Last Friday I was talking to Jennie (pseudonym), a very elderly friend of mine. Her brother had been in a car accident and broken his leg. She started crying as she told me what happened. This reminded her of a comment he had made about her children not helping her. That led her to talk about the many unpleasant/upsetting things his children had done to her, things over which she had no control. These thoughts increased her agitation and disturbance, leading her into even more negative thoughts and memories.
I told her she was talking herself into being even more upset. Her children did not do what her brother said they did. They were good boys, very good sons to her, visiting her every weekend for the past many years. "There is something called thought stopping." I told her. "When you start thinking these unpleasant thoughts you say to yourself "STOP!". Then you replace the thoughts with good ones; how good your sons are to you, going to dinner with the new friend you made, good memories of your life, for instance.
I was at a memorial service on Sunday. The minister's father had died. As she spoke of him she recounted many good memories of the kind of person and father he had been.
What do these 2 things have to do with each other?
My father was not like hers. Charlie (what I called my father) was not a nice man, at least to me. Her stories led me into some very dark thoughts about my father. Does that mean that everytime someone tells good stories about their parents I have to start down the memory lane of bad thoughts?
No. I have to stop my own automatic negative train of thoughts and resulting emotions, but does that mean you have to quash all the bad thoughts, memories, and feelings? Is this a way to feel better or is it a way of merely repressing the bad?
It is important to differentiate. The thinking of only the bad about something that is in the control of another - the way Jennie's nieces acted was not her responsibility, nor can she change, is unhelpful. Thinking about it does nothing for her but engender more bad thoughts.
Thinking about what my father did and squashing the thoughts is hurtful. It has caused me to behave in ways very hurtful to myself. My swallowing the thoughts makes it impossible to find the ways to overcome what happened and change what I need to change. Ignoring it, pretending it is not there only lets it find other ways to express itself.
When we cannot do something, because of the pain, vs. allowing the bad behavior and remarks of others is the same issue. The acceptance of the 'cannot' is important in allowing us to let go of the was and accept the now.
What others do and say is in their control. It is their responsibility. When we hear it, when we think of it, when we allow it to continue to hurt us, we need to listen to the thought and tell it "STOP!"