I Need a Mantra
September 29, 2014 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I have been dwelling on some negative thoughts and it keeps sending me into a sad-spiral of feeling terrible. I want to stop this, but I can't quite find the right/effective combination of things to tell myself to cut off the ruminating. Help me come up with my mantra; details inside.

Without getting into the extended backstory, from about January through July I was subject to some really serious harassment, to the point of making a police report (though nothing came of it). Sometimes the harassers went after my family (including my children) to get to me. It was really awful and traumatic and I am in therapy.

The harassment is now over (I hope), but it's hard not to get "triggered" into remembering it as I go about my regular day -- unless I moved, that would be almost impossible! I am really bothered by and can't let go of the fact that what happened to me was really unfair and unjust, and that there isn't really a way for me to pursue justice in this case or to hold the terrible people accountable. (You may assume I have consulted with police, lawyers, and therapists at length and explored all my options.) Moreover, even if I could "get justice" somehow, I don't think I would actually feel any better -- but my lizard-brain is not getting this message. I end up dwelling on justice/"revenge," and then on the fact that I can't get justice, and then I feel powerless and helpless and worse than before I started.

So I've been trying to come up with a "mantra" to think to interrupt my lizard-brain when it starts in on revenge fantasies, with some examples from my therapist, but they're mostly about forgiving YOURSELF ("I did the best I could when ...") or about not worrying about the future. Neither of those are really my problem; it's accepting that I can't change what happened or the fact that it was monstrously unfair, and dwelling on it won't help.

So far the best I've got it, "I've already thought this through, and it is not productive, and I will not think about it any longer." It sort-of works, but that's hardly inspirational or comforting, and doesn't address the aspects of feeling powerless or angry at the injustice, so it sort-of slows down the lizard brain but doesn't really replace the thoughts with a better thought or a more positive framing. I am sure the hive mind can do better! Give me what you've got.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Health & Fitness (78 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
"Get busy living, or get busy dying."
posted by Etrigan at 1:06 PM on September 29, 2014

"Grant me the strength to focus this week, to be mindful and present, to serve with excellence, to be a force of love." - Brendon Burchard
posted by nathaole at 1:14 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

The best revenge is living well.
posted by mollymayhem at 1:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [12 favorites]

I've had some luck with something along the lines of "I refuse to let these people rent space in my head any longer."
posted by Rock Steady at 1:17 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: So... I'm actually a little embarrassed to mention this one because it might seem childish but I read Diane Duane's YA Young Wizards series at just the right age for it to stick in my brain forever. The details of the series don't matter for the purposes of this AskMe; the bit that stuck with me was how she frames the plot as a struggle not between cliched good and evil but between entropy and those who seek to slow it (even as they acknowledge both its inevitability and its role in avoiding cold stasis).
The point is there's a "meditation" that several of the characters recite or paraphrase throughout the various books that has stuck with me. Here is one variation:
I will meet the cruel and the cowardly today, liars and the envious, the uncaring and unknowing: they will be all around. But their numbers and their carelessness do not mean I have to be like them. For my own part, I know my job; my commission comes from Those Who Are. My hand raised is Their hand on the neck of the Serpent, now and always. I shall walk through Their worlds as do the Powers that Be, seeing and knowing with Them and for Them, tending Their worlds as if they were mine: for so indeed they are. Silently shall I go my way, as They do, doing my work unseen. The light needs no reminding by me of good deeds done by night. And in this long progress through all that is, though I will know doubt and fear in the strange places where I must walk, I will put both these aside, as the Oath requires, and hold myself to my work...for if They and I together cannot mend what is marred, who can-?

And having done my work aright, though I may know weariness at day's end, come awakening I shall arise and say again, with them, as if surprised, 'Behold, the world is made new...!'
posted by Wretch729 at 1:19 PM on September 29, 2014 [17 favorites]

Not exactly a mantra but I find conscious thankfulness -- for a working brain, being outside and breathing fresh air, a good friend, my dog's bright eyes -- whatever, is very healing.

And I'd just keep reminding yourself you are so much better than these people and this experience. (You really are, Eyebrows. I'm not the only one here who will tell you how much we love you and all you contribute here.)
posted by bearwife at 1:20 PM on September 29, 2014 [14 favorites]

I bet that the thing that would really make you feel better about this would be to have your harassers apologize and show some recognition that what they did was wrong and of how it affected you, and to show some evidence that they've changed and are trying hard to do good in the world, and for you to believe that they are sincere and that this is really happening. So, I think you should hope for that, and to recognize that they are suffering until that happens, and to have compassion for them.
posted by alphanerd at 1:21 PM on September 29, 2014

I have a good amount of luck with something like "Noted for later processing." I'm not in therapy now, but that's where it came from - basically I was putting it on the list for my next session. These days I try to set aside a short period every week or two for a check-in with myself, and that's the "later processing" referenced.

And by the time I get to the later processing, all those occurrences are just a single bullet point that says "X still bothering me, but more/less than last month/year/decade."

My brain just seems to need me to acknowledge that it's sending up a flare. If I do not make a point of doing so, it tends to nag at me all day.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:26 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

I've had some luck with trying to be present, reminding myself "That is not now. Now is ___" and looking around, using all of my senses to find where I am now, be grateful for the weather, excited that I'm headed home, the smells of Autumn -- whatever is current.
posted by ldthomps at 1:29 PM on September 29, 2014 [15 favorites]

"I'm already free."

See here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=453_hzuzZ0I
posted by Fairchild at 1:29 PM on September 29, 2014

Best answer: I am fond of "be brave like an arm". (source)
posted by judith at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured." – Mark Twain
posted by Michele in California at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

"It is completely fucking unfair that I'm left to deal with this shit when I didn't do anything wrong, but it's either that or become a raging awful bitter person, and I won't let them turn me into that, because Fuck Them."
posted by jaguar at 1:30 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like having a mantra and a visual or physical action. My favorite is blowing softly and imagining all the problematic people/things flying away, like soft, brittle pieces of paper.

Also, Emotional First Aid Strategies was recommended in the Mental Illness Happy Hour, specially regarding rumination.
posted by clearlydemon at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."

-Julian of Norwich
posted by pantarei70 at 1:31 PM on September 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: In all seriousness: The chorus of Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." Sounds to me like you've got serious and reasonable covered, so what you may need is a distracting earworm.

I'm sorry this happened to you.
posted by purpleclover at 1:32 PM on September 29, 2014 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I want to tread very lightly here. So I'm going to try.

I'm really sorry about what you went through. It sounds really awful and I can't imagine what it would have been like.

I had something traumatic happen in my own life that was nowhere near as bad as what you are describing, but difficult for me all the same. I live/work/worship a block across from Seattle Pacific University (where there was a shooting in June) and my daughter also attends day care across the street.

For the next month I had nightmares of her being shot, killed...awful things. It was literally keeping me awake at night. It was awful.

The thing that got me through and helped me get past those thoughts was from an episode of the TV show The Middle. In it, a character is afraid of something awful happening to his family. He learns about a (mis-attributed to Buddha in the show) proverb:

"Before saying a word, he motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”"

And so when I get this fear that my daughter will die I think to myself 'the glass is already broken.' That is, the child she was, who I cherish, is already gone. The person she will become I have yet to know. So I will make the best of every moment I have with the child who is with me, right now. The glass is already broken.

I don't know if you can do that with your sense of safety or whatever it is you have lost, but I hope it helps. Again, I'm terribly sorry for your trauma and I wish you a speedy road to recovery.
posted by Tevin at 1:39 PM on September 29, 2014 [32 favorites]

Give yourself time every day to feel bitter and angry and ruminate on how they are assholes. Really. Schedule this time. (Say 10:00-10:20 am. It might need to be longer at first, but the time needed will go down.) Then, when you are angry and thinking about how it isn't fair, remind yourself that this isn't the time of day to do it. You're allowed -- obliged -- to think about it only between 10 and 10:20.

This sounds really stupid, but it works very well for intrusive thoughts.
posted by jeather at 1:43 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

What works (usually) for me when I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes: "I am not going to let this take over my mind right now." Then I picture myself closing a door, with the anxiety-inducing thing on the opposite side of the threshold.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:44 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Like jeather I schedule thinking about whatever it is for ten o'clock the next morning, when I am stronger and more able to deal with it, rather than ruminating about it all day and all night.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 1:47 PM on September 29, 2014

"Fuck 'em"
posted by Jacqueline at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

This isn't quite what you're asking for, but I think it might work better: Meditation.

Try Transcendental Meditation. Here are some free mantras from TM.
posted by anotherpanacea at 1:48 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of metta meditation. Sharon Salzberg has a book on this called Lovingkindness. Essentially, the idea is that you hope for good things for yourself and for others, eventually for all beings in the universe.
posted by Anne Neville at 1:49 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some helpful things that could be part of building some mantras:

A lot of this is gendered. Women are expected to forgive more than men are. So be aware of the role of privilege in all this which is not your fault. And that means your resentment is also in part not your fault - it is part of the struggle against an unjust system.

Also you're not alone. I have to see people regularly who have harassed me. So you can, mantra - wise, connect with other people who have suffered the same.

You can put fifty pence in a jar every time you think of them, to be donated towards an anti harassment organisation, or one that furthers your flavour of justice.

You don't have to deny yourself revenge. You can accept your right to revenge. If you are not revenge -ing for legal reasons or to protect your family, that's okay. One day your children will be grown and if you still want revenge you can get it.

You can take self defence classes and know for a fact that you could pull that trigger; you could step on that hand and crunch the bones. Then that knowledge could be part of your mantra. Accept and revel in your power.

I send you the strongest and deepest solidarity I can, feel free to contact me here or at margaretcorvid@gmail.com if I can ever listen. One of my mantras rededicates me to supporting people like you.
posted by Mistress at 1:51 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.
― Nelson Mandela

I also subscribe to this poem:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks

The idea that evil and suffering can create a newness, a clean space for renewal resonates with me and my experiences. It doesn't mean that it creates a positive nice thing, and I resent anyone for suggesting such a thing, for I have had experiences that left nothing but charred emotional wastelands behind. But ashes are the fundaments of fertilizer and soap.

That said, some things are really fucking dark. In those moments I have leaned on Zelazny:

“In the mirrors of the many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I sometimes fancy myself an evil which exists to oppose other evils; and on that great Day of which the prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe, on the day the world is utterly cleansed of evil, then I too will go down into darkness, swallowing curses. Until then, I will not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.”

Likewise this quote, falsely attributed to Patton but engraved on many zippos by troops in Vietnam:

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, because I am the meanest son-of-a-bitch in the valley."

This idea, that I am meaner, more cruel, tighter, more precise, and more decisive in my actions, has on occasion given me the latitude to grasp that simply letting the aggressor suffer themselves is a fate worse than my own revenge-seeking. One more intelligent, existing on a higher plane than simply fighting back.

Another, similar quote is this:
If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”

― Sun Tzu

Good luck. I have had to embrace the darkness to come through to the light. May you find a good path to clearing your mind of this aggression and feel more powerful and human for the effort.
posted by fake at 1:53 PM on September 29, 2014 [18 favorites]

And never diminish your love of justice. It is beautiful and strong. In your mantras you could redirect your thoughts to justice you can do, today.
posted by Mistress at 1:54 PM on September 29, 2014

I've found that one thing that really helps when I want to stop thoughts I don't want to think from getting a foothold is to physically change my posture - it doesn't even have to be a huge change. As soon as [thought I don't want to start dwelling on] peeks itself into my consciousness, I say to myself "Look at that!" and then literally turn my head or my whole body to look at [that]. [That] can be anything - a doorknob across the room, the tree across the way, the stuff on the counter I should clean up. It really helps the cycle not get started in the first place.

I hope you find something helpful in this thread.
posted by rtha at 1:55 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and PTSD Coach might be helpful (even if you're not diagnosed with PTSD) in giving you other things to do rather than ruminate.

I will agree with comments above that it's helpful to make sure you're not trying to swallow anger. Anger at injustice is normal, and healthy, and you need to feel it (in non-dangerous non-abusive ways) before it will go away.
posted by jaguar at 1:56 PM on September 29, 2014

i came across this i-don't know-where in my reading. i don't know *why* it works, and it seems so non-specific as to be un-useful. but, for me, it works:

"Always return to the breath."

then, observe at least two cycles of respiration.

Mantra, yo.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:57 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I like mudpuppie's suggestion of creating a visual image of closure to accompany the thought. When I was a kid, I was really sensitive to scary monsters/movies, etc. When I found myself repeating the images in my brain, I would imagine myself in a safe space (for me, this was my church sunday school room), and then visualize the image up on the chalkboard and me erasing it. I still do this sometimes, although the safe space has changed to an office conference room and a white board.
posted by sarahnade at 2:03 PM on September 29, 2014

I really like the Serenity Prayer.
posted by BibiRose at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2014

"Revenge is a dish best served cold."

I don't think that giving someone their come-uppance is always a bad thing. But you are less likely to shoot yourself in the foot and more likely to pursue vengeance as a form of real justice in the world if you have first gotten over your anger and other heated emotions.

So perhaps it would be helpful to you as a mantra because perhaps it would tell your lizard brain "Hey, stupid, you are being ineffective. This is not the way to get revenge. The way to get revenge is to first get over it. So, let's first get over it. Then contemplate whether or not (or how) we might pursue revenge." That might weirdly harness your desire for revenge towards helping you get over some of this sooner rather than later.
posted by Michele in California at 2:06 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am not a big believer in metaphysical matters, but I have found the following so very helpful while swimming I physically run my hands through my aura as if sweeping out all the bad thoughts. Usually around my head, arms and shoulders. I saw a friend do it once who was more into that sort of thing, she said to use your fingers like a comb to pull the bad energy out. I do it more as if I am brushing lint off of me but my hands are about an inch from my body. Something about making the action of cleaning bad thoughts away physical is one I find very effective.

Remember "How people treat you is their Karma, how you react is yours."
posted by wwax at 2:07 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

One thing that might be a useful response - not a mantra precisely, but a strategy - is to focus on what's triggering you. It may not be in the moment - if you mostly ruminate on the subject when you're in bed, switch to thinking about your day and see if anything freaked you out, even momentarily, to return you to what your brain has designated The Scary Thing That I'm Pissed At. Turning the thinking instead to "Ok, how was my day, did I feel safe? Was I actually safe? Are there steps I can take to make myself feel or be safer?" might give you something more grounded and forward-looking to do.

Most of the time, I've found, when people are angry, it's because on some level they're scared and feel out of control. Addressing the fear is more helpful than addressing the anger, because it's the root cause.

And I'm so sorry this happened to you - it really, really sucks.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:11 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

"My thoughts are mine to change."
posted by cecic at 2:13 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmmm, you don't mention if you are coming from a specific religious tradition or worldview, but I must say that some of the suggestions above seem a bit strange to me unless you do buy into a certain worldview. For example, the Norwich "All shall be well" sounds pretty nice and comforting, but unless you believe that God will sort everything out in the end, it doesn't actually make much sense: sadly, in this vale of tears, all will not be well.

So too, I have trouble with the whole anger is poison sentiment expressed in many of the suggestions above. I'm not sure that it is true; there are some studies that show that unarticulated anger may hurt the person, but not all anger is damaging in these ways.

Lately, I've been trying the old standby: Life isn't fair. I never liked this as a child, and it doesn't make everything OK now, but it is an important counterpoint to the false belief in a just world we all have.

Finally, rather than a mantra, perhaps you might try getting up and doing something productive or enjoyable when you start to ruminate. So, when the disturbing thoughts come, maybe go have a bath with nice music or take a walk with a podcast. I think this may be be a better solution since I doubt any mantra is actually going to be able to counter the fact that an injustice was done and it wasn't rectified. Instead, it may be better to distract yourself.
posted by girl flaneur at 2:18 PM on September 29, 2014

I loved using this deck of cards with positive affirmations when I was going through a hard time. I still have the deck and look at it from time to time. I committed my favorites to memory, though!

I used to find these types of mantras and positive self talk insufferably cheesy, but they really do help. Positive thinking, hoorary!
posted by nuclear_soup at 2:25 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

“...an attitude of affirmation in the face of difficulty, of improvisation in the face of challenge. It means you acknowledge that life is a low-down dirty shame yet confront that fact with perseverance, with humor, and above all, with elegance.” -- Albert Murray on the outlook of the blues man.
posted by johngoren at 2:26 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am also processing and expressing my anger, but my therapist and I agree that this ruminating that I get up to is very counterproductive at this point, as it begins with me thinking about how I was wronged, thinking how I could "get back at" the people who wronged me, realizing I can't possibly do those actions for [very good reasons], and feeling powerless and hopeless and back at square one. As a general thing, I accept that this happened, that it sucked, that I did not deserve any of it, and that I would like to move on with my life and not engage with it any further. (I would not be sad if pianos fell on all of these people, but I'm not going to make it my business to deal with this poisonous crap any further. Police reports were made, press were alerted, some restraining orders were issued, etc.) My primate brain accepts all of that. But apparently my lizard brain has a really deep-seated sense of fairness and can't let it go because it can't accept that justice won't be done. It just makes me NUTS, so frustrated, and then I go down this spiral of ruminating on it until I feel helpless. It's very counterproductive since a lot of therapy has been about how I'm NOT helpless and I CAN choose to move on and so forth. So, I don't mind expressing my anger and all, but this circling and ruminating has to be interrupted because it's very counterproductive for me.

It does need to be a thought to think either in place of the ones my mind is rehearsing, or in response to the ones my mind is rehearsing. I'm fine while I have stuff to do, but it hits me when I'm sitting in the car for five minutes waiting to pick up my kids, or trying to go to sleep at night, or in the shower -- unavoidable brain down-time.

Like, I am afraid of bridges and I used to get very panicky intrusive thoughts about falling off them or them collapsing whenever I had to cross one. I started firmly telling myself, "You know this bridge will not collapse and you have never fallen off one. Stop it." and after a couple months, the anxiety reduced and eventually went almost entirely away. That's what I'm looking for, something that respond to or interrupt this unproductive rumination, that I can firmly remind myself when I start to go to the circular place.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:32 PM on September 29, 2014

"Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10
posted by fignewton at 2:37 PM on September 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

Really, anything, even nonsensical monosyllabic sounds, can be used as mantras. The act of repetition itself quiets the mind and centers the focus.
posted by fignewton at 2:39 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am also a ruminator and Xanax is really, really helping me battle intrusive thoughts lately. YMMV.

My go to mantra is this one:

I am brave, I am strong.
Wind of success blows in me, blows in me.
I am cool, I am calm.
I am sweet, I am kind.
I am love and sympathy.
I am charming and magnetic.
I am pleased with all.
I have no enemy, I am the friend of all.

It's an abridged version of an affirmation by Paramahansa Yogananda and I like that it asserts my status as a friendly individual as opposed to an antagonistic one (though LBR, sometimes it feels so much better to be like fuck you, fuck them, fuck this, etc after being harassed or attacked or whatever).
posted by Hermione Granger at 2:42 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

something that respond to or interrupt this unproductive rumination

I forget which Haruki Murakami story it's in, but it's about a brother who doesn't like the nerdy guy his sister is marrying, but ultimately comes to accept him. Anyway, towards the end, he's giving some advice to his sister, who's worried about the future.

He tells her something like, "Just don't worry about it. If the situation gets worse later, you can think about it again when the time comes."

It's so simple, but I use that to keep myself from freaking out about stuff. It works for me because I don't have to lie to myself and claim nothing bad will ever happen, I just give myself permission to forget about it until the bad thing is actually happening.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:44 PM on September 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

The most useful one I probably use is "It is what it is." I can frequently short-circuit ruminations with this one -- I'm not saying I'm OK with what it is, but I'm acknowledging that what it is exists, and that I am choosing to think about something else.

I also like saying "RAAAAAAR" or "GRAR" or something like that out loud, possibly while shaking my hands or my head, and then letting go. I find wordless GRAR lets me express the anger, but the lack of words short-circuits the rumination process.

And yeah, I'm glad I'm not the only one who uses Taylor Swift for this! Haters gonna hate, indeed.
posted by pie ninja at 2:48 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Like, I am afraid of bridges and I used to get very panicky intrusive thoughts about falling off them or them collapsing whenever I had to cross one. I started firmly telling myself, "You know this bridge will not collapse and you have never fallen off one. Stop it." and after a couple months, the anxiety reduced and eventually went almost entirely away. That's what I'm looking for, something that respond to or interrupt this unproductive rumination, that I can firmly remind myself when I start to go to the circular place.

I get what you are saying, and if it is a mantra you seek, I hope you find one that works for you. But notice in this case, you didn't just repeat the "mantra" when you got scared about a bridge, but you also crossed the bridge and did so with nothing bad happening to you. In phobias, it is exposure to what is feared that leads to release, not telling yourself the object isn't fearsome.

I think this suggests that mantras alone aren't going to combat your justified sense of being wronged and your ruminations about this. It is probably better to either distract yourself or tell yourself you can indulge in your angry feelings but only at a certain time for a set amount of time. So you start to ruminate in the car and you say to yourself, "this isn't my angry time, I can ruminate all I want at 4:00 on Friday" or you turn on an interesting podcast. A book I found helpful in dealing with intrusive thoughts is The Worry Cure (while it is about anxiety, I think the lessons could also apply to angry ruminations as well). Good luck!
posted by girl flaneur at 3:01 PM on September 29, 2014

Stick with what's worked in the past:

"You know this thinking is not helpful and you are way stronger than you're giving yourself credit for. Stop it."
posted by jaguar at 3:08 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Wow, this reminds me of my Dad, who was a School Superintendent. For 45+ years. He had to make some really unpleasant decisions, and as such, was often subject to harassment or public ridicule. I remember in particular, one school board member wanting him to hire his brother-in-law to cut the school lawns and having to be told, "no, that's nepotism," and then this guy getting so incensed, that he put our home number on a freaking billboard. We started getting phone calls about the land we had for sale (which was this guy's land). It was bizarre.

My dad's response was always, "dumber than a post." He went through all of it: referendums, illegal postcards sent out with false information, strikes, etc. And he had been a teacher before all of that, so he was fair on both sides of the table in negotiating. But, nothing more rabid than people in school systems, it seems to bring out the worst in them. Don't get me started on the book banning people, there were always some of them storming into his office about "To Kill a Mockingbird," or the usual suspects (which he never complied with, books were allowed to stay).

After many years of this, he retired, and people started calling him in for interim jobs, usually because the previous administrator had left in frustration, or worse. He jokingly referred to himself as The Cleaner. "They call me The Cleaner." Some of the Peyton Place type of bullcrap he had to deal with, OMG.

We did move around a fair bit, some for family reasons and some for his career moves. And let me tell you, those people exist everywhere. It's not you, personally, it's that you are there for them to feed on for their petty grievances. It's like serving on the town council. Phone calls at night: check. People wanting you to do what they want just because: check. Disregard the law: check. Calling you names: check. But he never let it ruffle him, as far as I could tell. He did put a stop to the billboard phone number thing, tho'. That guy was a nutball chewing on himself.

So look in the mirror and say, "Eyebrows McGee: The Cleaner of Hodunk." Or "Those people are dumber than a bunch of rocks."

I think once you survive the general public, you get a star for having survived anything. You just say, "wow, I dealt with all this, and now I can handle anything that comes my way. I am The Cleaner."
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 3:10 PM on September 29, 2014 [9 favorites]

Is it possible you are ruminating on revenge to avoid confronting the essential fact of being victimised? For a lot of women who's self-image is of being strong, effective and forceful (hi!) that aspect can feel perilous to confront.

FWIW, I think it's OK to indulge revenge fantasies for a set amount of time; it's part of the process. I think it's OK to analyse each one and examine why you might or might not act on the fantasy. It's empowering to make a choice: I will not light that asshole's house on fire because I choose not to expose myself and my children to a jail term if caught. I choose not to knife that bastard because I am not him, I could not wilfully hurt someone. I will not paper the neighbourhood with posters because I choose not to turn that kind of attention onto my family. Etc.

I also found things that nurtured my sense of power or of resilience to be helpful. Self-defence classes. Shooting lessons, even if you'd never have a gun in your house (which is a good choice!) Yoga. Pillates. Whatever.

Finally, if you are a person of faith, there is something final and comforting in Romans: Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. It's sort of the ultimate mantra for feeling smug when you have truly been wronged.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:12 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Repeatedly ask yourself 'How does thinking these thoughts make my life better?'

which is the turning point in American History X:
Bob Sweeney: There was a moment..like this. when I used to blame everything and everyone... for all the pain and suffering and vile things that happened to me, that I saw happen to my people. Used to blame everybody. Blamed white people, blamed society, blamed God. I didn't get no answers 'cause I was asking the wrong questions. You have to ask the right questions.
Derek Vinyard: Like what?
Bob Sweeney: Has anything you've done made your life better?

Also: a beautiful line from Job:
But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
posted by smugly rowan at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2014

I am here.
I am now.

Stop your lizard brain and be present in whatever it is you are doing at the moment. What is done is done. You don't have a time machine to go back and stop it from happening. This incident has already robbed you of precious time you could be doing and thinking about much more pleasant and happier things. Don't let it take any more from you - enjoy the now!
posted by NoraCharles at 3:14 PM on September 29, 2014

I have the same problem with bridges. I got a dog. I got another one after that. Now I figure we can't all be having bad luck on the same day; we're together so chances are very good we'll make it across. (Magical thinking works very well for me...) I live on an island; works the same way for the ferry...

As for a mantra to stop ruminating, I have had no luck using other peoples' mantras. Instead, I plan ahead with good things that I will think about instead to distract myself. When I find myself fuming over Item A, then I remind myself "Instead of Item A, I was going to think about Happy Thing B."

Happy Thing B is always an involved item with many parts to consider (this is important; it gets my brain actually involved and moving in another direction) like planning a vacation or how I will decorate a cake (i.e., making flowers out of fondant? what flavor fondant? what color? Can I make small enough bees to go on the flowers?). Or how I will reorganize something. I love to reorganize things.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 3:15 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

What has helped me in similar (but vastly less distressing) situations has been to tell myself: The only way in life to never piss anyone else off, is to never do anything of any consequence.

I can also combine relaxation techniques I stole from Yoga classes with a visualisation involving being a massive rock in a stream, with the water whoosheling around and past me and on down the stream. All the assholes are in the water and they whoosh past. All the stupid negative self-talk about the assholes and their asshole activities: I hear it but it is also in the water and it whooshes past. In fact an almost infinite volume of this nonsense can whoosh past and it affects my giant rock nature not in the least, and the sound of the water is actually pretty soothing. SO THERE, ASSHOLES.
posted by emilyw at 3:24 PM on September 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe "Justice WILL happen; just not where I can see it."

I want to believe, and I mostly choose to believe, that evil actions ARE punished; that wrong actions are often punished (though rarely in the way I would choose), and often are born from different kinds of wrong, which does not justify the wrongdoer's action but helps me realize the pain that person has been subjected to.

There are two parts to justice: the punishment for the wrongdoer, and the healing and restitution, restoration, for the wronged. Any time you can spend caring for yourself will heal you, incidentally, it will also recoil against the harasser, who wanted to hurt you but whose actions are now resulting in you being comforted and strengthened. Any support you can get from your husband and your friends in taking care of you, with the explicit message, "We value you, we love you, and we welcome this chance to care for you", can be some justice for you.

Justice will happen to him, just not where you can see it.
Justice will happen to you, just not where he can see it.

I am so, so sorry this happened to you. I wish you comfort, and justice, and peace.
posted by kristi at 4:46 PM on September 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

I wrote about this in this old askme, but the most helpful thing for me in interrupting ruminative thoughts (especially those that are centered around feeling anxiety/frustration/sadness/anger/shame around things that I absolutely cannot change and just have to live with) is the "Four Rs" technique from Pema Chodron: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve.

Essentially, you 1) Recognize that you're beginning the thought spiral ("okay, I'm thinking about that again!"); then 2) Refrain (instead of following the train of thought, and instead of beating yourself up for having even started to think it, you pause); then 3) Relax (take a deep breath or two); then 4) Resolve to begin the process again, each time the thoughts arise.

I explain it more in my old comment, but it's been so helpful for me, for things big and small. I hope it can be helpful for you as well.
posted by mothershock at 5:45 PM on September 29, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: "It's only a thought and a thought can be changed" helps me every day.

My overall mantra is "life is short but it is wide".
posted by Pardon Our Dust at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I consider this one of the best tools I received in therapy. Its results are far superior to anything I've tried:

Put a big rubber band on one wrist. When your mind starts to run off on thoughts you wish to end, grab band with other hand, pull back then let go. It's supposed to hurt. Immediately after the pain, repeat whatever mantra / affirmation / focus, etc. that works for you to get your mind back on track.
posted by Homer42 at 6:00 PM on September 29, 2014

Simple, and may sound immature, but this helped me get moving on something I was dreading this weekend, and I intend to use it frequently from now on.

"Fuck it."

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSZv1VliGs0#t=03m41s

It's Danny from the Game Grumps talking about how his improv teacher taught him a very valuable tool called the "Fuck It Adjustment." I'll let him describe it. It's almost pathetically simple, but the simplicity is why I think it just kind of works in a lot of cases. Worth a shot, right? Overthinking is bad, so what could be easier medication than just two little words?
posted by KinoAndHermes at 7:06 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have found just about any mantra will do. I personally really like the Bene Gessarit litany against fear: (from the Novel Dune)

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

But just repeating this(or any litany that appeals to you) calms your mind, focusing your thoughts and giving you a grounding. I think it is just getting into practice about learning to calm your mind that does it, not anything 'magical' about any particular litany.

Sometimes I also imagine a flame and then visualize all the thoughts going into the flame and being consumed until my mind empties. With practice it works well and is very calming especially when paired with working to relax all my muscles one by one, usually starting in my toes and working up. This is my falling asleep technique when my mind won't let the day stop.

Another technique I used to use before the flame worked better for me was to imagine tieing up whatever thoughts were bothering me and getting in my way, tieing them to a balloon and watching them float away. At first i had to repeat it very often and just focus on that for a while until it went away, but after some practice a single instance of imagining the sequence would lift the burden of the intrusive thought and allow me to continue with whatever I wanted to do.
posted by bartonlong at 7:07 PM on September 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sort of along the lines of bartonlong's visualizations, a thing that has worked for me is to picture the person sitting in a cozy egg-shaped cocoon where they are all protected by soft cushions and silky fabrics and, importantly, I am protected from them. I visualize the cocoon and the person in it floating into the sky, sometimes with some kind of angelic music. The particular cocoon that I picture is more like one of the honeybee nests from Winnie-the-Pooh (that is, though egg-shaped, it is brown and has some texture to it). In other words I think about a lot of the details of the visualization and it really helps me, I think partly because it turns my thoughts from negative/hateful/fearful to something more peaceful surrounding the worrisome individual.
posted by gubenuj at 10:06 PM on September 29, 2014

I say 'chuck it in the fuck it bucket' about similar injustices in my life.

Also, whenever I start to dwell on being 'done to' by others, especially in ways that feel disgustingly personal and vicious, I enter a mental place that removes me from the personal, intrusive nature of the acts by saying 'that's just what they're doing/ just stuff they did' - it is how another person happens to operate in the world and I happened to be in their way when they did it.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:46 AM on September 30, 2014 [7 favorites]

Picture yourself healthy and happy, just living your awesome life and caring not a whit at what these people did to you... and how angry and frustrated they would be to know what little effect they had on your well-being (it doesn't matter if it's not true right now -- it will be). You get revenge by taking away their power to hurt you. (Personally, I can't get over something like this by thinking only kind, gentle, loving thoughts; I need to have some righteous anger against the guilty party or I'll just keep turning the bad feelings back onto myself.)
posted by chowflap at 7:30 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't have a mantra for you, but I have some comments.

If your problem is that you keep reliving things in your head, kind of dissecting what made people act that way, or sometimes imagining a better reaction on your part, or just to torture yourself, then my answer is therapy.

I had a similar (not so horrible) incident with being bullied by a group of people, and it honestly took me years to recover. My brain kept going to those incidents on its own accord and I just felt terrible about it and it wouldn't let me live my life.

I remember the first thing I did that really helped me was tell the whole story to my therapist. What I thought was my fault, what I thought was unfair, everything. I know you feel like you don't want to talk about it, but just hearing yourself say things will help you see them from a third party point of view. Your therapist will also help you change your perspective and give you pointers on how to deal with recurring memories.

The thing is incidents like these can cause a mild version of PTSD, and in some cases (like mine), symptoms of depression also feed the PTSD by blaming you for things that weren't your fault.

The other thing I can recommend is to try to come to terms with the fact that sometimes really unfair things happen, and many people can get away with horrible shit. I learnt that from my husband, who is a war refugee, and whose attackers are still happily living in the place they got through ethnic cleansing. A degree of compassion and understanding may help if you think some people are not fully conscious of what they did to your peace of mind.

I wish you the best, it sounds like what you went through was a nightmare and I really feel for you. I know that the incident itself was awful and possibly you think now that it's over you should be feeling better, and why does it feel like those people robbed you of your happiness? It's not over for your brain. You are still assimilating what happened and you are getting over things. Just know that this shittiness it is temporary and we are here rooting for you.
posted by Tarumba at 8:00 AM on September 30, 2014

You might check out the work of Fred Luskin and the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. Luskin wrote a book called Forgive for Good.
posted by alex1965 at 8:48 AM on September 30, 2014

You asked for a mantra; I don't have a mantra, alas. I did learn a few things from DBT, however.

One is that noting where you are (I am lying in bed. I can feel the sheets against my skin. I can hear the train whistle outside my building) or what you see or each sensation you are feeling at the moment is a way to pull yourself out of your thoughts and back into your body. By literally describing to yourself some part of your environment to get back to the here and now. Sometimes I make it a game to simply observe out loud (when I am alone, natch) all the different colors and/or objects I can see.

Another thing that can interrupt your train of thoughts and help pull you back into your body is to put an ice pack or bag of frozen peas or whatever on the back of your neck or arm or leg for a few minutes. The temperature change can help interrupt the thought cycle and, again, bring you back to your body. Best of luck. Your fans are rooting for you!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:06 AM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I love and hold with tenderness the part of me that is drawn to ruminating on past events". May help to put your hand on your heart when you say it.
posted by softlord at 12:48 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I like Gandhi's "I will not let you walk through my mind with your dirty feet."
posted by rpfields at 12:50 PM on September 30, 2014 [12 favorites]

I hope this may help. The hell they created for you, they are already in, all the time. There are moments in the day when they are not in your mind: you can escape them sometimes. They can't escape themselves. They live in fear and hate. You're loved and you do good things in the world. In your mind, send them peace. And all the aggression and spite they are sending towards you, look at it, and say "You can have that back, it's not mine. But I'm sending you some of my peace. Hope it does you good."

Hey missus. Look after yourself and *hug*.
posted by glasseyes at 3:04 PM on September 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: FWIW, this excerpt from chapter 23 of the Dhammapada has always been helpful to me when dealing with difficult people and situations:

"I shall bear harsh words,
As the elephant in battle endures arrows,
For I know that most people behave poorly.
It is the tamed elephant that men lead into a crowd.
A king mounts only a tamed elephant.
The man who has tamed himself,
and patiently bears harsh words,
Is also the best among men."
-- The Buddha

Not that defending oneself is not a good thing to do. If we have that opportunity, it is always better done from a place of self control.

"If you wait by the river long enough, the bodies of your enemies will float by.”
― Sun Tzu

Oh man, I love Sun Tzu so much. Re-quoted because it's awesome. A good friend of mine periodically tells me that the very difficult people in my life will eventually get their comeuppance. I may not be around to see it, but sooner or later they will say or do the wrong thing to the wrong person. So far, she has always been right.
posted by jazzbaby at 3:28 PM on September 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure of your faith tradition, or if you have one. For me, though (Catholic), the Hail Mary is my fall back prayer/mantra. I know it like I know my own breath, so I don't even have to think about it, I can pull it to the front of my mind immediately, and the rhythm and length lend themselves very well to repetition. Sometimes I'm praying for myself, sometimes I'm praying for whomever I know needs it, sometimes I'm just ... in the prayer, to get centered and stop the rumination on whatever has been eating at me.

Alternatively, and not faith-based, I like "It'll all be OK in the end. If it's not OK, it's not the end." I know that won't work for everyone, but in situations that feel unresolved, it helps me.

I'm sorry you're going through this. I hope you find some peace.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 4:13 PM on September 30, 2014

Eyebrows McGee, if this is related to public service, your mantra should be, "I will reframe the story of this." It is an honor to serve; it is often thankless and sometimes dangerous. Public servants should not seek or even want revenge when they are wronged in or due to their official capacity. If you have exhausted all of the legal means of redress without success, the time has come to focus on updating policies, finding funding to step up enforcement of existing regulations, supporting candidates who share your vision for your community. Don't let the yahoos derail you from the good fight. When you want to lash out or give up take a second to honor someone you admire who has fought and took a hit for it. When you think the things that trouble you take a moment to be proud of your courage and generosity.
posted by maggieb at 7:00 PM on September 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hear you.

This is going to sound crazy, but mine is me want it (but me wait). It's very silly. It's Cookie Monster singing about how it's important to learn to control his impulses. The moment I heard this I knew it was my mantra song. I don't want a cookie like Cookie Monster does. I want to lash out and hurt people who are currently hurting me. But the best revenge against people who have wronged us is to live a beautiful life, and make great decisions that they have no control over, and not to be bullied by them into doing things that don't reflect who we are. So whenever I'm in a situation where I feel like I want to lash out because it would feel SO GOOD to do it, I remember: me want it. But getting past this with dignity will be the best revenge ever. So me wait.

I did say it was silly.
posted by Hildegarde at 9:06 PM on September 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm so sorry that things are so rough for you right now, but know that they won't last forever. You've been beaten and abused and it takes time to box those things up and pack them away. I don't have a mantra as such for you, but I have a few techiques that have helped me to keep going - alone - when I felt half dead and overwhelmed by things that were unfair and hurtful, unfair being the key word.

Do you have any memory of a stupid little kid's song called Little Bunny FooFoo?

Little Bunny FooFoo went hopping through the forest,
Scooping up the field mice and BOPPING THEM ON THE HEAD

Yes, I use it sometimes. You can act it out if you want, hopping, then scooping, then BOPPING 'EM ON THE HEAD! Or you BOP the Good Fairy on the head if you favor field mice over fairies.

Or sometimes an earworm helps - anything that you just can't shake off.

Going a little deeper, when I feel like my life has been shattered to some degree and I don't know how to take the next step or what that step should be, the only way I can deal with it is to go with, "Wow! I wonder what THAT was all about" - it's like the door just slammed on the last 40 years of my life - chapter is closed - new chapter is opening - what will this one bring? The sun will come up tomorrow and I guess I have to be here, so what happens next?In other words, letting go completely of what happened behind the slammed door.

You are new now and there is a new path for you and where it leads you don't know until you begin walking.

Have you cried this out yet? I like the idea of every Monday at 10:00 or whatever day and time works for you; you can cry then and you can throw something then and you can curse til the leaves fall off all the trees then - you can even curse God if you've had it with him (if you don' t believe in him, that's cool, but if you do, he's okay with you cussing him out when you've hit the wall). Do cry, yell (primal scream is good), and tell those closest to you that you intend to take out your anger and hurt every Monday at 10:00, so be warned ...

Revenge won't work, and you know it won't work, because it always - always - comes back at you like gangbusters; if you do something ugly, you'll wallow in guilt for longer than it will take you to get past this by doing nothing. Karma does work and whoever has hurt you so badly will eat it, but not necessarily within the time frame to ease your pain.

I once signed myself into a psych ward of a hospital when the depression had hit me so hard I was seriously suicidal. I'd never felt that way before and hope to never again, but it was like PMS then in that I knew I wasn't thinking right, that things weren't so bleak as all that, but I was drowning in despair. They gave me chemicals and good therapy and between the two I'm glad I never jumped into the river, so if you reach that level of can't-handle-it, get serious help immediately.

Otherwise, I'd try any and all of the above and, if all else fails, try BOPPING 'EM ALL ON THE HEAD.

Wishes for acceptance, peace and the warm fuzzy feeling that means you know you're much cared about in this weird place.
posted by aryma at 11:35 PM on September 30, 2014

A dear friend of mine has adopted "nobody gives a fuck" as her mantra against spiraling thoughts; not that nobody gives a fuck about her problems, mind, but that the thoughts are entirely useless and worthy only of summary dismissal.
posted by deludingmyself at 7:05 AM on October 1, 2014

My therapist today helped me work on developing a mantra.

My problem is that I get stuck on certain trains of thought (or procrastination habits like Metafilter, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and feel like I get started into a spiral of anxiety. At that moment, it's hard to remember any "shoulds" or "mental tricks" that are too complicated. I need something visceral, concrete, and simple.

We came up with "pull the parachute." If you can imagine the anxiety or obsessive thoughts as a kind of free-fall, the trigger mantra "pull the parachute" is a visceral reminder that I don't have to have a better plan (yet) or be able to respond to what I 'should' be doing. All I need to do is pull the parachute - feel the chute deploy, snap out of the obsession, then look around at the view and figure out what to do next. It's a trigger out of the spiraling anxiety, which gives me a moment to breath and recenter, and then figure out how to redirect. I can't get out of th anxiety and re-direct at the same time, or at least not yet.

Hope this helps you or someone else reading. Pull the parachute, gain perspective, then figure out the next step.
posted by barnone at 8:42 PM on October 1, 2014 [3 favorites]

Seconding the Serenity Prayer. (RecoveryFilter: I'm in recovery. But I think it helps non-recovering people, as well.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:38 AM on October 3, 2014

Response by poster: I am almost embarrassed to admit how well Taylor Swift and Shake It Off have worked. My kids are tired of me singing "shake it off, yeah yeah, shake it off!" in the car.

I am also particularly fond of the elephant in battle one, maybe because it's very visual.

I hung a set of Tibetan prayer flags where I can see them from my kitchen and desk windows, which also helps a lot. I'm not Buddhist, but the visual affirmation that the flags themselves are repeating the mantras for peace and healing all the time, whenever the wind blows, helps pick me up when I'm feeling very down and don't feel able to pray for myself ... it gives me a sense on stability when emotionally I'm all over the place.

Things are better and calmer, I am slowly getting past all of this, although still avoiding some of the people and places that were tangentially involved. (OBVIOUSLY I'm avoiding the key people.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:38 PM on October 30, 2014 [8 favorites]

So, one more idea . . . last time I floated, and ruminated on how hard it is for me to achieve patience, I started breathing in while thinking "serenity," then breathing out and thinking, "patience."

Its a hella mantra so far. I have used it quite often since that float, about a month ago, and it really does help me quickly achieve serenity and patience.

I also love that Taylor Swift video!
posted by bearwife at 10:13 AM on October 31, 2014

This is awfully late but maybe it will still be of some use, to you or someone else.
A poem from an unknown poet, I think from Ghana, that has helped me pull through when things were rough.

I have broken my nose
against a stick
I have broken my left hip
I have something in my eye
And still I go on.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:32 PM on December 22, 2014

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