Most people carry around feelings or thoughts that are stuck in their system. Thoughts and feelings that seem to be on automatic pilot, looping over the years and being acted out with different people. This happens when there are the old unprocessed hurts that simply won’t budge for example that boyfriend that broke up 20 years ago, that person who took sexual privilege. As the years go by, life can add to the list of hurts and we can end up spiralling down emotionally and physically. Often thoughts of the hurt are long gone and yet the lingering feeling sits there waiting to be triggered by the next person who shows any sign of acting in the same way as that original hurt. An example of this is a child who never felt anyone paid attention or loved them- perhaps their parents worked so hard that they were often left alone. And as an adult it can feel very painful if their partner seems distant or inattentive.
Old hurt sits stored in the nervous system, brain and body and when the new situation happens, these old feelings can be triggered and come to the surface. To the person it seems like all the feelings and thoughts belong to that new situation. It looks like it is all about the person who is in front of them acting that way, such as the husband who didn’t remember the anniversary, or the friend who doesn’t seem to call. While some of the emotion may definitely relate to the current situation, they can be fuelled by an underground stream of past unprocessed emotion from old memories and hurts. This can feel quit intense and confusing both for the person it is being directed at and the one triggered.
You can even be someone who smiles and laughs and plays the social star and entertainer on the surface and yet privately feel angry, low, depressed and or anxious. It is this private, internal realm that deeply matters when it comes to be free and happy. It is the feelings that sit below the surface.
Sometimes it can be the smallest trigger in our current life that seems to “derail” us. This is because memories that have some similarity get stored together in the unconscious. They can join together and build up big bank of emotion that sits outside conscious awareness. We may have developed fantastic defences that keep these emotions at bay so that we can get on with day to day life. Then one day something happens to add to the bank and our defences can’t hold back the intensity. All the emotions and thoughts from all the previous times are firing off and overwhelm the nervous system. Perhaps it was the last boss who spoke to their employer in a demeaning way that brought back the flood of overwhelming hurt from previous experiences of being disrespected. Perhaps the bank of emotions is made up of indiscretions we have done to others.
There are many events that happen to us in life that we naturally work through and let go of. It is often thought that the process of sleeping and dreaming during REM sleep is when the brain naturally processes the day’s events and emotions.
In order to find out if you are holding on to old hurt you simply need to looks at patterns of how you reacted in life. What are the things that commonly hurt you? Are there any themes? Think of the last time someone really upset you. When you think of that notice any thoughts you are having about them. And as you think that, what do you feel it is saying about you? For example – they are rude and nasty. While this logically says more about them then me, when I tune into the feelings it makes me feel disrespected. And when I ask myself what does that mean about me from within the feeling? It feels like I am not valuable. So the next phase is to tune into that memory and go back earlier in life. Are there any other memories that come up?
Another way to do it is think about old memories that have hurt you in the past. When you think about those old memories do you feel anything in your body? Remember this is not an exercise of logic. Logically you may very well be over it. It is when you bring up the memory, and even find an image for the worst part of the memory. When you tune in and notice the negative belief about yourself within the memory and then see if there is any emotional charge on it. If there is charge on it then this memory is a part of the bank of emotions that fuels your reactions to life today and holds you back from just getting over it.
When you recognise any of these signs, there is a lot you can do about it. Many of the mind and body therapies that involve going into the subconscious and bringing to consciousness these old emotions can be helpful. Although simply going in and remembering is not enough. In fact doing this can be damaging if the emotions are not discharged and can leave a person retraumatised. One particular therapy is very effective in my experience for fast tracking the letting go process. EMDR therapy stands for eye movement desensitization reprocessing therapy. It uses the brain’s natural healing mechanism similar to what occurs in REM sleep to again access these old memories and allow them to integrate into the nervous system and brain as wisdom and learning while discharging the emotional charge attached to the memory. In 20 years in the mental health field this is one of the most powerful processes I have come across for letting go of old hurts.
When we do ‘get over it’, the end result is being present in the moment as it is now. Not as it was, or how it may be perceived through tainted lenses. When situations are met fully in the present moment, they can be met with compassion, consideration, clarity and boundaries. We may still be hurt and be unhappy with a situation that unfolds. However without the old charge, we can often stay emotionally regulated and present enough to handle the situation effectively.