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.
It’s not me, it’s you: One origin of hate
When awful things happen, we are left wondering how and why such a thing could happen. How could one human maintain such ignorant and hateful beliefs about another group of humans? How could one human hate so intensely that he would sacrifice his freedom, his life, in order to destroy the lives of others?
When a person feels disadvantaged in some way, there is a tendency to resist accepting personal responsibility for that disadvantage. If I can blame others for my situation then there is nothing wrong with me, and therefore, there is no need for me to change. But there is reason for me to be angry. If I have been told, as my father was told, and his father was told, that my problems are because of a particular group of people, then those people become my enemies. If I believe that there aren’t enough resources for us all, then I must hate and destroy you in order to ensure my survival. And, in order to protect this set of beliefs, which has been passed down for generations, I must ignore any information that goes against my beliefs. Those ideas that conflict with my own are lies, made up by my enemy, designed to make me look foolish.
Generational ignorance and blaming of others, the belief in the scarcity of resources, psychological dysfunction, and fear all play a part in creating and maintaining hate. And it is very hard to change the mind of the irrationally committed, which makes this type of hate especially scary.
Don’t paint on my blank canvas!
When one experiences negative feelings or insecurities about self or situation, a belief can develop that others share that opinion as well. This is what is known as psychological projection, and it can cause a person to believe that he or she is being viewed negatively by others. When one applies meaning to words and actions of others in an irrational way (without proof), and accepts that meaning as confirmation that personal insecurities are being seen and believed by others, dysfunction occurs. When I say, “Don’t paint on my blank canvas,” it means don’t view my neutrality as confirmation of your insecurities. Don’t assume that I’m thinking what you’re thinking. It’s important that we seek to identify, understand, and work through our own insecurities and resist the urge to project them onto others. Don’t paint your insecurities onto anyone’s blank canvas and all of your relationships will benefit.
Put simply, self-pity is you feeling sorry for you. It’s those times when life feels hard and you allow negative thinking to take over. It’s those times when you choose to focus on what is lacking in life rather than what is there. Self-pity is a feeling that leads to a lot of dysfunction. Self-pity leads to substance abuse, relationship problems, depression and anxiety. The medicine for self-pity is gratitude. Gratitude is appreciating the good rather than focusing on the bad. It is nearly impossible to feel self-pity when you are focusing on all the things for which you are grateful. So, when you notice that you are feeling down and focusing on the bad, take stock of all that you have. Be grateful and choose to think about the positive instead of the negative. Then, sit back and enjoy the change that takes place as your life becomes filled with more and more things for which to be grateful.