Do you ever get fed up with those negative stories you tell yourself in your head? I do.
Problem is we come to believe our own stories. Even though the “stories” are our perception of our reactions to events that happened to us. Unfortunately, these stories can turn into things we believe about ourselves and our life.
They usually start with “I should have…”, “why didn’t I”, “I just don’t cope well with…”, “if only”…, “I’m not good enough because…”, “I’m not capable because…”, etc.
Life is unfair but it isn’t at the same time. Too often we punish ourselves with our own expectations of ourselves, our lives or others which are unrealistic and will never be reached.
I know that having unrealistic and/or unhelpful expectations usually result in a negative emotional reaction. Feelings of sadness, anger, guilt, fear, shame, and regret can be invitations to our very own “pity party”
The word “party” says it all, because, let’s be honest, we can enjoy a good pity party.
I did. There is nothing like feeling sorry for yourself. I quite enjoyed it for a couple of days last week. It was my excuse to avoid situations, justify plenty of chocolate and binge watch TV because, life was just too hard, I needed to avoid more pain and look after myself.
So why do we enjoy a “pity party”?
A pity party is a safe place to feel miserable when life just gets too much. Somewhere we enjoy wallowing. Somewhere to protect ourselves from further pain.
And this is why:
- Our brains have a naturally negative bias because we are wired to survive.
- This means they are constantly on the lookout for threats, particularly threats to our own safety and identity.
- Our brains are also lazy and prefer lazy thinking as this needs less energy. So, we go with the easy option i.e. avoidance of pain at all costs.
- Finally, our brains like predicting the future based on experiences.
- The problem is, we are rubbish at remembering things accurately. We only remember things from our perspective, through our negatively biased thinking and feeling.
Stuff happens. We then start telling ourselves stories based on our beliefs about what has happening to us. All too often we end up focusing on the negatives which become part of our story.
The problem is if we are a parent and we feel miserable it inevitably has a negative effect on our family. Emotions are contagious and those closest to us tend to catch ours, be they negative or positive. We are never at our best if we are enjoying our own pity party.
Reflecting and wallowing
There is a subtle difference between reflecting on a negative event, perhaps we made a mistake, which can be helpful and ruminating/wallowing on what happened which is more likely to be unhelpful.
Wallowing is part of the process in the short-term. How long we wallow depends on us and will be different for all of us. However, for our mental well-being we do need to learn how to pull ourselves out of the mud.
The problem is when the “pity party” doesn’t stop and we get stuck in a negative thinking spiral. Our misery takes over our emotions and this can lead to an increased likelihood of tipping us into depression and anxiety as time goes on.
“Name it to frame it”
We need to remember that all emotions are okay.
What we feel and living with how we feel is important.
Learning to process our emotions is a key part of managing our well-being. There is a vast amount of information out there to help us.
“Name it to frame it” is about putting your naming your emotions, putting in the right context and then learning to manage them. We all need to find our own unique way to do this.
But until you process your emotions and wallow a little, it is difficult to move on.
“Shut Up and Move On” (SUMO) Monday*
We have our own ways of coping when life just gets too much. Mine is taking myself off into countryside which I know I needed on Monday.
Since being a teenager, I have recharged myself by walking in beautiful countryside – it usually resets me.
What helps you? You need to know yourself well enough to understand what you need and when.
We need to become our own best friends, take our own advice, and understand how to manage our own emotions and recharge our energy.
Exmoor: my “shut up and move on” day
As I drove towards Dunkery Beacon I decided a SUMO day would become a thing for me.
I needed to change the negative story that kept repeating in my head. The same negative emotions triggered each time I told myself the story – life isn’t fair so I just had to learn to shut up and move on so I could enjoy life I have.
Easier said than done.
So, I gave myself permission to enjoy wallowing until 12 noon and then by 1 PM would mark the moment and start telling myself to shut up and move on whenever the story repeated.
I needed to stop the broken record, even I was getting bored.
Walking has always been my way of coping, so I kept walking… And thinking…
Dunkery Beacon was stunning and Horner Woods beautiful in the autumn sunshine. As I walked, I thought about how life would be if I stopped some of my negative thinking and associated stories!
And it worked, with each step I processed and as I processed my challenges I became more determined to SUMO. I wanted to live my best life so why not!
Don’t underestimate the effort needed to SUMO
Effort takes energy, to manage our thinking takes a great deal of energy.
It is far too easy to fall back into negative thinking spirals. However, sometimes it is helpful to have a specific date time and location to remind yourself what and how much you want to change.
Decisions in moments
So, sitting on the bench looking over Porlock Weir just above Bossington was my SUMO moment (see above). And I will remember it.
I knew that I wanted to move on and had a lovely afternoon working through how to stick to my SUMO moment.
It felt like a weight had been lifted, I did feel different, more positive and better able to cope with life.
How to keep going
We all remember moments of change in different ways. Some of those like physical objects, others find journalling helpful, I felt that writing about it would hold me accountable.
The rest of the week has had its usual ups and downs, but I am determined stop being a broken record and embrace life’s challenges in a new way.
Life isn’t fair and I know I will need another SUMO day but for now, onwards and upwards!
*S.U.M.O. (Shut Up, Move On: The straight talking guide to succeeding in life) by Paul McGee (2015)