A Simple Strategy to Let Go of Painful Thoughts and Feelings


English: Managing emotions - Identifying feelings

English: Managing emotions – Identifying feelings (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one wants to experience pain.  Whether it’s physical, emotional or mental, once we’ve encountered pain, it’s natural to want it to end.

But, if you pay attention, you will likely find that there are certain emotionally or mentally painful circumstances that you get caught in.  Maybe it’s the angry thoughts about someone who has hurt you or pessimistic thinking about troubles you have faced.

Each of us has a tendency to get caught in certain types of thinking that prolongs painful emotions.  Instead of enjoying a relaxing evening, we might find ourselves ruminating on something hurtful someone said or rather than solving a difficult problem and moving on, you may find you are again and again drawn to thoughts about how unfair your circumstances are.

Sometimes it seems as if the mind just wants to hold on to these painful thoughts and circumstances.  Even as we try to get rid of unpleasant thoughts, we may find ourselves rethinking and reliving painful situations.

Try this:

  • Take a situation that you often find yourself either avoiding and pushing away or painful stuck in.  It may be a situation in which you are ruminating and worried or one that you are fearful of and want to avoid dealing with.
  • When you encounter that situation or thoughts and feelings about that situation, don’t attempt to engage in thinking about it and, at the same time, don’t try to push your thoughts and feelings away.
  • Focus instead on noticing your experience.  You might say to yourself “I’m thinking angry thoughts about that” or “It’s painful to remember my mistake.”  Allow yourself to observe, without judging the situation, your thoughts about the situation or your feelings.

Over time, as you observe your own internal response to this situation, you will find that you no longer need to ruminate about it or push it away.  You will be able to recognize your self-judgments and criticisms of others and let them be.  The pain and the need to attach to it or push it away will pass and you will be able to let it go.

Still having trouble letting go?  In his book, Full Catastrophe LivingJon Kabat-Zinn suggests that when something has a strong hold on your mind, try to direct your attention to what “holding on” feels like.  Become an expert in understanding your own attachment to this worry or problem.  Even when you are struggling to let go, you can become skilled at understanding yourself and the consequences of both holding on and letting go.

You can find more strategies to improve how you feel in my new book, The Stress Response and by clicking here to sign up for more of my tips and here for podcasts using DBT strategies to improve how you feel.

 

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