One strategy that many of us have used to remove or reduce the impact of traumatic experiences on our lives is to push them into the recesses of our minds and just not think about them. There is the belief that pretending something didn’t happen, or concealing it from our conscious mind reduces its impact on our decisions and experiences. This decision is usually made either because the traumatic experience seems too painful to think about or too hopeless to address. I often describe these experiences as piles of poop in the mind, and find them to be some of the most productive areas to explore in therapy. Let me explain…
If you have a dog, you have most likely walked into a room of your house at some point in your life and found that the dog has dropped a deuce on the floor. At this point, you have a few options of how to handle the situation. You can turn around and go to different part of the house and hope that someone else walks in, finds the mess, and cleans it up. This approach can work sometimes, but will lead to resentment from others who find themselves tasked with cleaning up messes that they know should have been your responsibility. Another potential problem with this approach is that life can become quite dysfunctional when no one comes behind you to clean up the mess and you end up living in a world of poop.
The next option involves the out of sight, out of mind principle. You can decide to push the poop into the corner so it is out of the way and put a newspaper over it so you don’t have to look at it. The problem here is that out of sight doesn’t mean out of smell. So now, even though you can’t see the poop, it still stinks. And that stink will not only affect your peace of mind, but will keep others from wanting to be around you as well. It’s hard to enjoy life while holding your breath or hiding your face in your shirt.
This leads us to the final option. You can directly address the problem, which involves acknowledging that the poop is there, picking it up, scrubbing away any mess left behind, disinfecting the floor and taking out the garbage. This approach is no fun! I’ve never met anyone who enjoys the sight or smell of dog poop, or the feeling of picking it up even through a bag. However, this is the only way to appropriately and adequately handle the situation. This is the approach that minimizes the impact that the poop will have on your life, and the lives of those who are close to you.
So, while you may be tempted to avoid your piles or to push them away to be dealt with on another day, my advice is to hit the nastiness head on. Think about the piles that exist in your mind and start cleaning them up one by one. Expect to be uncomfortable and don’t be surprised if your eyes water a bit, but know that your short term discomfort will minimize the long term negative impact of those experiences.