By this point, you have come a long way towards peace with the things that have happened to you. You have connected with feelings you had previously turned away. You’ve recommitted to values. You’re protecting yourself. You’ve renounced revenge in all its forms. You’ve decided not to be stupid and live in an atmosphere of toxic hate. Why then don’t you feel better? Well, it might have something to do with the time and energy you spend replaying the awful things that have happened. Stop picking that scab.
Imagine turning on your TV and looking at all the programs, movies, and sports available. You have cable, so you have thirty-four hundred channels to look through. You have Roku and a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon. There’s also YouTube. Despite all this bounty, there’s one show you always watch, over and over again. Not just one show, one episode of one show. You could recite the lines and act out all the parts. You know what’s going to happen, but you see the show to the end anyway. That’s what it’s like to be traumatized. It’s madness.
You might say to me, I can’t stop thinking about that. Well, you just did. Right when you said you couldn’t stop, you stopped long enough to say you can’t stop. It’s that easy.
Human consciousness does not naturally think about anything for long. It’s always moving. It’s like a flashlight in the dark which does not settle on any one object. Good thing. There’s a lot to see. Human consciousness is like a TV set which surfs channels on its own. If you want to watch your program, you have to press the button on your remote that bring you back to the last channel, that one episode of one show you keep watching over and over. That’s how crazy it is to be preoccupied with something that happened.
If your thoughts moved on as they would do naturally, then it would be inevitable that they will return to the trauma. OK, fine. If that happens, then move on.
Let’’s take a closer look at what’s going on when you say you can’t stop thinking about something. You know in your heart it’s not true, it’s not an accurate statement. On any given day you’ve had a million thoughts, most of them having nothing to do with what happened. You know it, why then do you say you can’t stop?
I think you are engaging in hyperbole. You’re exaggerating for effect. You’re trying to tell a story about how hurt you are. You want to make a point.
If you are injured by something someone did, then it is important to say so. You need to let the person know so, if they care, they won’t do it again. If that person isn’t listening, you may need to say it again and again, till they hear. You may need to let some third party know about the injury so they can intervene if they have a mind to. If they don’t listen, you may need to say it again. You also need to acknowledge the hurt to yourself. After all, I asked you to get in touch with your feelings, didn’t I? If you aren’t inclined to listen to your feelings, they may need to speak up till you hear.
However, there comes a point where raising the alarm like this has exceeded its usefulness and is incompatible with achieving personal peace. The time will come when you must stop picking that scab so it can heal and minimize the resulting scar.
Here’s how it works. You can’t reduce the incidence of scab picking without first reducing the duration.
You know those people who walk through your neighborhood in pairs and knock on your door asking you to join their church? I get them in my neighborhood, too. One day, I invited them in for coffee. I gave them donuts. We had a good talk, but I couldn’t get them to leave. They next day they were back. I didn’t want to be rude, so we had coffee again, and again, and again, and again. They were good people, but I wasn’t going to join their church, I was already set in that regard. I was wasting their time and mine also. I couldn’t stop. It was madness.
Then, one day when they knocked, I made an excuse that I was painting the kitchen, so we couldn’t have coffee. They were back a few minutes later in old clothes and offered to help me paint. Since, I really wasn’t really painting anything, I had to tell them the truth. Please don’t knock on my door anymore. Goodbye.
The next day, they were back.
Eventually, I learned that even engaging with them in the doorway was a mistake. Whenever I would hear the doorbell, I had to peer out a window. If it was them, I’d make like I was not home. Finally, they stopped coming.
Your bad memories are like that. So are your negative thoughts, anxieties, your cravings to use drugs, your unwarranted feelings, your paranoia, and your impulses to do what you’ll regret. You can’t stop these thoughts from knocking at the door; but, you don’t have to let them in.
When you notice you’re picking the scab, that’s the time to end it. Say to yourself, “Stop picking that scab,” and the scab picking will stop for the moment you say it. Seriously.
Oh, you’ll be doing it again in, like, two seconds; so soon it’ll seem like you never stopped. So, do it again. Say, “Stop picking that scab,” and it stops once more. Do this as many times as it takes. You will reduce the duration. Time spent watching that show will get shorter and shorter. You’ll get better at doing this. It’ll get easier for you to stop. Eventually, you’ll learn to see it coming and, like me, pretend you’re not home.
I was complicit with my tormentors, but I didn’t know it. I thought I had no choice. I gave them power over me when I let them in the door. I entertained them. I fed them. I sat with them and had coffee.
When you stop answering the door every time certain thoughts knock, you will see you were complicit, too. The sooner you terminate your engagement with them, the sooner those thoughts lose power over you. They wither away, malnourished. You’ll see.