Helpful Articles

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What to do with neg emotions - From Psychology Today

What You Should Do with Your Negative Emotions

Steps for handling the flood of negativity

(This article is from “Psychology Today”)

Stress, cynicism, resentment, embarrassment, anger, guilt, heartache, and fear all have one thing in common – they don’t feel good. My clients often ask me what they should do when these negative emotions show up and take over.

My first answer is, “Don’t try to make yourself feel better.” All of your emotions, including what you call negative emotions, have something important to tell you. I’ll tell you how to find the message in your emotions in step three, but please don’t skip the first two steps. The worst thing you can do is to ignore, stuff, or try to beat your emotions into submission.

For a moment, let your emotions just be there. Then,

Step one: Exhale.

Before you do anything else, you need to clear your head and release the tension that is keeping your emotions in place. Take in and release three deep breaths, breathing in more deeply each time. As you exhale, notice places in your body where you might be holding tension, from your face and jaw through your shoulders and neck on down to your toes. Release the tension as you breathe out.

Step two: Accept your discomfort as a sign that you are real, whole, and alive.

Alan Watts, author of The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are(link is external), says the more you try to disown your shadow, the more you become it. Your existence includes the whole of you, not the parts. Uncertainty, misery, and the fear of rejection comes from learning new things, caring for others, and stepping into the dance of life. No matter what you do, you will experience emotions that do not feel good. If you ignore your emotions, they will impact your happiness anyway. You need to be present to what you are experiencing now to glean the wisdom the moment can give you.

Watts said, “Unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax… When your plans mature, you will still be living for some other future beyond.” You will never feel content with what you have and who you are if you cannot appreciate your current state no matter what you are experiencing. When you shut down or ignore a part of your existence, you shut down part of yourself. You disconnect and go through the motions of your busy, out-of-touch life.

Life is ever-elusive, ever disappointing AND it is ever fascinating, nurturing,and beautiful. After you breathe three times, say to yourself, “I am experiencing my life. I am open to discovering what my emotions are trying to tell me.” Take in a full breath of life and let it sit there for a moment as you move to the next step.

Step three: Be curious.

Most emotions are reactions to what you imagined this moment should be. They represent either unmet expectations or fears that you will not get what you need. Be curious about what is missing for you.

Curiosity is the most underrated emotion. It is not taught as a positive emotional state. Be interested in what is occurring in your brain and body instead of brooding on what you think is right or wrong. Socrates said, “The wisdom begins in wonder.”

Breathe, feel curious, and ask yourself what you didn’t get that you thought you would, including intangibles such as love, recognition, and perceived success. Acknowledge what you are feeling and try to determine why by saying, “I’m sad because…. I’m grievingbecause… I’m disappointed, hurt, and resentful because…”   Understanding what triggered your emotions(link is external) will give you insights on what you need to do next. The painful energy will dissipate.

Curiosity can also help you change your habits. In his 2015 TED talk, Psychiatrist Judson Brewer(link is external) described how stopping to notice and be curious about why you are choosing to do something and what else you could choose to do can lead to long-term change.

Step four: Notice the world around you.

See where you are, what you have, what you love, and what is good. Let this realization sit with your other emotions as a part of the harmonious interplay of life. Balance gratitudewith sadness and the fear of the unknown; compassion with frustration and disappointment; hope with resentment; passion with anger; self-forgiveness with jealousy; and faith with loss. Humans have the wonderful capacity to feel more than one thing at a time. Center yourself in the swirl of life and you can come to appreciate all life has to offer.

You cannot feel the great joys of life without feeling the things that weigh you down. The brain has an on-off switch. You can’t turn off some emotions without weakening your ability to feel passion and love. You become numb with age, missing the “wows” and “ahs” of life.

Accept who you are in both light and shadow so you don’t miss a moment of your precious existence. Every emotion offers a bit of wisdom you can take with you on your journey.


Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, trains and coaches clients to have more meaningful moments and conversations by being the master, not victim, of their brains. She has written three books that go deeper into her work, The Discomfort Zone(link is external), Wander Woman(link is external), andOutsmart Your Brain.(link is external) Read more at

{Copyright 2016 By Marcia Reynolds, PsyD, published on March 12, 2016 – on Psychology Today}
Hold Me Tight - From Psychology Today

Hold Me Tight

(This article is from “Psychology Today”)
Love demands the reassurance of touch. Most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection. Underneath the distress, partners are desperate to know: Are you there for me?

By Sue Johnson, published on January 1, 2009 – last reviewed on July 1, 2014

I grew up in my parents’ pub in England, where there was always a lot of drama. And all the drama—fights, flirting, tears, tantrums—revolved around love. I also watched my parents destroy their own love for each other. Since that time I’ve been on a mission to figure out exactly what love is. My mother described it as “a funny five minutes.” It’s also been called a mysterious mix of sentiment and sex. Or a combination of infatuation and companionship. Well, it’s more than that. My personal insights, gleaned from researching and counseling more than a thousand couples over 35 years, have now merged with a growing body of scientific studies, to the point where I can now say with confidence that we know what love is. It’s intuitive and yet not necessarily obvious: It’s the continual search for a basic, secure connection with someone else. Through this bond, partners in love become emotionally dependent on each other for nurturing, soothing, and protection. We have a wired-in need for emotional contact and responsiveness from significant others. It’s a survival response, the driving force of the bond of security a baby seeks with its mother. This observation is at the heart of attachment theory. A great deal of evidence indicates that the need for secure attachment never disappears; it evolves into the adult need for a secure emotional bond with a partner. Think of how a mother lovingly gazes at her baby, just as two lovers stare into each other’s eyes. Although our culture has framed dependency as a bad thing, a weakness, it is not. Being attached to someone provides our greatest sense of security and safety. It means depending on a partner to respond when you call, to know that you matter to him or her, that you are cherished, and that he will respond to your emotional needs. The most basic tenet of attachment theory is that isolation—not just physical isolation but emotional isolation—is traumatizing for human beings. The brain actually codes it as danger. Gloria Steinem once said a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. That’s nonsense. The drama of love that I saw played out at the bar each night as a child is all about the human hunger for safe emotional connection, a survival imperative we experience from the cradle to the grave. Once we do feel safely linked with our partner, we can tolerate the hurts they will—inevitably—inflict upon us in the course of daily life.

Broken Connections

We start out intensely connected to and responsive to our partners. But our level of attentiveness tends to drop off over time. We then experience moments of disconnection, times when we don’t express our needs clearly. He is upset and really wants to be comforted, but she leaves him alone, thinking that he wants solitude. These moments are actually inescapable in a relationship. If you’re going to dance with someone, you’re going to step on each other’s feet once in a while. Losing the connection with a loved one, however, jeopardizes our sense of security. We experience a primal feeling of panic. It sets off an alarm in the brain’s amygdala, our fear center, where we are highly attuned to threats of all kinds. Once the amygdala sends out an alarm, we don’t think—we act. The threat can come from the outside world or from our own inner cosmos. It’s our perception that counts, not the reality. If we feel abandoned at a moment of need, we are set up to enter a state of panic. It’s what we do next, after those moments of disconnection, that has a huge impact on the shape of our relationship. Can you turn around and reconnect? If not, you’ll start engaging in fights that follow a clear pattern. I call these “demon dialogues.” If they gain momentum, they start to take over and induce a terrible sense of emotional aloneness. Your relationship feels less and less like a safe place, and it starts to unravel. You start to doubt that your partner is there for you, that he values you. Or that she will put you first. Consider a couple with their firstborn child. Having a baby is a stressful, sleep-depriving experience. But it’s also a time when people’s attachment fears and needs are particularly strong. The man might think something like, “I know it’s wrong, and I know it’s pathetic, but I feel like I’ve lost my wife to my kid.” And the woman might say, “When I had the baby I felt so fragile. I was taking care of this little being, and I just needed extra comfort and caring myself, but he was out working all the time.” Their intentions are good—she cares for the infant, he works hard to support his new family—but they fail to give each other what they really need. Or think of a man who is doing just fine in his job while his wife flies high in a new career. She’s spending long hours on exciting projects while he is deprived of affection, attention, and sex. Lying in bed alone each night, waiting for her, he feels like a fool for needing her so much—and also angry that she can’t see how deeply her absence affects him. But we don’t talk about these conflicts in terms of deeply rooted attachment needs. We talk about the surface emotions, the ire or indifference, and blame the other. “He’s so angry; I feel so attacked,” or “She’s so cold. I don’t think she cares at all!” Each person retreats into a corner, making it harder and harder for the two to express their fundamental attachment needs, foreclosing the ability to gain reassurance from each other. Women are often more sensitive to the first signs of connection breakdown than men, and their response is often to begin what I call the dance of disconnection. Almost ritualistically they will pursue their partners in a futile attempt to get a comforting response. But they do it in a way that almost guarantees their basic need will not be met—they blame their partner for failing in some essential way. Men, on the other hand, have been taught to suppress emotional responses and needs, which inclines them to withdraw from the conflict. But her rage and his withdrawal both mask what lies below the surface—an underlying vulnerability and need for connection, now compounded by sadness, shame, and, most of all, fear. Too often, what couples do not see is that most fights are really protests over emotional disconnection. Underneath all the distress, partners are desperate to know: Are you there for me? Do you need me? Do you rely on me?

Repairing Bonds

For years, therapists have viewed these demon dialogues as power struggles. They’ve attempted to resolve couples’ fights by teaching them problem-solving skills. But this is a little like offering Kleenex as the cure for viral pneumonia. It ignores the attachment issues that underlie the pattern. Rather than conflict or control, the issue, from an attachment perspective, is emotional distance. And what’s frustrating to people is not knowing how to bridge that emotional distance. In my office, men sometimes tell me, “I do all kinds of things to show I care. I mow the lawn, bring in a good salary, solve problems, and I don’t play around. Why is it that in the end, these things don’t seem to matter, and all that counts with my wife is that we talk about emotional stuff and cuddle?” I tell them, “Because that’s just the way we are made. We need someone to pay real attention to us, to hold us tight. Have you forgotten that you need that, too?” When we fight with our partners, we tend to follow the ball as it goes over the net, paying attention to the last barb lobbed at us—and not whether we even want to be in the game at all. It’s possible to break out of the demon dialogues, but the first step is to be aware of the game itself, not just the play-by-play. Once you realize you are latched onto your pattern of arguing, you can agree to put the whole game on hold. Disappointments are always part of relationships. But you can always choose how you handle them. Will you react defensively, out of fear, or in the spirit of understanding? Let’s say your partner says, “I don’t feel like having sex tonight.” You can take a deep breath and think about how much she loves you, and say, “Gee, that’s too bad, I was really looking forward to that.” Or you can spit out a sarcastic, “Right! Well, we never make love anymore, do we?” Of course, you may not feel you really have a choice if your panic button has been pushed and your emotions are boiling over. But just being aware that it has been pushed can help calm you down. You can think to yourself, “What is happening here? I’m yelling. But inside, I’m feeling really small.” Then you can tell your partner, “I got really scared there—I’m feeling hurt.” If you take that leap of faith and respond with such a bid for re-connection, you have to hope your partner will, too, instead of saying something hurtful like, “Well, you’re being asinine and difficult.” That’s the tricky part about relationships: To change the dance, both people have to change their steps. Simply accepting your attachment needs instead of feeling ashamed of them is a big and necessary first step, and it applies to single people as well as to those in relationships. A single person might say, “I’m depressed because I’m lonely, and I know I shouldn’t be lonely; I know I should be independent.” Well, of course you’re depressed if you’re feeling lonely and then you turn around and beat yourself up for it! When you’re ashamed, you tend to hide from others, setting off a vicious cycle that nearly ensures you won’t find the social connection you need.

Healing Touches

A man will often say to me, “Even if I do think that she really needs me or is feeling scared, I don’t know what to do!” He’ll end up making his wife a cup of tea, which is very nice—but it’s not what is called for. Had he put his hand on her shoulder and pulled her towards him, however, his bid for connection would have been much more successful. Men often say they don’t know what to do. Yet men do know how to soothe—they do it with their children, tucking them in at night and whispering gently to them. The difference is, they see their children’s vulnerability, and respond to it, but when they look at their wives, they see only someone who is judging them. But she feels vulnerable, too. Touch is the most basic way of connecting with another human being. Taking your partner’s hand when she is nervous or touching his shoulder in the middle of an argument can instantly defuse anxiety and anger. The world of therapy has been obsessed with maintaining boundaries in recent years. I say our problem is just the opposite—we’re all cut off from each other. If you watch two people in love, they touch each other all the time. If you watch two people finding their way back into a love relationship, after falling into demon dialogues, they touch each other more, too. They literally reach for each other; it’s a tangible sign of their desire for connection.

Secure (and Saucy) Sex

A big myth about love is that it’s got a “best before” date, that passion is a burning fever that must subside. That’s pretty silly. I don’t see any scientific or human reason why people can’t have happy long-term love relationships. Among people who do have affairs, they don’t do so because their sex lives are boring. I’ve never had anyone come to my office and tell me that they had an affair because they were bored in bed. They have affairs because they’re lonely, because they can’t emotionally connect with their partner. Then somebody else smiles at them and makes them feel special and valued—and suddenly, they’re in this strange situation where they’re committed to one person but find themselves responding to another. Passion is like everything else: It ebbs and flows. But sex is always going to be boring if it’s one-dimensional, cut off from emotional connection. On the other hand, if you’re emotionally involved, sex has a hundred dimensions to it, and is as much play as passion. I call this kind of secure sex “synchrony sex,” where emotional openness and responsiveness, tender touch, and erotic exploration all come together. When partners have a secure emotional connection, physical intimacy can retain all of its initial ardor and creativity and then some. Lovers can be tender and playful one moment, fiery and erotic another. Securely attached partners can more openly express their needs and preferences and are more willing to experiment sexually with their lovers. In a secure relationship, excitement comes not from trying to resurrect the novel moments of infatuated passion but from the risk involved in staying open in the moment-to-moment, here-and-now experience of physical and emotional connection. With this openness comes the sense that lovemaking with your partner is always a new adventure.

Lasting Love

Once you’re reconnected with your partner, and both of you are getting your attachment needs filled, you have to keep working at being emotionally responsive to one another. You can do that by helping each other identify the attachment issues that tend to come up in your recurring arguments. If, for example, you always erupt over your girlfriend’s risky mountain climbing trips, talk to her about how your anger is born out of a fear of losing her. Figure out how she can take more precautions. Or, if you often feel abandoned when left with the brunt of childcare duties, plan out how you and your husband can be better parents together, so that you won’t call him a deadbeat in a moment of pent-up frustration. You should also celebrate positive moments together, both big and small. Regularly and deliberately hold, hug, and kiss each other when you wake up, leave the house, return, and go to sleep. Recognize special days, anniversaries, and birthdays in very personal ways. These rituals keep your relationship safe in a distracting and chaotic world. Stories shape our lives, and the stories we tell about our lives shape us in turn. Create a future love story for you and your partner that outlines what your life together will look like five or ten years down the road. It will prime you to keep your bond strong.

Arms Wide Open Because attachment is a universal need, the attachment view of love can also help parents understand conflicts with their children. I was recently in a cafe with my teenage son, yelling at him over the roar of the latte machine, while he sulked and huffed. Then suddenly he said, “Mom, we’re doing that thing, where I feel like you are criticizing me, and you feel like I don’t care what you have to say.” We both started laughing and my anger melted away. Now that we know what love is really about, we know how to sustain it. It’s up to us to use that knowledge to nurture it with our partners and families. And then, with the empathy and courage it teaches us, we can search for ways to take it out into the world and make a difference. Sue Johnson is a clinical psychologist and author of Hold Me Tight. Learn more at (link is external).

{Copyright 2014 By Sue Johnson, published on January 1, 2009 – last reviewed on July 1, 2014 on Psychology Today}
Let It Go - From Psychology Today

Let It Go!

(This article is from “Psychology Today”)
Past hurts and old injustices have a way of keeping us stuck in our tracks, unable to move forward or experience joy. It can take a radical reboot to get past yesterday. Here’s how.  By Judith Sills Ph.D., published on November 4, 2014 Look Closely. A long shadow may be clouding your future. It’s the shadow cast by the pain in your past—the parent who wasn’t there, the ex who betrayed, the boss who humiliated you.Or perhaps you’re stuck in place by the unhappy residue of your own bad choices—the job you should have left earlier, the sexual secrets you keep, the doctor’s visit you delayed.It is heart-stoppingly easy to get stuck in the darkness of bad memories. They are emotional quicksand and exert a strong downward pull on the psyche. Sometimes the past traps us through unexamined clutter spilling from every tabletop and corner, elbowing out the new and the possible. Or it commandeers your daydreams, obsessively replaying old losses, past injustices, nagging guilts about the sibling you tormented or friend you let down. Perhaps it lives on in litigation of a marriage although the divorce is a decade old, or in rage against the parent who belittled you, or at yourself because you once fell for someone else’s lies. The strong urge to right wrongs that can never be erased, to revisit hurt from which you should have been protected, to cling to lost love, to brood, to avenge—these are natural inclinations, to a point and for a time.

Time’s up.

It’s an axiom of psychology that we are some recombination of all of our yesterdays. To move forward wisely, we are therefore often urged to look back. But there’s a point where appreciation and analysis of the past become gum on your psychological shoe. It sticks you in place, impedes forward motion, and, like gum, it doesn’t just disappear on its own. You need to do some scraping. The power to get past the past does not lie primarily with the nature of events themselves. They count a lot, sure. But so do the steps forward a person is willing to take and how much effort he or she is willing to expend to push some emotional rock up, up, and out of the way. Getting unstuck involves remembering an injury, but reconsidering it from a different, more empathetic perspective. Moving forward may mean reconfiguring a relationship so that you are less giving, more realistic. But it rarely means cutting off those ties. Think alteration, not amputation. Getting unstuck requires being truthful with yourself about how you feel—still angry, sad, or anxious, even though you wish you weren’t—but holding out the possibility that someday you might feel better. Is there anything you can’t get over? Yes and no. You don’t get over it, but you might find a different place to put it. You don’t forget it, but the thought no longer intrudes. You don’t pretend it wasn’t bad, but you have a sense that you can heal. We don’t get over the past. We get past it.

An Opening Act

Getting past yesterday demands both thinking and doing. It’s things we do as well as things we think that hold us unwittingly in a painful place. Arguably, it’s easy to shift behaviors—that is, once you pause to consider them. More intricately, getting beyond yesterday is a psychological high-wire act of letting go, of reevaluating experience and relinquishing old perspectives, of discarding cherished but mistaken beliefs (often about what it takes to be happy), of delicately but deeply recalibrating thoughts and feelings. Letting go means something has to open in your head and in your heart, but that shift, that easing, comes up against our own invisible, often implacable resistance. A great deal of that resistance comes from nothing more pedestrian than the great human reluctance to change. Even change for the better is still change, often initially dreaded and avoided. We are creatures of habit and of inertia. A great deal of psychological research attests to resistance even to positive change. It is one of the great marvels of clinical observation how much discomfort people can tolerate before they acknowledge the need for change. And change is always uncomfortable, at least at first. Letting go fights more than the powerful magnet of the status quo. It also comes into conflict with compelling, distorted thoughts that make holding on appear reasonable and right. We are given to magical thinking (“If I make more money, she will come back to me”), to delusions (“I must keep gathering this evidence. Somehow, I can be proven right if I stick with it”), to sheer errors of logic (“My kids have never appreciated or admired my collections, but they will someday. That’s why I have to hold on to them”). Each thought pattern is a cunning argument against letting go. Each needs to be directly challenged and rescripted before your heart and mind really open to a new state. At its deepest level, the prospect of letting go forces us up against our three strongest emotional drivers: love, fear, and rage. The tentacles of rage are easiest to understand, although difficult to escape. To let go of a past injustice that preoccupies us, we must relinquish our natural burning hope for equity, or at least for exposing to the world the wrongdoer—your brother, your crooked business partner, your vicious former friend—for who and what he is. Dimming that eternal flame of rage is effortful. The bad guy won. It happens. Love itself is a powerful counterweight to letting go. Even when a relationship is out of your life—long after the breakup, the divorce, even the death—it may occupy your heart and your head. Letting go means loosening that internal attachment, and therefore losing that love—again. What makes the fresh loss worthwhile, of course, is that letting go of the old attachment opens up the real possibility of a new one in your life. That would be sufficient, even inspiring motivation, except that it leaves a blank spot where the future lives, and we mostly fill such blank spots with fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of future loss and additional pain. Fear makes us cling to what we know, however bad it makes us feel. Letting go means confronting these invisible emotional barriers: bringing them into your awareness and then struggling against them. It means challenging irrational, unproductive thinking until you get your head on straight; it means facing up to your fear and then calling on your courage and your character to face it down; and it means confronting your passionate attachment to a past love and reducing it from a boulder to a pebble. Put the pebble in your pocket as a cherished reminder, and leave room in your heart for something new.

Sticking Points

There’s an array of specific behaviors that tend to mire us in the past. Many of us keep our homes crammed with under-used, outgrown, or unlovely objects. Whether we’re reluctant to face the emotional twinge of letting go or unwilling to invest the sheer time or effort it takes to divest, the mess clutters more than our closets. It clouds our vision and blocks positive change. If those drawers are crammed with unpaid bills, take special notice. Crushing debt casts a long shadow. Debt kills your spirit and your possibilities. Face the problem, see a financial counselor, make a plan, and get out! Receiving alimony or the like is less obvious, but it’s still potentially subversive enough to merit attention. There’s no free lunch. It’s good to get the money, but it often comes with high emotional interest. You may keep paying and paying in old anger and resentment. Like alimony, holidays can be a double-edged sword. Tradition is beautiful, meaningful, and way overdone. If you are still enjoying the ritual, great. If you have a secret yearning to break free but feel you “wouldn’t be allowed,” maybe you don’t have to be that stuck? Break the rule of Christmas morning and many other required behaviors change too. Finally, fearsomely, there is that thing we do behind our own backs because we know we shouldn’t do it: We continue contact—with the very person, the very situation, that was destructive in the first place. We often don’t get better until we stop going there. You know that; you just don’t want to face it. Starting at the deep end, acknowledge your secrets. Nothing nails us to the past more than the energy it takes to keep them. Then move forward by making a frank assessment of your character traits. Do you have a taste for blame? Pointing the finger feels so good, it’s habit forming. But it makes you powerless. Now take a hard look at your habits of thinking. Have you allowed yourself to develop a rigid mind? If so, know that you are trading the pleasure of certainty for the possibility of change. And you might want to pause to examine your most cherished memories—namely, those of past happiness. From a distance, flaws disappear and good shimmers through. That’s a joy, but it might make current reality dim by contrast. To the degree that you stop any of the above, you will come unstuck. But to move forward requires positive action. As we know all too well, without effort yesterday hangs around on its own. There are six action steps to take.

1: Anchor Yourself in the Future

It’s hard to let go of the past in the absence of a positive view of tomorrow. You need a vision of the future. An investment in, a distraction through, or an excitement about something ahead will supply the energy and the will to push you beyond the past. Creating it requires deliberate mental focus. Force yourself to take an online class with an eye toward getting a different degree. Hire a trainer and keep detailed records of your body’s improvements. Create a new sales target or envision a better job. Giving yourself a goal to work toward will help to tow you out of the quicksand of yesterday. Sure, finding your way forward can be a fight. The new cozy nest will take the edge off the painful loss of an old family setting. But you’ve got to look at a lot of real estate. The job that is a better fit may make the last humiliating failure appear as a blessing. But you’ve got to endure a hell of a lot of interviews. Still, your emotional burden will be lighter.

2: Discard

Pushing actively past the past starts with discarding. Some years ago I dated a very fine man, a widower of three years who wholeheartedly believed he wanted a new partner and that new partner was possibly me. But his home was frozen at the moment of his wife’s death—her makeup sprawled on the bureau, her medical bills cluttering the kitchen table, her clothes spilling out of closets and drawers. His own life was layered over this—papers, books, new shirts, and old jackets everywhere. Thinking I could help, and tired of his constant complaints about disorganization, I spent a weekend with him trying to declutter, to freshen—trying, really, to make room for myself. At the end of the weekend, a large photo of his wife, propped in a new corner, suddenly fell over. “Look what you did,” he said, rushing to right it. “You knocked over Marilyn.” Marilyn stayed put. I left. Look around at your own space. It sends a message about how open you are to to change and rebuilding. Ruthless discard is a necessary path forward under special life circumstances—when you are merging with a new partner, into a new life. Nobody needs two brown couches. Or, more commonly, discard when you are downsizing. At any point in life, you might find it useful to move forward by simplifying. If you are sinking under past acquisitions—broken toys, oversized mortgages, messy basements, stuffed closets—discard (whether by donating, selling, or simply trashing) is your only way forward. Buried somewhere under everything you’ve bought you will likely find your real values. Poignantly, discard when you are suffering. Slip the memorabilia of your broken heart or botched start-up into what’s been described as “Satan’s Suitcase.” If you are still not able to toss it, stick it in the dark corner of a closet. Someday it will mean nothing. Toss it then. Begin small—your nightstand drawer? Sort smart: Keep, toss, or transfer ownership. As you get into the spirit, the “keep” pile will shrink. Prepare to feel anxious, energized, sad, overwhelmed, regretful, and nostalgic. It doesn’t matter how you feel, as long as you keep discarding.

3: Repair

It was an anonymous letter, in an envelope with no return address. It contained five $100 bills, and a simple explanation: “Dear Richard, I worked for you 22 years ago, when you had that small bookstore. You were a fine boss, fair and decent. Over time, I stole from you; you never knew it. I don’t think you even suspected. Here is the money back. It comes with my deep apologies.” Richard read the letter to many of his friends, asking each of us if there were someone in our past, in our heads or hearts, to whom we might owe a similar letter. I am asking you the same thing. One solid way to get past the past is to restore to a better whole those relationships that have frayed—whether from disuse, misunderstanding, or a reluctance to see your part in a past conflict. You didn’t steal, but you’ve come to see that you’ve done damage—and who has not? You were consistently mean to a sibling, harsh with a parent, abusive to an ex, or unsupportive to a friend in need. Make amends. Making amends rarely means anything as concrete as sending cash. It generally involves reaching out to someone, face to face or in writing, and expressing your remorse. A statement of remorse includes three essential pieces—a clear articulation of the harm you feel you did (“When we were little, I teased you so meanly”); a chance for the other person to express his or her point of view, old fury, or past pain, which will be uncomfortable to hear but requires validation from you (“I can see that I let you down… treated you terribly… was unfair. You have every right to be angry”); and an authentic expression of remorse, from the heart ( “I want you to know that I understand how I hurt you, and I’m so very sorry”). The repair steps may or may not restore the relationship. Many other factors will determine that outcome. But it is a way to put that part of the past that has been plaguing you firmly behind you.

4: Transform Your Narrative

Simply put, we are our story. Not so much the story of the events in our lives but the story we tell ourselves about the role we played in the events—hero or victim, beloved or unworthy, competent or careless. One powerful strategy for easing the pain of the past is to rewrite key aspects of the story from a more balanced, empathetic perspective. A healthy rewrite makes you less victimized, less devastated, less lost than the one you told yourself at the time of the original injury. It reduces the deep rage, loss, and fear that have been holding you back. “I was bitter for a long time because my husband had an affair that ended our marriage. I was unhappy in the marriage, but at least I didn’t betray him! I stopped being angry when I saw that his affair unlocked the door for both of us. I got to leave and still be the good guy. That was a gift.” “My brother-in-law walked away from our family business when we were nearing bankruptcy. I thought he was a selfish bastard who took advantage of me. My bitterness split our family for a decade. Eventually, though, I came to see that we were two men who each had a choice to make at a fork in the road. We chose differently. He wasn’t putting one over on me; it had nothing to do with me. Once I truly accepted this, the family could sit down to a real Thanksgiving dinner.” Rewrites do not attempt to change the facts of the narrative. They simply see those facts through more mature, more empathetic, less injured eyes. Those eyes help you let go.

5: Forgive

The transformed narrative is a step along that rockiest of paths, toward forgiveness. Is it really possible to be deeply hurt, unjustly treated, grievously wronged, and forgive the perpetrator? It is; I’ve seen it. And it is the most profound way to free yourself from the emotional intrusions of the past. It helps to understand what parts of yourself you are up against. When we are deeply wronged, there are powerful rewards to staying angry. Rage is like a giant billboard advertising the evils of our assailant. Forgiveness, on the other hand, can feel as if you are letting the bad guy off, endorsing him even. That feels intolerable. Too, anger can be very motivating; it gives us courage to confront the unfair boss, energy to get through the painful trial. That’s a lot to give up, for the sake of forgiveness. You will have to come to believe that there is more to be gained by forgiving than by staying angry. Usually, and eventually, there is. When there is no longer a constructive action step to be taken that requires your anger as its fuel, the cost to you of the rage you are carrying exceeds the rewards of punishing the offender. At that moment, forgiveness is possible. Forgiveness is a decision, not a capitulation. It says, “You wronged me. I didn’t deserve it. I’ve been angry long enough. I am laying down my anger because I don’t need to carry it anymore.” Record your decision to forgive, or tell a significant person in your life. Write a letter to the person who hurt you and tell him or her exactly how you were wronged. Include your new narrative that tells your transformed story. (“Dad, your rages were terrifying, but I am now able forgive you for being an alcoholic. You would never have chosen that struggle.”) Forgiveness also applies to the ruthless self-injury some of us inflict for the shortcomings of our own imperfect selves. For the hurtful lie you told, the opportunity you blew, the money misspent, the taxes unfiled; for the time you called your child stupid or lazy—for any and all those things for which you are beating yourself up, take one or all of these steps to forgive yourself. Remediate: Pay the taxes, face the fine. Make things right where you can. Apologize: Acknowledge the harm you’ve caused. That does more than ease the other person’s distress. It is heart medicine for yourself. Confess: Tell a friend about your moment of bad mothering. Tell your spouse about your stupid office screw up. Impose a penalty: Feeling guilty about your rudeness to your mate? After the apology, offer to do his or her least-liked chore for a week. WRITE ONE HUNDRED TIMES: “Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.”

6: Learn to Be Present

Nothing—not one single technique or inner evolution—is as powerful an antidote to the past as the capacity to be present in the here and now. Unfortunately, our natural capacity for that focus is severely limited by those great emotional magnets of past and future — fear, love, rage, anxiety, shame, regret, fantasy. The ability to focus on the present is amenable to improvement. The technique through which you better that capacity is mindfulness, a practice in which you note in a nonjudgmental way the thoughts and sensations occurring at this very moment. Mindfulness is an acquired skill. Its stress-reduction benefits are well documented and there are many positive emotional and spiritual side effects. And it still has a bonus: As your skill at mindfulness increases, you will, by definition, get past the past.   {Copyright 2014 By Judith Sills Ph.D., published on November 4, 2014 – last reviewed on November 7, 2014 on Psychology Today}