How to stop old baggage from stunting your present life
This is for people who are aware of when old issues are entering their present and they know they don’t want that to be happening. There are three parts: the what, the why, and the how: tools!
Our old memories operate like a trigger/pattern system. Think of it as a pinball machine called “My Pain Game.” The board makes the shape of your brain and it’s populated with all sorts of memories that define who you are, what is allowed to affect you and how you feel. You have a little pinball that lies latent but when it’s triggered – it shoots around your brain and activates different zones of preset emotional processes. Those zones are things like “what I need that I never get” and “why people always disappoint me” and “dark insecurities.”
At the base, there are two little paddles that you use to control this game. Your emotional reaction depends on where you choose to hit this ball. If you hit it hard, it shoots into “more pain and drama” and ricochets off of several new experiences, perpetuating the pain you feel. When you don’t hit it at all, it drops off the board. The point being – you are the one who keeps the ball in play. So when it goes into a certain area, it activates new triggers that are not controlled by you. Those little “hot spots” that shoot it even harder – these emotional hotspots take over the game and the ball will shoot around the table at top speed. The ball makes its way around and back to our spring-lever and what we tend to do – because our position is valid – is shoot it back up again, causing it to replay the series of triggers we have all over our “memory of self.” This reaffirms our position and cements what we don’t want to feel, even more. With repetition these negative roles become our official “identity” which in turn affects how we interact with the world – coloring every new experience to come.
Just like a pinball machine – often it feels like we have no control over our patterned response. However – ultimately we have control, and we can choose to keep the ball in play or not. Our power comes into play when we actually choose to USE that control in the moment it counts. When we have the brief moment of awareness – that we are about to play out our game again.
Aren’t you sick of the game? I bet you are – because what you’re losing right now is quality of life. If your old pain is old enough, it’s likely voiced by the rationale of a child – so the childhood logic, which is petty and small – is still operating you. Even if the situation is recent and totally unrelated to your childhood dynamics –the same baggage will pilot your body when a trigger comes up. Don’t let it. You’re a grown up now. Grownups can look at things and put them down already. Old pain is totally unnecessary and the person it robs of joy is YOU. You hurt you by wasting your valuable moments in an old automatic loop of behaviors and thoughts and reactions. Who wants to play this now? It’s old, dusty and not fun.
What’s the pattern that occurs? You have a new experience with someone – perhaps they bring up a new topic about something in their life and something topically triggers you into an old broken record. What is this like for that person? A sideways gut punch – a person is looking to have a new and positive experience with you, yet the old broken record starts up again and sours the new with the old. Who loses out? The person trying to connect with you about their life – and especially you. Because if you’re the one with the broken records, you are the one skipping whole entire decades of your life. Once something like the topic of “holidays” is overwritten by a sad emotional memory, it’s the broken record that will continue to play anytime a person brings up a new and positive holiday tale.
As a previous player of “The Pain Game” I will offer you a few tools to overcome this habit. They are blunt and simple because that’s what this is: a button you push or you don’t push. Yes, your control over this redirection process feels messy and unrefined – but it’s ultimately within your power to keep the ball in play or let it rest. Choose the positive! Change.
Here’s the message I am sending you from the future. Listen close. There will be a point in your life when you look back at the time you spent in this game and you’ll mourn for the time you lost to it. You’ll mourn the love you lost. The valuable experiences you lost. The moments with others who have now passed that you have now missed forever. Most importantly, the joy lost via the negative focus. One day you’ll see how pointless it was to steal moments from yourself by focusing on this pain and discontent.
This is a choice you can make for yourself – now, today. And I know you want to make it. You just haven’t up to this point done anything to change your patterned reactions, maybe because you didn’t think you could. Or maybe you assumed it was your duty to bear this cross because your pain is real and therefore deserves to be “honored.” But that’s a myth we tell ourselves. We don’t have to carry the pain at all. It’s all about what we want for our lives – knowing it’s short and ours alone to enjoy. Just because you’re right to feel something doesn’t mean you should feel it. If you want something life-changingly wonderful to happen for you, then do something about it – starting now. CHOOSE to alter your way of living out this baggage and officially PUT IT DOWN. It must be a deliberate CHANGE you make and it starts by telling yourself, “Yes, I am choosing to make this the past.”
Whether it’s a recent conflict that’s keeping you occupied or a super old conflict that’s deeply embedded, the broken records we relive can overwrite new memories. You might notice yourself telling the same old story when you would rather be present and experiencing something NEW and GREAT with a person. Don’t be too hard on yourself, this tendency is universal to humans. We all look for validation in others by telling our story. It’s a universal way of soothing by seeking someone else’s sympathy and understanding – we all want to be seen. We want our thinking – and more importantly our pain to be validated. But the compulsion is not a beneficial one. It’s robbing you of your present joy as well as the novelty of your experiences.
Tool 1: Old Dirty Baby
(Or ODB for short.) Imagine you have an old baby living on your shoulder and every so often it stands up on your shoulder and tells its old story about how poor and sad it is: How much it was hurt and how it can never be repaid for such damage. This is an old baby in that it’s weathered but it’s never aged past the age of this damage. Depending on the moment it was frozen in time, maybe it’s annoying and bossy. Or maybe this baby wants to be soothed and coddled. But whatever the voice, it’s not yours – it’s this old baby’s pain. It’s coming from a time long ago and therefore it will never be soothed.
So in the moment – imagine the voice of your pain in this old baby’s voice. Know that you need to do your own work to ignore its mournful cries and go about your actions (while the baby is yelling for attention) and be your adult, empowered self despite it. When you see it happening you have to shut off your emotional affiliations with this baby’s voice and almost intentionally oppose it. To make real change, your job is to stop allowing your broken records to take the wheel of your life. If you’re not a smoker, you can’t smoke – so if you’re serious about changing your behavior – in the moment it’s happening, redirect yourself away from the looped behavior! Be diligent. Check yourself.
Tool 2: Empathy Practice
I featured this practice in another blog post, but it is very relevant to this topic so here it is again. I recommend you do this while on the subway or in an elevator – pretty much any downtime you have, close your eyes and go through this quick visualization.
1. First picture someone you know who is suffering now send them love and wish them relief.
2. Next, picture someone you don’t know – someone you saw today. Maybe a stranger on your way to work. Imagine their suffering, and where they are struggling and send them love.
3. Now picture yourself. Imagine your own struggles and where you are hurting. Now send yourself love and wish yourself relief.
4. Last, think of someone you don’t like or someone you have issues with. Imagine they are suffering – picture what that suffering is, and now send them love and wish them relief.
If this feels difficult at first, it will get easier with time. What it does is improve your ability to be unaffected by the negative energy of others. It also allows you to be more positive and happy.
Tool 3: Get out of your own soap
In the moments you are moving into a state of broken-record drama, this is a visualization tool to help you remember what’s really going on inside. Imagine you’re starring in a soap opera and it has melodramatic lighting and cheesy score that plays over your emotional scenes, and the cast includes all of the people who bring out your emotional-baggage. In your moments of, “Sighhh…let me tell you my painful story…”
Put down your script. Play another role.
When you have emotional damage that happens young, you develop an adult tendency to make everything about You. When someone else is in a bad mood, or incapable, or sharing their own life, it becomes a reflection of them not loving you enough. When you get into a “poor me” mode, you are putting yourself in the center of the show! Often when you do that, you hurt more unnecessarily at the hand of others PLUS you lose complete awareness of how you are affecting those around you. When you’re stuck deeply in “me” you can’t see when others are hurting, trying their best, or attempting to reach out to you in their own way.
As soon as you get into one of the “me” centric pain moments, try stepping out of yourself and trying on someone else’s perspective. It’s helpful to focus on other people’s story – try on their pain and try to see their perspective as something valid based on where they have been. This soap is about a family – and each story is valid. Don’t be the star of your own melodrama, step out of your anger and try on other perspectives. See their pain. Try to assume they have a valid reason they’re stuck and in pain. Even if they’re a total douche! Look at them in their pain. If they’re crazy look at them in their sickness. If they’re disconnected, look at them in their numb hiding.
Everyone has a reason they became who they are – and once you can get into that vantage point, you stop hurting because they are “them”. You empower yourself to receiving the gifts they are capable of giving. And there are more than you can see there are from the locked up star-van.
As a rule for your life, look at every moment as new and unpredictable. Assume you don’t know what someone else is thinking or what they will say. Allow for change to happen by remaining open to all possibilities – even if you do get the same reactions from the same people, approach them as their own unique moment in time that holds the potential for something wonderfully different. Treat your experiences as treasures that you can keep for yourself and let go of the mental drama so that you can actually witness them as that.
If you’re thinking that most often it’s those outside of you who bring you down into the drama, remember that it takes two to tango – and if you’re not engaging with the stories you don’t want to participate in, sometimes it catalyzes change in others.
*I know this one doesn’t work if you’re still suffering intense and painful anger towards others. If you’re really angry it’s likely because you are still processing stage where you confront the truth, mourn it, and feel really mad about what you didn’t get. This part of healing is necessary because it must come out of you, otherwise it converts to depression. If you haven’t looked at the pain you have for many, many years, it builds up and therefore processing it can get intense. Even scary. Give yourself time, move through it without allowing it to destroy your relationships, and come back to your loved ones when you’re healed enough to accept who they are.
Tool 4: Treat JUST the Fever
I know often it can be really hard to stop yourself from getting emotionally dragged into your old shit – but you still have a choice whether to engage the game or not. If you feel you need some extra empowerment, it helps if you look at it like you would a fever or a cold. Focus on treating the emotions as their own problem, separate from the emotional issue entirely– just like a fever that runs hot for a bit and with soothing, it passes. When you’re emotionally triggered, you step out of the situation, take a rest, watch a comedy, and sleep it off.
No matter how “valid” it is consider that maybe this emotion doesn’t have to have so much power over you– maybe you can pass it and choose to re-approach your life from a new perspective once you are balanced and soothed. As a way to prep for any broken-record behavior, it helps to know exactly what yours are, so I invite you all to grab your journal and write down your trigger zones. Basically, think on your emotional baggage problem areas and highlight the ones that most frequently come up. What are the topics and locations that seem to bring out your emotions the most? Which people? Become aware ahead of the instances so that you can treat them in the most efficient way possible. Because once you treat just the individual emotion and your chemicals get back to normal, you can look at things in a way that’s more rational. You get to decide if you want to let something go because you’ve decided it’s not that important, when you compare it to the big picture: your life story. Emotional triggers are often unconscious – but once they are made conscious – you can once again steer the path of your life.
How to soothe?
If you don’t have one, create a 911 list for yourself that you can easily access: basically, a list of what works best for you when you are emotionally overwhelmed. What sobers you and helps you to feel balanced. For me it’s hiking, yoga, a breathing exercise – being in nature. You should make your list of at least 12 of them and fine-tune them based on what you know works. The most effective and accessible items should go first.
This is what I want you to think about: do you want results or do you want to be right? From the place you are standing right now – in your life and your personal growth – you could not imagine the gifts you will receive in your life once you are opened up to receiving them. I think you’re reading this because you would like to work your ass off to choose the good life: one rich, with memories you might have missed if you had chosen not to do it at all. You want to GROW as a person. You can grow much bigger than this stuff – but you must make that decision and then be very deliberate in your actions moving forward. Accept the truth now and do the work to make this as irrelevant to your present as it is in your life in its totality.
*If you’re thinking to yourself, “I have conflicts with people who won’t let me stop living out the broken records. Am I crazy? When I try to be around them – THEY are the ones who bring it up in me when I am attempting to be kind, present, and new.” Nope. You’re not crazy. Are the people you have baggage with, to blame for your triggers? Probably. What’s my point? It doesn’t matter when it comes to the outcome you want. When you go into your old pain, the pain grows and you feel things a whole lot worse than they are in reality. So there’s a strong likelihood that you experience things as bigger or worse than they are in reality, and occasionally misinterpreting things entirely because your triggers are so raw to this particular individual. I know when those who are meant to love you are intentionally mean to you– however unconscious it happens to be – it taps into the kind of pain that makes you feel like you’re going totally insane. Because – based on “logic” and what you know to be true, there’s no reason a person who loves you should want to make you hurt. So how to reconcile a relationship you have with a person – that by all standards deserves hate?
Here’s some food for thought on that topic in particular. There’s a culturally inherited sense of “good” or “what everyone is supposed to be like.” The cultural construct of “good enough” will designate the high horses we tend to judge from – which is not to say you should abandon those standards. Not in the least. But when it comes to making your own decisions based on what will give you the most joy in your lifetime – give yourself permission to step back and redefine worth based on “human.” Give yourself permission to not erase someone from your life based on the story your baggage tells about them. Allow yourself the right to trump culture’s expectations of a person – no matter how flawed – because you are an individual and this is your life. No one else will live it for you. “Standards” can get in the way of our search for resolution – instead we only see a dead end. So if you are bound by what should be, you are blocking yourself from joy that could be readily available if you allowed yourself to choose this person, as they are. No one is perfect. In fact, there are a ton of people who are incredibly flawed with lives that are messy, who break all the rules of good, that are sooo far from who we deserve them to be in our lives – because they’re stuck and incapable. But that doesn’t dictate that they’re not worth having in your life, ever. It comes down to accepting the mess exists in order to extract the gifts.
Just imagine when you are around someone you love. (I don’t mean the person you have emotional baggage with – someone else.) Imagine yourself coexisting with this loved person, and you’re in separate rooms, not speaking, but still together in each other’s presence. It’s a wonderful feeling. Just being. We as humans crave that proximity: that sense of comfort you get from being near life. That experience is something hard to notice but it’s profound – and that’s something you could have with a person. Simple presence that goes beyond words. It’s not what it should be, but it’s still special and of value that you void from your life when you allow your brain to dictate terms for what makes a relationship. Step back and remember that there’s more to a person than what they say. There’s also a life: a spirit with unique energy and color, beneath the scratched veneer.
You might not get what you want from others, but you can set yourself up to be happy and get the most out of them and you can choose how you encode each experience with the good or the bad. Let your story be written each day. Allow each experience to exist unto itself – invite change and do not block yourself from enjoying what might be offered up to you. Expect nothing from others, but choose to show up as your whole and loving self, anyway – regardless of whether or not they deserve you – and do it for yourself. Expect to feel great about who you are and let go of what others should be and are not – for yourself. If you begin to live your life this way, starting today – I will bet you are shocked by the gifts you receive as a result. The gifts were there all along – in moments that previously passed you by, in shadow. The difference is you have become open to them.
That’s all folks. I would love to hear if this was helpful at all. If you liked this let me know in a review! That’s the best way to say, “thank you” to me, whether it’s a review on iTunes, in the comments, or by sharing it. It helps me immensely and I treasure the words. I send you my love and vibes of strength and enthusiasm. I will be thinking of you and cheering you on – invisibly – during your weaker moments. Don’t give up – I believe in you! xx Sarah-May B.
Featured image via Flickr