It’s inevitable that we will suffer emotional pain as we go through life. Whether it’s from a death of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, or any number of other issues, sometimes the pain we experience becomes embedded to such a degree that we can’t seem to recover from it. We might dwell on past hurts to the point that it negatively affects our emotional health, preventing us from moving on and growing as we should. In this episode, we examine this kind of emotional baggage and how to break free of the grip it can have on us.
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About Our Guest
John M. Grohol, Psy.D. is the founder & CEO of PsychCentral.com, a mental health and human behavior/technology expert, co-author of Self-Help That Works (Oxford University Press, 2013), the author of The Insider’s Guide to Mental Health Resources Online, and is a published researcher. He sits on the scientific board of the journal, Computers in Human Behavior and was previously on the editorial boards of CyberPsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking and the Journal of Medical Internet Research. He is a founding board member and current treasurer of the Society for Participatory Medicine, and sits on the board of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression. He currently oversees PsychCentral.com, the world’s leading mental health resource offering information and support groups to over seven million people each month.
LETTING GO OF PAST HURTS SHOW TRANSCRIPT
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Narrator 1: Welcome to the Psych Central show, where each episode presents an in-depth look at issues from the field of psychology and mental health – with host Gabe Howard and co-host Vincent M. Wales.
Gabe Howard: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Show podcast. My name is Gabe Howard and with me as always is Vincent M. Wales. And before we get started, we want to give a big shout out to our sponsor, BetterHelp online therapy. You can go there and you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private, online counselling anytime, anywhere. Just visit betterhelp.com/PsychCentral today. Vince and I will be welcoming back PsychCentral.com founder Dr. John Grohal. John, welcome to the show.
John Grohol: Hey, great to be joining with you guys today.
Vincent M. Wales: Good to have you. We are going to talk about something that we all have, and that is past hurts. Specifically we’re going to try to figure out how to let go of them, right?
John Grohol: Absolutely. I can certainly understand that dealing with emotional pain is not something that people are taught how to do. It’s not something we learn in school. And so, one of the things that is a challenge is the fact that we have to learn how to do this on our own.
Gabe Howard: And the benefit to doing this is what?
John Grohol: Well hurt equals pain, so we try and reduce the amount of pain we have in our lives and increase the amount of pleasure. That just seems to be the thing that leads people to greater happiness. So it’s not surprising that when we come across something that has hurt us emotionally, we’re looking for a way to reduce that emotion and to make a person get beyond it.
Vincent M. Wales: How common is it, do you think, that people are actually doing that already?
John Grohol: I mean, we all kind of struggle with this to some degree or another. It’s not a question of do these emotional hurts cause pain; they do for all of us. The question is, how long do we have to hold on to them before we can sort of move on in our lives? And the answer to that question is that it varies widely from person to person. And so I guess one of the things I’d like to do today is to talk about how we can work to try and reduce the amount of time that it takes to move on from an emotional hurt like a relationship breakup or something of that nature.
Vincent M. Wales: It’s interesting that you mentioned relationship breakups because I remember when I was going through a divorce some years ago, I found this article online that said that the general rule of thumb on how much time you need to recover from the end of a relationship is about one month for every year that you were together and I was thinking, really, because that does not seem like enough.
Gabe Howard: And who made this rule? Like…
Vincent M. Wales: I don’t know! But I remember reading that and thinking, Yeah that’s messed up.
Gabe Howard: It was definitely not on PsychCentral.com. It was on one of those competitor sites; it’s just just funky garbage. John, you wrote a great article called Learning to Let go of Past Hurts – 5 Ways to Move On. And that’s really the crux of what we want to discuss today, right?
John Grohol: Absolutely. And I wanted to also just point out real quick that the thing that Vincent mentioned is an important point, which is that we’re all kind of looking for you know how long is this going to take? When will I get over this person or this relationship? And I think it’s not really a time-based metric that you use to evaluate how long it’s going to take. It’s really a metric of how much the relationship meant to you and how important that relationship was in your life. After 20 years of a marriage where both people emotionally checked out maybe 10 years prior, you might think oh, well that’s going to take a long time to get to to move on. but that might not be the case if if they’ve already had ten years of basically being emotionally unattached. Whereas, if you’re looking at a one-year relationship, but that one year has been full of emotional commitment and emotional attachment of a very strong variety, then it could take a very long time for a person to get over that intense one-year relationship.
Gabe Howard: Well I think it’s also important, and please correct me if I’m wrong, to understand that everybody is different. There’s no wrong way. If it takes somebody longer to move on, that doesn’t mean that they’re doing it wrong.
John Grohol: Yeah yeah. And there’s no one time limit. Just because it took your friend you know a week to get over their relationship doesn’t mean it’s going to take you one week. It could take you a month. It could take you six months. There is no average. There is no sort of rule of thumb on how long it’s going to take to feel better.
Gabe Howard: See I told you wherever you read that, Vin – bunk.
Vincent M. Wales: Oh,I knew at the time.
Gabe Howard: Complete bunk.
Vincent M. Wales: But I just always wondered, how did they come to that conclusion? You know, was it just personal experience, was it they polled their small group of friends or just pulled it out the air.
Gabe Howard: The fact that they didn’t cite their source should have been clue number one. So John, from the article you’ve got your five ways to let go of past hurts and number one is…?
John Grohol: Make the decision to let it go. And that might seem obvious, but it’s not really obvious because when you’re in the depths of emotional pain, you’re not really thinking with your rational mind; you’re thinking with your irrational mind. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Let me be clear. We are irrational human beings. That’s perfectly normal. And so you need to give yourself time to be that person who is in pain, that person who needs to feel that emotional pain. But at some point, you have to make the decision to let it go. It usually has to be a pretty conscious choice upfront. Otherwise, you might end up self-sabotaging any effort that you make to try and move on.
Vincent M. Wales: I really like your second point, which is to express your pain and your responsibility. I think the responsibility part of it is crucial.
John Grohol: There is no doubt that if you are not at the point where you can take some responsibility for how the relationship ended or the fact that it did end or anything of that nature, you also need to take responsibility for the fact that this is a choice, that this is a choice that you’re making about letting your emotional pain go.
Gabe Howard: I want to add a clarifying point to number two, express your pain. We’ve talked a lot about taking responsibility, which I think is is what you’re saying there. But what is a healthy way to express pain? I mean I’m sure you don’t mean go key the person’s car if they broke up with you, which is a way to express pain. So how can you do that in a healthy manner?
John Grohol: Yeah, I think this is the one point that a lot of people have difficulty with and it’s not surprising because again, we were never taught in school or by our parents or really by anyone in our lives on how to deal with our emotions in a way that is healthy, in a way that helps us move forward. So one of the ways you can express your pain is to find a way to share it with someone else or something else, and that someone else could be a friend or a family member or a trusted person. A lot of times people turn to friends in a relationship breakup to just be able to sort of vent, to to share their emotional hurt and grief over the loss of the relationship. If that’s an option, there are things like writing in a journal or writing in a blog. You know we might pooh pooh such things as being, oh, that just sounds like psychobabble. How’s writing all all my feelings down going to help? But there’s actually research that confirms that writing things out, writing things down actually helps our ability to move on from emotional hurts.
Gabe Howard: I do think that it’s interesting that you brought up this idea that writing these things down seems, I don’t know, the word you used was you might pooh pooh the idea probably because people think that it’s foolish or stupid or insignificant, but it is something that a lot of people do and that it helps a lot of people. But the specific question that I have is, when you say that, are you talking more to men? Because I think women are comfortable writing down their emotions. So is this sort of like a gender gap?
John Grohol: I’m not sure if it’s a gender gap or not, but I would just say that you need to find the outlet for expressing your emotional pain in a way that makes you feel like you’re getting some relief from doing so. And so again, just like we talk about endlessly, there is no single right way of doing it. It’s just finding an outlet for you that works for you. I think the other important thing to remember is that we also have to take some responsibility for what we could have done differently.
Vincent M. Wales: Definitely.
John Grohol: It’s a question of whether are you an active participant in your own life or are you just a hopeless victim where life just happens around you and you sort of just are observer and bystander? And so the question is, do you let your pain become a part of your identity or are you someone who is more deep and complex than that?.
Gabe Howard: And this is a good segue into number three because stop being the victim and blaming others. And I think that is something that… I’ve fallen into that pattern before. It’s not fair that this happened to me, it’s not fair that I got sick. It’s not fair. And that really is it playing the victim. Am I correct?
John Grohol: It is a thing of playing the victim. And don’t get me wrong, playing the victim feels good. It feels good to feel like you are the person who has been wronged. And I don’t think it’s a bad thing to feel that way for a short time. So in every moment of our lives, we have that conscious choice that we can make, whether it is to continue to feel bad about another person’s actions or just start feeling good. And it’s a matter again of taking responsibility for your own happiness and for finding your own path forward. No one’s going to do that for you. No one’s going to tell you that, hey, the world has wronged you and you deserve better. Maybe it has, and maybe you do deserve better. But at the end of the day, you’re the only person who can help yourself move on. And so you need to make that conscious choice to do so.
Gabe Howard: We’re going to step away for a moment so we can hear from our sponsor. We’ll be right back.
Narrator 2: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com, secure, convenient and affordable online counselling. All counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face-to-face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counselling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Vincent M. Wales: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Dr. John Grohal talking about how to heal from past hurts. Here in the U.S., I have seen just in my casual observations that people who are in a relationship and then it falls apart…. there is a strong tendency for these people to immediately jump to the other end of the spectrum and hate each other. I’ve never understood that and from what I understand, it’s more common here than than in other countries. Do you have any thoughts on that?
John Grohol: I think it’s an interesting question and one that probably speaks more to individual differences than to any sort of generalization that I can probably make about culture. I believe that different people just come from different emotional backgrounds and that those emotional backgrounds, their upbringing, their psychology, their personality allows them to either sort of forgive that person and find a healthy way to end their relationship or they come from a viewpoint where, if you have wronged them emotionally, then you are dead to them and that is all that there is to it, or that you create this intense anger and emotionality and the other person as well. So I just think that those are individual differences that come from different backgrounds. I don’t know that there is anything more I could say about that.
Gabe Howard: Well and I think though, to your point though ,this is part of being the victim, because in order to be the victim, you have to have an enemy and you hate that enemy. So when those two people hate each other, the person that you hate is the person that… really, isn’t that just,,, it’s just a way to be the victim.
John Grohol: Yeah absolutely. I think that’s a great point, which is that, you know, when relationships fail, a lot of people turn into a very black and white issue and if they’re the victim, then they need that enemy to be able to point to and say, oh my gosh, this is the person who ruined my life, this is the bad person, I’m the good person. And it just makes it easier for their brains to sort of deal with all the pain for many people to put it into those black and white terms. And I guess you could look at it sort of as a as a dysfunctional coping mechanism because it does work for that other person. It does not work usually for the person that they’re leaving in the relationship.
Gabe Howard: Hey, if you keep making sense like this, I might send this podcast to one of my ex-wives.
John Grohol: You could try.
Gabe Howard: She she’s not a fan. The number four in this, and it’s the one that I like the most, and it’s kind of a mindfulness technique not to… People that are big fans of the Psych Central Show have heard a lot about mindfulness in the past couple of months, but it’s to focus on the present, the here and now, and to focus on your joy. Can you elaborate on that a little bit?
John Grohol: Mindfulness is a great technique. It’s something that practically everybody can and should be practicing to one degree or another in their lives. Because it’s so simple and it’s so easy to incorporate into your daily routine where it lets you focus on just being here in the present, the here and now, and stop focusing on the past. And that’s where so much of this this hurt and this rumination comes from, which is just focusing on the past. I guess some of us get stuck in that focusing on the past because it kind of feels good and we maybe want to learn something from going over the things in our head and maybe saying, well, maybe I could have done this differently or maybe that person… I didn’t see that the signs that this person was evil or bad or whatever. But by focusing on the here and now, we can temporarily let that pain and that that rumination go and bring ourselves back to what we’re doing right now. You can do this in many different ways, but it’s sort of a meditation technique and we talk more about it on the website, if people are interested.
Vincent M. Wales: When I was younger, in my college years, I was accused quite rightly of dwelling on my past and I readily admit to that. I had some events that happened in my youth that I had a lot of regrets about and I would dwell on them. I would live in the past, in other words, It’s always been very difficult for me to let go of that. And of course I can always defend myself by saying, but if you don’t learn from your past, you’re going to repeat it. And I guess I never learned properly how to stop learning from it and keep studying, I suppose. Any tips on on how to actually let go? ‘Cause I’m still struggling with it.
John Grohol: So I would say that there are lots of different ways that we struggle with these past pains and the reason that they may not go away very easily. Indeed, we do try and learn from our past, but there certainly has to be a difference between learning from the past and thinking about the past and then ruminating on the past, because if you’ve applied hundreds if not thousands of brain cycles already to the problem or to the behaviors and the relationship or whatever, and it’s… you can’t change the past. You can only change your future behaviors and hopefully after you apply those hundreds or thousands of brain cycles to such a thing, your rational mind can say, well I’ve gone over this a hundred or a thousand times. It might be… that might be everything that I could possibly learn from that situation. It’s really… some things I think are extremely difficult for a person to let go and I cannot… No one can can give you five tips that will let those things go, unfortunately. I think some things can only be properly addressed in a therapeutic relationship with a trusted counselor or therapist, because they are very difficult. There are so many topics, you know, for instance if if you had childhood abuse, if you had abusive parents, if you had if you had sexual assault, any anything like that. I mean those are much bigger challenges to face and I think that they’re best dealt with by talking to a therapist.
Vincent M. Wales: Well this sort of leads into your fifth point, which is all about forgiveness. You say forgive them and yourself. I understand forgiving other people. It’s pretty easy for me to do. The whole concept of self-forgiveness, though, I have honestly struggled with because I feel if I have hurt someone, it’s not my position to forgive myself for that. Only they can forgive me.
John Grohol: I think that’s an interesting perspective and certainly one that has some validity, except for the fact that the person might not have any interest in having any kind of association or communication with you. So in that case, they might as well be dead. And if someone’s dead, they can’t forgive you. No matter how much you’d like them to. So it’s up to you to look at yourself and say, am I worth this forgiveness? Have I worked on myself? Have I worked on the things that may have hurt the other person? And if you can answer some of those questions with, well yeah, I have looked at myself and I have tried to work on some of these behaviors, then I think you have to do yourself some justice and say you’re worth forgiving. You are a worthy person and you deserve forgiveness as much as the next person. And it can be really really hard for a person to not only hear those words, but then to say them to themselves and mean it.
Vincent M. Wales: Well, thank you.
Gabe Howard: And of course I don’t think you’re saying forget. I think that a lot of times people hear, forgive yourself or forgive others then forget that it ever happened, and that’s not what you’re saying. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting about it, it just means forgiveness.
John Grohol: Absolutely. And it also doesn’t mean that you’re condoning what happened, or you’re agreeing with what happened or you think it’s a it was an OK thing. Forgiveness just means that what happened happened in the past. I would like to find a resolution to it in my own mind and I acknowledge that we are all human beings. None of us are perfect and we do the best we can based upon our upbringing, our backgrounds ,our experiences. And that means that sometimes we’re not going to do the best things for ourselves or for another person in our lives, even a person that we love very very much. We have to remember that, that we make mistakes. And if we make mistakes, guess what… So do other people. And we do have to forgive them. We do have to forgive ourselves in order to move on from past hurts.
Gabe Howard: Thank you so much, John. One of my favorite quotes that I ruminate about when I can’t sleep is, we judge other people by their actions and we judge ourselves by our intentions. And you know that’s… that can that can work out differently for different people. But what do you think about that quote? Can you speak on that a bit?
John Grohol: Yeah I think that’s a great quote and I think it has a lot of truth to it in the sense that other people can’t look into our minds and we can’t look into other people’s minds. And that creates a lot of potentials and possibilities for miscommunication. And so, while we can see that are our intentions were always the best, we tend not to always give other people the benefit of the doubt in our lives. And ironically, it seems as for the people that we love the most, we give them the least benefit of the doubt and complete strangers or people we just met, we will give them a wide latitude of doubt. So I think there’s some interesting psychology in that, as well. But I think it goes back to the fact that we can’t see other people’s intentions until they make it clear by communicating those to us.
Gabe Howard: Well Dr. Grohol, we’re about out of time so, for our listeners, can you break it down for us? Just make it as simple as possible.
John Grohol: Sure, the five ways to let go of past hearts are to number one, make the decision to let it go. It has to be a conscious choice on your part. Number two, express your pain and also take the time to take responsibility for what happened in the relationship. Number three, stop being the victim and blaming others. Victimhood feels good, but at some point, you have to let go of that role and take back your life and what you’d like to do to move forward in it. Number four, focus on the present, the here and now, and find joy. Remember joy in your life. Because it’s it’s there and it hasn’t gone anywhere, it may have been in hiding for a bit. You just need to refocus on your own life and the present and and stop ruminating about the past. And number five, forgive the other person but also forgive yourself. You’re a valuable, special person. Don’t let anyone ever tell you anything differently. And you deserve forgiveness as much as the next person.
Gabe Howard: John, thank you so much for being here. We always appreciate it when you stop by.
John Grohol: Always a pleasure
Vincent M. Wales: John, yeah, as Gabe said, it’s always a good time having you on the show. These these conversations are great. I really appreciate it. And we also appreciate our listeners. Thank you so much for tuning in. We’ll see you next week.
Narrator 1: Thank you for listening to the Psych Central Show. Please rate, review, and subscribe on iTunes or wherever you found this podcast. We encourage you to share our show on social media and with friends and family. Previous episodes can be found at PsychCentral.com/show. PsychCentral.com is the internet’s oldest and largest independent mental health website. Psych Central is overseen by Dr. John Grohol, a mental health expert and one of the pioneering leaders in online mental health. Our host, Gabe Howard, is an award-winning writer and speaker who travels nationally. You can find more information on Gabe at GabeHoward.com. Our co-host, Vincent M. Wales, is a trained suicide prevention crisis counselor and author of several award-winning speculative fiction novels. You can learn more about Vincent at VincentMWales.com. If you have feedback about the show, please email email@example.com.
About The Psych Central Show Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar and anxiety disorders. He is also one of the co-hosts of the popular show, A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast. As a speaker, he travels nationally and is available to make your event stand out. To work with Gabe, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Vincent M. Wales is a former suicide prevention counselor who lives with persistent depressive disorder. He is also the author of several award-winning novels and creator of the costumed hero, Dynamistress. Visit his websites at www.vincentmwales.com and www.dynamistress.com.