What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?
How do you feel when you think about that?
If you feel nothing, congratulations, your past has been dealt with and no longer haunts you.
if you feel… anger, sadness, confusion, shock, frustration or any other pain, then like most people, your past has not been dealt with and still does haunt you.
You have to deal with it sooner or later, because if time healed all wounds there’d be no money in becoming a doctor or therapist.
Whether it’s a sub-optimal childhood, a bad relationship, a crappy work situation, a school bully from 38 years ago, a betrayal, your Mum stealing your Easter eggs or really anything that still conjures powerful emotions, you’ll be a lot happier having dealt with it sooner rather than later.
And now is as good a time as ever, especially considering how easy it is to do, surprisingly enough. Alternatively you could just never deal with it ever, as being a moody prick makes for a great anti-hero in a movie and is quite “cool”, even though it’s rather unpleasant.
I read about how to do this in a book written by Sonja Lyubomirsky, called The How Of Happiness. What the author lacks in terms of having a pronounceable name, she makes up for by being a professor of Psychology who has conducted a lot of experiments in how dealing with your past can permanently improve your life
My experiences with this
I implemented the “free writing” method and went through a number of experiences, including this terrible relationship I had with a previous girlfriend as well as a terrible job I’d had.
After doing this exercise I totally changed the way I thought and subsequently felt about both of those experiences.
I realised that I was very grateful for my ex-girlfriend for being such a next-level crazy bitch, because if she had kept her personality disorder largely hidden from me, I might have ended up staying with and perhaps eventually marrying her, which would have been a horrifying outcome. I shudder to think at what a bullet I must have dodged, simply because my beautiful ex-girlfriend who I was totally enamoured with was such a disaster that my friends told me repeatedly to absolutely, definitely dump her immediately.
I went from being angry and sad about the experience to laughing about it and feeling actually glad that it had happened. How awesome is that!
For the work experience, I went from being angry and bitter about a previous job I’d had that was horrendously stressful, to actually thankful I’d gone through it. I realised that if i hadn’t done that job I wouldn’t have learned about the totally vital things which led to my next fantastic job, things that there’s no way I would have just stumbled upon otherwise. I look back and chuckle at what a pain in the ass it was to work there and remember some of their painfully stupid policies that led to half the company leaving within two months.
Wouldn’t it be nice to flip the way you feel about some of your unhappy memories?
How to do this
Here are three ways you can deal with your past, the first two are straight from “The How Of Happiness”, and are the actual exercises which Psychologists used in experiments with their subjects to see if after doing them, they were happier down the road than the control group. The third exercise is my own design.
Free writing method
For the next four days, I would like for you to write about your very deepest thoughts and feelings about the most traumatic experience of your entire life.
In your writing, I’d like you to really let go and explore your very deepest emotions and thoughts.
You might tie your topic to your relationships with others, including parents, lovers, friends, or relatives, to your past, your present, or your future, or to who you have been, who you would like to be, or who you are now.
You may write about the same general issues or experiences on all days of writing or on different traumas each day.
At minimum, you should spend fifteen minutes writing each day, and you should write for several days in a row, for as long as needed
Guided writing/talking method
A sequence of three general steps is taken, with the ultimate goal of finding benefit in pain.
First, whether through writing or talking (to a trusted friend):
Acknowledge that your loss or trauma has caused you a great deal of pain and suffering.
Then consider what you have done during your loss or in response to it that you are proud of. If a family member has died, perhaps you worked extremely hard to make his or her last days comfortable. If your marriage fell apart and you sank into a depression, perhaps you bravely slogged through your workdays and kept it together, at least in front of people who depended on you.
Next, consider how much you have grown as a result of your loss. Do you think that you have a new perspective on life (even if it’s a negative one)? Do you believe that you are more compassionate now, or more grateful, or sensitive, or patient, Or tolerant, or open-minded?
Finally, think about how the trauma has positively affected your relationships. Have any of them been strengthened in any way? Have any of them become closer, more intimate, or more supportive?
Comedy writing exercise
(Comedy, because this is literally how I have written some of the material I’ve used when I’ve performed on stage at various comedy open mics and is the general process a lot of other comedians use, which is how they end up joking about their childhood or their relationship problems even though, at the time, those experiences were awful)
- Think of something bad that happened to you
- Brainstorm everything you remember happening regarding it
- Brainstorm everything you remember thinking about it
- Brainstorm everything you remember feeling about it
- Brainstorm what you are proud of in your response to it
- Brainstorm how you have grown as a result of it
- Brainstorm how it has positively affected your relationships
- Brainstorm what’s funny about each of these things (perhaps the other person’s absurd mindset or the bizarreness of the situation in general or how other people reacted or how you reacted or so on)
- Write a standup set based on this (optional)
- Perform the standup set at a comedy open mic (optional)
If you’ve gotten through to this part of the blog, you either quickly scrolled all the way down just for the sheer thrill of seeing text fly up the screen, or you actually read everything above this.
If you took the time to read this, you must have thought it was worth your time to do so, and if it was worth your time to read then surely it’s worth your time to apply.
Reading a blog about different exercises for how to deal with your past without actually doing those exercises is like reading the manual of a car without bothering to drive it.
So which of those three methods, Free-Writing, Guided Writing/Talking and Comedy Writing would you lean towards trying out?
And since you took a few minutes to read this blog and you’re currently reading this on a device which has the ability to let you type out some notes for a writing exercise right now, do you think it would be worthwhile spending another three minutes just starting your preferred method right now?
Good, get started on one of the exercises, then leave a comment below saying what you got out of it, after you’re done 🙂