How to Release the Past: The Benefits of Letting Go of Negative Narratives

Issue 77. May 31, 2024 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

Photo Credit: Patrick Tomasso

When I went through the process to stop gossiping, I realized a lot of things about myself. The realization that I gossiped was pretty astonishing, but there was so much more! Among other things, I realized…

  • I was a much more negative person than I ever realized. I’m a life-long optimist, yet I did an enormous amount of complaining.
  • I had a victim mentality. I believed that the world was acting ON me, rather than that I was acting on the world. This is despite always feeling like a powerful woman who has agency.
  • I focused more on problems than solutions, despite having a “can do” attitude my whole life.
  • I did a lot of things to make matters worse, like continually talking about negative things and therefore reliving them over and over.

That last point is what I want to share about in this essay. It’s what I call, “dragging the story with you.” I made up this phrase for myself because it helped me to see that, when I tell a negative story over and over again, it’s like a weight that I’m dragging around. The longer and farther I drag it, the more difficulty it creates in my life. 

Meanwhile, the thing I’m telling the story about happened just once. I cause myself to relive it again and again in the retelling of it, but it happened only once. 

I learned to stop “dragging the story with me” when I stopped gossiping because gossiping is just a variation of doing that. I used to talk negatively about my boss behind her back for many years. When I stopped doing that, I was absolutely astonished at how dramatically my resentment against her went down. It was a miracle!

That showed me that, though she had some problem behaviors, I magnified those problems 10-fold by repeatedly talking about them. Once I saw that, I began to think of it as “I’m the problem.” I don’t mean that in a self-deprecating way, I mean that in an empowering way. Let me explain:

If I’m the problem, then I get to be the solution. If other people are the problem, I’m screwed because I can’t do anything about them.

It’s not that my boss never did anything wrong. She was terribly unreliable in many ways. But my talking about it over and over again magnified the impact of that. For one, I relived the difficulty repeatedly, as did everyone who would listen to me. I even got others to join in with me. For another, my focus on problems meant I wasn’t seeking solutions, which meant the problems persisted.

But once I realized *I* was the problem, I set about seeking solutions. One of the main solutions was to stop dragging the story with me. Stop talking about the problem. When I continually talk about the problem, I’m acting like a victim who has no choices. 

As they say – where your attention goes, your energy follows. So when I stopped focusing on problems, my attention stopped going there and started focusing on solutions. One of which was to stop dragging the story with me. It was impossible for me to miss the enormous impact of that when it came to gossiping about my boss. It then became pretty easy to see how I’d been dragging all kinds of stories with me, and that if I stopped my life would improve. And of course, it did!

Here’s an example of something I used to do. Let’s say someone pulled out in front of me on the highway that morning and almost caused me to crash. In the past, I’d probably retell that story a few times that day, and maybe even the next. It was bad enough that I had that terrible experience once. But telling the story over and over again made me relive the terror. That is not necessary.

If you find yourself doing things like that, or maybe saying things like, “Can you believe what she did?” I encourage you to ask yourself what your motivation is in sharing those things. Are you reliving the story just to relive the story (and perhaps continue to feel like a victim)? Or are you trying to process the event, make sense of it, and get some kind of resolution?

If it’s the former, please know you have the choice to stop that. And you have the power to decrease the drama in your life. If it’s the latter, that’s healthy. Keep doing that. Make sure you have emotionally healthy people to do that kind of processing with. 

When you keep dragging stories with you like I did, you’re acting like solutions don’t exist. Which means you will never SEEK solutions.

If the same kind of situation were to happen with a boss now that I’m several years into recovery, I’d go directly to my boss and say, “This isn’t really working for me. Let’s find a way  to compromise that works for both of us.” If we were unable to do that, I wouldn’t stick around for 17 years like I did with her. I somehow didn’t see leaving as an option back then, I didn’t see myself as having a choice. I acted as if the ONLY option I had was to stay and bitch.

When I stop sharing stories of difficulty over and over, I get to live in the present moment. The only way to have a well-lived life is to live in the present moment. That’s the only point in time when you can take action and make choices.

If you want to reduce the drama, chaos, dysfunction, and negativity in your life – stop dragging stories with you.

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