Last month I looked different aspects of bullying; I’ve now moved on to looking at the recovery process. If you’ve been the target of serial bullying, you’ll understand the challenges involved in coming to terms with what’s happened and learning to live and breathe freely again.
Not long ago someone said to me, that even after having been out of the bullying environment for over a year, it seems almost impossible not to get caught up in thoughts like “If only…” “What if…” “Why didn’t I…” “How did it come to this?” “What did I do wrong?” and other similar comments, even though it is clearly evident they’re serving no useful purpose at all.
What seems to regularly happen, is that after becoming aware of this destructive rehashing, the target begins berating themselves with negative comments along the lines of “You’re useless, you know this isn’t helping”, “Why are you being so mean to yourself, why don’t you go for a walk…it’s because you’re not only useless, but lazy” on and on. As I said the other day, it’s a real double whammy.
This person’s mind is so used to following the well-worn unhappy paths, that it takes committed and conscious discipline not to fall into this self destructive habit. You're learning to nip it in the bud as soon as you become aware of it happening.
The path to the familiar story of the past can be easy to take. It’s a well worn track, and while you’re busy doing something mundane, you suddenly become aware that the old hurts and painful episodes are playing out again, and again, and again.
Sometimes I think of it like a virulent ‘earworm’. You know, one of those ghastly songs that as soon as you hear the title or melody, you can’t escape it, and it plays for days and days ‘till you all but scream “Get out of my head and leave me in peace.”
But much worse.
Is it helping?
If yes, read no further!
If not, are you able to pause for a moment as soon as you become aware of what’s happening?
A bit like we talked about the other day. Just pause. That’s all for the moment.
The next bit seems to be tricky. It’s just letting all the crap and hurt just be there without putting a value judgement on it, without the shoulds and oughts kicking in automatically. Can you make space for it, give the prickliness of it a little room?
The idea is to begin breaking the old familiar habit and take one tiny step in the long process of choosing and consolidating a new habit. I don’t pretend it’s easy. In a sense it’s a bit like forging a new track through uncharted territory where there appears to be impenetrable jungle full of all sorts of tricky obstacles. Our brains seem to skitter towards the familiar path, even if it’s hurtful.
What’s happening is that when you’re fighting the painful, intrusive thoughts constantly, and pushing them away fearfully, (because they hurt so much) the pathway to them seems to get stronger.
This old path is clear and direct. It’s so well worn from the countless times it’s been travelled that the sides are up high, way over your head and it’s difficult to see over them to what is around outside. To choose to deviate involves conscious effort, slipping and sliding, clutching at the steep sides, scrabbling up and over, but then and only then is it possible to see that being on this track was preventing you from seeing other options.
And so, one step.
When the painful thoughts intrude; pause; breathe deeply, three times if possible, stretch tall.
I wonder how many times each day you can do this. 5, 10, 50 or more? Does it help?
There's a bit more on the recovery process here.