When All Else Fails, Blame Your Parents (or How to Re-frame the Past)

I have a friend who won’t leave a relationship that makes him miserable. “Why not just date other women?” I asked him. “You can find someone who is more compatible with you.”

“Oh no. I couldn’t do that,” he responded. “It’s going to be too hard to find a woman who accepts me… You know, with my past and all.”

I looked at him funny. “Your past? What are you talking about?” My friend is a handsome guy in his early thirties with a stellar job as a bio medical engineer in San Diego. He has no debt. He’s loving. His off-the-charts bright. He’s romantic. He’s loyal. Why would a guy like that be with a woman who made him feel bad? Especially when they don’t have any kids and aren’t married.

“Well,” he explained, “when I was young, my parents didn’t keep the house clean. They were hoarders.”

“Okay…?”

“And, it was hard for me to invite people over to my house because I was embarrassed. So, I didn’t have a lot of friends. There were other problems too –”

“But your house is immaculate.” (And on the beach!)

“I know.” He shook his head. “You just aren’t aware of the psychological damage my childhood had. It’s taken me years to feel comfortable around people.”

He could’ve fooled me. I thought he had everything going for him.

Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves do more harm than the actual events we base them on.

One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes from Hamlet is, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

When something happens to us, we control the interpretation of the events. I remember going to a Bob Dylan concert in Park City, Utah a few years ago. The man I went with thought it was the best concert ever. I, on the other hand, spent way too much of my time focused on the awful weather. The concert was outdoors and the wind was biting, it was raining sheets and I sloshed in mud that went up to my ankles and forever ruined my shoes. Now when I think of that concert, all I can recall is how cold, runny-nosed, and irritated I was. But if you ask my date, he says, “The sound that came from that stage was electric. Dylan is unbelievable. I’m so glad I got to see him live.” He barely remembers that it was even raining.

Within every experience is the potential for negative or positive interpretation. Events just happen. But, because we are thinking, feeling humans, we love to construct stories and extract meaning. Since we know this is an attribute of our condition, we might as well construct stories that support our growth, joy, love and curiosity.

I certainly have hangups from my past and have made mistakes that still make me cringe — it’s difficult to get out of the habit of self-judgement. But more and more, I try to re-frame negative past events to see the good and approach life with a curiosity that leaves room for serendipity and light.

Getting Rid of Negative Gunk That Builds Up Throughout the Day

Here’s an exercise that I find especially helpful. Do this at the end of each day, before you go to sleep.(Note: You can also do this anytime during the day, if you are feeling bad or anxious and need to clear out negative emotions.)

1. Close your eyes and play the day’s events in your head as if you were watching a movie.

2. Some events you will sail through. Others will make you feel sad, anxious, angry, fearful, etc.

3. When you come to an event that draws out a negative emotion, stop the movie and list all of the positives from that event.

4. Then start the movie from the beginning and play each event again. The one that was negative should feel good to you and not hang you up emotionally. If it doesn’t, try listing more positives until it does.

5. Continue playing the movie until you reach the present moment. If you run into other negative events along the way, repeat step 3 and 4 until you can make it all the way through the movie with the day feeling like a positive experience.

That’s it. You have now cleared the negative interpretation of your day and can receive ultimate inspiration when you sleep (or, at least, not stay up all night fretting).

This whole process is super fast. It usually takes me 30 to 60 seconds. Sometimes it’s longer if it’s been a brutal day or there’s a lot to think about. But it’s a great way to quickly snap yourself to a state of peace.

All my love,

Laura

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Showing 2 comments
  • Fernando Viveiros V.
    Reply

    I am impressed with this post Laura, I think it is cool advice and a very positive outlook on our own ability to control change.
    I believe in Hamlet’s quote.

    ALL THE BEST.

    • Laura Roser
      Reply

      Thank you, my friend!

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