“Oh my God girl, the shit you hang on to!” – My Mother
I remember the exact tone of loving incredulity and exasperation in my mother’s voice when she said those words to me. I had been recounting some bit of nastiness a long-since-gone boy had said to me years before and her reaction stopped me cold. She was right. Why was I still holding on to that shit?
Continuing to re-tell stories that only get you angry or upset about things you can’t change is a ridiculous waste of time and energy, so seriously…can we all just stop telling those stories?
Looking back, I think about all the energy and happiness I squandered feeling frustrated, resentful, or angry towards people who I felt had “wronged” me in some way. I had this tidy collection of poor-me stories that I would trot out whenever I was feeling powerless or sad. For some reason I used to think that telling those stories made me feel better, but they never really did.
Sure, it can sometimes feel kind of gratifying to throw other people under the bus sometimes, detailing their offences and underscoring your martyred responses. But re-telling bitter, hurt-filled stories is kind of like scratching a bug bite…you may feel like you get some temporary relief but ultimately, the scratching is making things worse.
Re-opening old emotional wounds can feel strangely satisfying in the moment, but it only prolongs your agony. When you recall a painful experience, your body re-lives it as if it’s happening in the present. In order to cope with that perceived stress, your body begins pumping out hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. If you get worked up enough, you can even go into a “fight or flight” response. Your body doesn’t know that the story happened in the past and is long over. All it knows is that your brain is reliving it now and your body responds accordingly. Your heart races, your immune function plummets, and your blood pressure ratchets up. All because of a story you’re telling yourself.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about painful situations that have happened in your life, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t feel angry or sad or crushed by those things. But to avoid torturing yourself, make sure talk about those issues and use those emotions in a way that helps you get beyond the story. Use your anger to create healthy boundaries so you’re less likely to be crushed again. Allow yourself to have a good cry so you can let go of what’s over. When you can’t change the situation, change your thinking about the situation. But drop the story-telling already! Because if you’re just picking at old scabs, the only things you’re getting are more stress hormones and wounds that won’t heal.
When you continuously rehash how he did you wrong or how she was such a bitch, you’re taking that nasty, heavy energy from the past and perpetuating it in your present. Unless you can talk about it in a way that helps you gain some insight, choosing to keep those stories alive by re-telling them only makes that sticky, shitty energy hang around longer.
Your body and brain will find peace when you lay those stories to rest. So resist the urge to tell your tales of woe. Let those stories die. Don’t recount them to friends, stop dissecting them with family, and quit whispering them to yourself when you see your nemesis at the grocery store. Tell a new story. Choose a different focus.
Maybe your new story can be about what you learned from that situation. What did you take away from it? If you want to get really woo-woo, ask yourself:
Why did the universe give me this lesson?
For example, let’s say completely hypothetically, that your new boyfriend of three months invites you to his ex-girlfriend’s parents’ Christmas party. And at this festive gathering your new boyfriend proceeds to get so drunk he can’t see straight, at which point he begins singing love songs to said-ex in the family room.
Where’s the lesson in this completely fictitious scenario, you ask?
This would be the universe teaching me…er, I mean you…one of the not-so-subtle signals boys send out to let you know that they ‘re not emotionally available for a relationship at that time (at least not with you). 😉 I can’t make this shit up but I can find the diamond in the dung heap.
You get to choose which stories you tell, so tell the ones that build you up, the ones that feed your spirit, and of course, the ones that make you laugh until you lose the urge to scratch.