If we feel upset when things go wrong or something unpleasant and unexpected happens, we’re not exactly unique in this world. But if we develop the habit of holding on to these upset feelings, we may resort to drinking too much, using drugs, or overeating (using food like a drug) in a futile effort to try and feel better.
We don’t even realize when we are being oversensitive or overreacting. As my wife sweetly says to me when I overreact, “You’re a delicate flower, sweetheart.” When I examine my upsets, I notice that I’m often acting as if I’m walking on a tightrope. Looking at my life in this distorted frame of reference, it make sense to react to mishaps as if the slightest disruption of our plan means we will fall into a chasm. You may have experienced something similar before. Road rage, anyone?
Most of the time when things go wrong, it’s really not a personal threat. What if we paused for a moment, took a deep breath, and clearly noticed that? It would be so much easier to deal with small mishaps, disappointments, and changes of plan. So when plans change and I feel myself tightening up, I remind myself on the spot: “It’s not personal.” Interestingly, this helps me to relax!
Of course, our long held fears and resentments are a bigger challenge. Renowned psychiatrist and medical hypnotist Milton Erickson advised his children that when someone hurt their feelings, they should run to the nearest garbage can and throw their hurt feelings into it. When I first heard this story many years ago I thought, “That is silly and shocking advice–easier said than done! How would his kids be able to do that?” But the story stayed with me: how nice it would be to do that with my own hurt feelings, fears, and resentments. But it does work, quite well and quite easily, although it took a while for me to figure that out. Here’s what I discovered.
Once the deluded notion of personal threat is out of the way, the process is simple. Some people can just do it mentally, with enough emotional engagement to actually create a shift right on the spot: “Throw my hurt feeling in the garbage can . . . OK. Done!”
If you are a tough case like me, you may find that you need to physically act out the “throwing away” in order to engage enough emotional energy to effect positive change. Try following these steps to throw emotional turmoil into the garbage can.
Remember that you can throw away the hurt feelings. Remember, too, that holding on to anger and other kinds of emotional turmoil hurts you. This will motivate you to make the effort to let go of these hurt feelings! You can train yourself to do this in a way that will work . . . every single time.
- Stop, take a deep breath and look at the upsetting emotion and the story that goes with it.
- Holding your fists at heart or gut level, squeeze them to correspond to your inner struggle.
- Visualize a garbage can in front of you – the special kind that disposes of emotional turmoil.
- With both hands, throw the problem into the trash. Repeat this several times if there is residue. Acting this out physically will increase your ability to create a genuine release so that later you can just do it mentally, on the spot.
- Each time you throw some of the emotional turmoil away, take a deep full breath.
- Then turn around and step away from the trash can. Stand in an upright posture, with your arms open and raised. Breathe in deeply, and smile!
- In this relaxed, happy state, think of a few things you are grateful for – this will intentionally enrich your relaxed happy state with positive memories.
- Now, still holding on to this good state of mind, think of the original emotionally triggering event, while choosing to keep your positive state. If even a quiver of the turmoil arises, flick it into the garbage can with a smile.
Neuroscience has shown that upsetting memories are vulnerable to change when they are being retrieved. According to neuroscience, your brain will be on your side, open to a positive shift, when you practice this method!
Most of us learn to carry hurt feelings while growing up, as part of our family dynamics. If this happened for you, you may want to check out Family Matters: 5 Ways to Stop Your Past from Screwing Up Your Future, to free yourself from limiting patterns you picked up as a child. It will help you throw old hurt feelings into the garbage can and forget about them!