in an ideal world. But this isn’t an ideal world.

People don’t act the way you want or expect them to. And you can’t make them.

Your life for some time has been built on a fiction. The belief that one day the other person will come round. But these beliefs keep emotional pain alive.

Now it’s time to accept that what you want isn’t going to happen. And you need to move past these events.

Break the connection

Can you let go of the connection with this person? You’ve been tied to them in your thoughts for so long.

But the real connection was lost long ago. They’ve moved on while you’ve been mired in bitterness. Perhaps it’s time for you to move on with your life as well.

How long will it take?

How long are you willing to obsess about this issue? Next year? Five years? Ten? The rest of your life? How long will you wait for something that won’t happen? How much time and energy will you expend, hoping?

You may never understand

Loosen your grip on the hope that one day you’ll understand what happened. What went wrong.
Why they acted the way they did.

Sometimes your questions will never be answered. You may always have a sense of incompleteness. But that shouldn’t stop you from living your life.

The better alternative – letting go

You may not be able to change how the other person thinks or acts. But you can choose to act and think differently. You can change how you’re feeling as well. You don’t have to stay trapped in this pit of distress.

Realise and accept that beliefs keep emotional pain alive. In other words, what you’re telling yourself prolongs your suffering.

Decide to let go of these emotional traps. Let go of past injustices.

Every time you notice you’re going over the issue, tell yourself to let it go. Actually say the words to yourself each time it comes up. Say it aloud if you can. Otherwise say it mentally. Use a script something like:

“I know I’m still hurt by what happened. But there’s no point going over it any more. I’ve tried to solve it and it hasn’t got me anywhere. The other person isn’t able to give me what I want. It’s time to let it go.”

Then choose to focus on an activity that takes up all your attention. Make it something enjoyable, creative, or active like walking or playing with a pet.

Do this immediately, every single time

As soon as you start thinking about this issue, go through your script. Every single time.

Don’t allow yourself to wallow in this pain any longer. Cut it off as soon as the thoughts start up.

You can work out a shorter, snappier version once you get more practised. For example, “That’s enough. No point going through this. Let it go.”

Build meaning

Letting go can be scary. After all, what will fill your life if you let go of this issue?

However, letting go of emotional traps releases enormous energy. Imagine using that energy on something more meaningful. How much better would you feel? How much more clearly would you think?

Focus that energy on learning resilience and increasing self-mastery. Identify what you want out of life and focus on finding fulfilment.

Only then can you begin to live in the present. So choose to identify which of your beliefs keep emotional pain alive. Refuse to let them rule your life any longer.

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