Letting Go of the Story
by Diane Linsley

One of the biggest problems that many people have is they are
stuck in their own story. Every time we tell our story in the same
way, we experience the same emotions. Why do we do this?

I believe that we are reluctant to let go of the story because we
are afraid that we will forget what happened in the past, and then
it might happen again. Basically, we are afraid of memory loss.

We keep the memory fresh by practicing remembering. The more
we practice, the stronger the neural pathways become - like ruts
in a dirt road where cars have gone over the same path many times.

The Price of Remembering

Remembering past trauma might make us more vigilant in the
future (or paranoid). But there's a price to pay. When someone
hits you or says something mean, it happens at a point in time.
Once that time has passed, it's no longer happening. But if we are afraid it might happen again, we keep replaying the incident in our minds ad infinitum. It's like getting hit a million times.

My grandma had Alzheimer's disease for the last 15 years of her life. For most of her adulthood, she was on antidepressant drugs. All through my youth, each time I visited her, she told me the same story of her marital abuse.

When she lost all her memories due to Alzheimer's disease, she suddenly became a very happy person. She didn't recognize any of her family, which was probably a good thing, but she was as cheerful as a child without a care in the world. Finally, she was free of her memories. 

I learned in this video that narcissistic abuse causes damage to the hippocampus - the part of the brain that is involved with memories. Could my grandma's dementia have been caused by abuse?

How would her life have been different if she had been able to drop the story sooner and just live in the present moment - without having to lose her mind? Happiness can only be found in the present moment - not in the past or future - as spiritual teachers like Eckhart Tolle remind us.

If you suspect that you or someone in your life has brain damage from narcissistic abuse, I highly recommend studying the work of Dr. Daniel Amen, the neuroscientist who does brain imaging. He has protocols for repairing brain damage and improving the health of the brain. His protocols include special diets, supplements, and physical and mental exercises.

Dr. Amen also recommends Holosync meditation for many of his patients. I've been doing Holosync since 2007, and it has definitely helped my brain.

Processes for Letting Go

Here are some of my favorite processes for letting go of negative thoughts, feelings and memories.

Accepting/Releasing - In this exercise, as we breathe in through the nose, we think the word "accepting." As we breathe out through the nose, we think the word "releasing." Continue breathing like this until you experience a shift or a feeling of release.

Tonglen Meditation to replace suffering with self-compassion.

EFT or other energy work to release emotions from the physical body.

Delete the Picture - In this process, you create a picture in your mind that represents what you are trying to let go of. Start by observing the picture. What does it look like? Then turn the picture black and white (instead of color), shrink it to the size of a postage stamp, and move it off to the side and far away so it's no longer in the center of your visual field. Alternatively, you can imagine throwing it into the ocean or incinerating it with a torch.

Another way to deal with a negative story is to turn it positive. That way, whenever it resurfaces, the charge will be neutral or positive. Try these techniques:

Gratitude Process

Retell the story with a positive spin, as described in Coping with Chronic Illness.

Schedule a Time for Storytelling

Schedule a time each day to process your story. This usually takes 15 to 30 minutes.

I have a special chair that I use for this purpose. Next to the chair is a small table with a reading lamp, notebook and pen. My teddy bear is also there, so I have someone to hold and talk to. Sometimes I play soft music in the background. I've found that certain songs help me to process certain emotions.

Here's the format for the writing process:

1. Name the emotion (fear, sadness, anger, shame, confusion, disappointment, frustration, etc.)

2. Write down the emotion, and give it an intensity rating on a scale of 1-10.

3. Take a few minutes to write down whatever comes to mind. Start by writing, "I feel (sad, angry, etc.) because...."

4. What is the fear? Fear is often underneath other emotions. Write, "I'm afraid that...."

5. Process the emotions using EFT, Tonglen or the accepting/releasing technique.

6. Self-soothe. Write as if you are a loving parent soothing a child. For example, "You will be okay. You are a good, kind and smart person. You can do this." Or speak from the first person: "I know that I will be okay....etc." This is called compassionate self-talk.

7. Shift from past to future: "Here's what I can do now to improve my situation." This shifts you into the part of the brain that thinks positively and is focused on taking action to create a better future. Write down something you can do today, or think about your long-term goals.

Notice how your energy shifts during the session. When you finish the process, look back at what you wrote on the paper, and see how much your vibration has changed.

Retest your emotional state and rate your feelings on a scale of 1-10. If there is still some intensity, you may want to go through the process again. 

It's important to actually do this process, not just read about it :) This is a powerful process, and I want you to experience it.

After I finish my session, I forget about it. I can drop the story because I know that I can come back and do the process again later. If strong feelings or flashbacks come up at unscheduled times during the day, I go to my special chair and take care of it. I don't carry around the pain all day.

I did this process every day for 6 months after I left my last abusive boyfriend. It was one of the most important things that I did for my recovery. I still do it whenever I need to process my emotions. This is a skill that I can use for the rest of my life.

Make a Permanent Record

Once your story is on paper, you don't have to worry about forgetting. Keep the paper for as long as you need to. Most of the time, I throw the paper away once the feelings are neutralized. But I still have some papers from the grieving process that I went through during my divorce. Here's why:

I knew that if I didn't have a written record of what happened, I would try to keep the memories alive in my mind as a way of preventing myself from going back to my ex-husband. I knew from past experience that I forgave and forgot too easily, which can be a problem for abuse victims.

I needed to have the memories in writing so that I wouldn't later think that getting divorced was a mistake. I suffered from cognitive dissonance while being married to a pathological liar, and it nearly drove me insane. I couldn't trust myself to think clearly or remember accurately.

I was going through my notebook the other day, and I read what I wrote back then. I was appalled at what I used to put up with. I certainly have better boundaries and more assertiveness now.

These days, I mostly remember the good times in my marriage. In fact, I sometimes wonder why I got divorced. Having a written record reminds me to never go back. I don't have to worry about forgetting, and I don't have to retell the same story over and over. 

Why Let Go of the Story?

"Hurt people hurt people. Healed people heal people."

I didn't grieve much when my grandma died because there wasn't anything to miss. Whenever I visited her, she wasted our time together and traumatized me by repeating the stories of her abuse. She was never present with me. I don't have any happy memories of my grandma. In fact, I've had to heal myself from the damage done to me by her poor example of how to deal with abuse.

I learned about vicarious trauma in this video by a therapist who became extremely ill from listening to trauma stories every day. Imagine what this would do to a child. I wish that my grandma had gone into therapy instead of using me. Therapy is the proper place to work through these things.

Life goes by so quickly. No matter how difficult our circumstances are, there's always something we can do in the present moment, which is the only time in which we can act. It's good to know how to process our emotions so that we can put our energy into joyful living.

"There are joyful people, and there are miserable people. But there are no good people and bad people." ~Sadhguru

Here's a song to help you connect with the joy and freedom that comes from letting go :)

Here's a guided meditation for healing relationships.

Be well,
Diane Linsley

As a life coach, I use many different processes to help
people with their personal growth. Click here if you are
interested in coaching with me.

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letting go of the story