Moving on can be hard. Difficulty getting over something or someone is a very common reason people seek therapy. The heavy and lingering symptom of a negative event is often rumination. Our brains and our bodies stay stuck in what's tough. It's a struggle to shed thoughts and reminders of what's gone wrong. But why?
In a 2012 NYTimes Article, researchers stated that biologically, our negative emotions require more thorough processing than positive emotions do. For this reason, we stay longer in unpleasant events and use stronger language to describe negative events than we do happy events. The researchers noted that,
"losing money, being abandoned by friends and receiving criticism will have a greater impact than winning money, making friends or receiving praise."
Well, this certainly validates why it can be so challenging to move on from something hard! After a painful event, you may experience emotional responses like:
replaying the event in your mind over and over
constantly wondering what could have been different
replaying conversations and creating wishful imaginary responses
imagining conversations where you express yourself to someone who's hurt you
bargaining with the 'powers that be' to turn back time
needing to process it over and over with your supports, yet still not feeling healed
Have you ever found yourself doing any of the above? Are you doing it now?
So when you're feeling stuck, how do you actually pick up and move on? And not just 'plaster a smile and attempt' to move on, but really, truly go forward, up and beyond? Whether it's a romantic or friend breakup, job loss, moving to a new place, or being seriously let down by something you were counting on, here are a few of the most productive and results-driven places to start:
1. Get back into a real routine: Movies show a girl lying in her bed after a break up, eating endless piles of chocolate and pints of Ben n' Jerry's. She hasn't showered for days. She's watching 'When Harry Met Sally' on repeat.
Okay, so that's an exaggeration and its probably not you. But when we've gotten hurt or had a negative experience, self-care and what matters to us can quickly take a backseat.
Take a moment to think about what you really care about in life. Is it feeling healthy? Is it getting outside? Is it catching up with friends? What would you be doing normally if 'the thing' hadn't happened? Do it. Go full throttle. Get up with your alarm and go to downstairs for coffee. Pull weeds out of your garden before you head to work and then hit the grocery store after for a real dinner you cook and eat for yourself. Get busy and stay busy.
Unfortunately, life does not stop for crummy emotions, and it doubly stinks to miss days of your life because you're stuck in them. Don't let a negative event take more from you than it already has. Begin to give yourself back a strong, structured routine that involves what brings you joy, peace, and fulfillment. If you need help figuring that out, that's what friends, family, and therapy are there for.
2. Deciding to act "as if": This step is tied tightly to the above step #1, but it's slightly different. This involves you taking both emotional and physical steps that change how you would normally respond to and expose yourself to a continuing negative event. Here are some examples from client situations (that have been changed and skewed to avoid identification):
A man has been dating online for years with constant disappointment and rejection. He's burnt out and wondering if he'll ever meet the one. So he takes a break, pulls down all his online profiles. He decides to just focus on himself for a while and stop looking for love everywhere he goes. Weeks later he's out with friends and ends up in conversation with a friend-of-a-friend who came along. Because he's stopped seeing everything as a potential love connection, he's more relaxed and himself than ever. They hit it off and the rest is history. In this situation: acting as if he isn't so anxious to date.
A girl considers skipping her high school reunion to avoid seeing her old best friend, who did something extremely hurtful the year before. She ultimately decides to go, and spends the night talking to everyone else, even though its awkward to see her friend there. She has a great time, and feels a boost of confidence that her friend saw her in a positive state despite their fall-out. She realizes that she doesn't need her friend as much as she thought she did to make her feel good about her high school memories. The exposure to what was at first difficult makes her more healed, healthy and able to move on. In this situation: not avoiding and acting as if she hasn't been hurt.
3. Take an important step into something else: This one's a biggie. Sometimes you've just gotta get excited about the next thing to move on from the last. This is where strong positive emotions have the power to replace previous negative ones. It's hard to stop thinking about the last-worst thing when there's no "next-best thing" lined up.
I recently experienced a huge disappointment. Two weeks from closing on my dream home, the seller took advantage of a loophole and terminated our contract. I couldn't stop thinking about my loss, and more so, the injustice of it (cue me doing the entire aforementioned list of ruminating behaviors, constantly, day and night, even in my dreams).
But we needed a home for our family, and FAST. So we decided on another home. While it's not my dream home, its a very nice home. While we were in negotiations for house #2 I was still seriously bummed. I thought I could never get over losing my dream home. But now that we've clinched house #2 and are talking about picking out new shutters, just like magic I'm thinking less about my loss and find myself planning for and feeling more excited about the future.
Simply put, after inviting a new, positive relationship (read: home) there's simply not enough room and my heavy heart and daydreams of retribution have been edged out. While I can't turn back time and change the past, I can now see the future again, take hold of it, and begin to imagine how great it might be. And that's a huge relief.
Another example of this "positive replacement" concept when someone is taking a breakup hard and he/she can't stop thinking about getting their old partner back.... until they meet someone new they're excited about. Suddenly their sorrows disappear and they're singing again. I've seen examples like this over and over in the lives of friends and loved ones, and in clients, and I'm sure you have, too.
How could any, or all, of these three suggestions help you move through something negative that's in your way? Take a close look. Perhaps you've been making a strong attempt, but there's actually a little more room to dive in to change with your whole heart.
When you're in a tough spot, it's important to look and take hold of what is actually in your control. By focusing your energy on what you have the ability to shift for yourself, you can step into feeling better. While it's never easy, I know that every single one of us deserves to overcome and move beyond life's inevitable crummy spots.
Lauren L. Drago, MSEd, LMHC, LPC is the founder of Lauren Drago Therapy in Old Saybrook, CT and in greater CT, NY & PA. She specializes in working with smart, insightful and capable women to overcome stress, anxiety, loss of identity, self-limiting beliefs, perfectionism, marriage strain, and the pressure of "trying to do it all." Lauren has a passion for helping others to achieve the happy, fulfilling, productive, and meaningful life they deserve by changing how they experience and understand their world. She believes that every woman can and should live out her personal definition of her own best life. Follow Lauren on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Call (860) 339-6515 for your free initial 15-minute consultation.