The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the ecology, or the president. You realize that you control your own destiny.
- Albert Ellis
I woke up to these words being in my inbox today.
I cannot tell you how poignant I believe they are for mental health and optimal functioning.
There was a day that psychotherapy was about regurgitating past traumas and wrongs ad nauseam . . . then exploring your subconscious manifestations of these wrongs and traumas . . . and the person having to return for further therapy about these wrongs and traumas . . . (or NEVER leave therapy).
You get the picture; it was a vicious cycle.
Then a trend started. What if we help the client acknowledge that there were in fact wrongs and traumas (real or perceived-- it doesn't really matter if a person is obsessing on them and it is ruining their lives) and taught people that they could move on and have a more pleasant life if they actually let the wound heal and didn't keep ripping the scab off?
Solution-focused therapy, brief therapy, and an increased use of cognitive behavioral approaches (from which Ellis' work spawned) were some of the methodologies born of this concept.
A person could be taught symptom control techniques and then be encouraged to stay in the here and now and deal with their life in the here and now: i.e. take responsibility for their present moment and stop putting the blame on the power they let someone or something have over them , in many cases, for many years.
Many times revisiting the past wrongs and blaming the past wrongs becomes a convenient diversion and/or excuse for people to not accept responsibility for the here and now and move on with their lives.
The power, then, given to those previous "wrong-doers" in their lives is enormous which is why the person's anger towards these entities grows more and more out of control, in turn wreaking more havoc in the persons life sometimes than the initial trauma.
I'm reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit where Bob Newhart reprised his long time role as a psychiatrist. It showed clients coming in and spilling their guts to him about their misery, as he appeared to listen intently. Then his response to each and every issue for each patient was leaning over his desk and yelling, "THEN STOP IT!!!"
In essence, that is what Albert Ellis' (who developed Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy) quote is insinuating:
- stop blaming the parent that called you fat for being fat or thinking you are fat and figure out what you need to do to feel better about yourself; then do it.
- stop blaming previous relationships for your inability to trust or control anger and set a goal to master those traits FOR YOURSELF.
- stop blaming the fact you were never taught how to manage money on your parents or educators and seek education now so you can accept responsibility for your financial future.
- stop blaming that you were never picked for any sports teams growing up or made fun of in P.E. for your aversion to exercise and MOVE for your health.
You understand where I'm going with this and if you've read this far, a great exercise would be to actually pull out a piece of paper and pen now and list those issues that are a struggle for you and that you've blamed on someone other than yourself.
Acknowledge that it is a disappointment that you feel you were wronged.
Then take the only self-loving and self-caring step you can: write down a couple of actions for each one of those issues that could help you learn more mastery, put them in motion and end the pattern of being a victim of your past.
And catch yourself when your anger flares or memories return and you have a tendency to blame the past. Remind yourself that if you are constantly going back to the past (or jumping to the future) you are missing out on living your life, which is the present moment.
Don't let past disappointments rob you of today.
It is time to move on.