But it's the principle of the thing!
January 21, 2008 7:03 AM   Subscribe

If you've been robbed, cheated, mistreated, or otherwise been a victim of injustice, how do you stop dwelling on it and get on with your life?

I'm depressed and my meds quit working last summer. I've been trying to get my meds sorted since then, but it could be weeks or months before I'm back to feeling normal. While I'm in this just-barely-functioning place something happened to me that was extremely unfair and will end up costing me a non-trivial amount of money. The money is the only external consequence, but internally, I'm a complete mess.

I won't bother going into the event itself, as that's not relevant to the question. I could fight it, but it would take more time and energy than the money is worth, particularly with my mental health being so fragile. I know intellectually that I just need to LET IT GO, but I keep dwelling on it. Once the thought chain gets started, then all the hurt feelings come back, and all the feelings of fighting it just for the sake of "making them pay for what they did to me."

I'm under the care of my GP for depression and just started a new SSRI, and I have a few counselling sessions booked. So I'm covered on that end. What I'm looking for is two things.

1. Tricks to stop the compulsive thoughts once they get started. So far the only solution I've found is to get lost in a book for a few hours, but often after I finish the book, the thoughts are still waiting. And anyway, I can't read every waking hour, so I need some tricks that can help break the thought chain while still allowing me to perform useful tasks.

2. My head knows I need to let it go. My gut just won't let it go. How do I convince my gut that my head is right? (I'm pretty sure that if I can get the answer to question 1 then this won't matter so much though.)

Thanks everybody.
posted by happyturtle to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Get lost in this book for a while. Might help.
posted by milarepa at 7:09 AM on January 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

Personally, I talk about it with friends. It's my main coping mechanism. When I can't talk to friends, I write. Not something to share or send, but just something to get it all out. You have emotions, accept that fact. Don't fight the emotion, just flow. Time will pass, and the hurt goes away. Meanwhile, talking and/or writing exercises those emotions.

Fighting emotions usually makes things worse. You bottle stuff up, then you have to pay some shrink to work it out where you can deal. By experiencing the emotions, they loose their power, because you are dealing with them as they occur.

For the really ugly stuff, it takes longer. Plot your revenge in intricate detail, to the point it becomes totally boring. Presto! You're better :-) I'm not joking, either.

Of course, some folks can't stand to listen to their "friends" problems. Different friends might be in order, or maybe not. Some places folks just don't have time for that stuff. So you write quietly to yourself. Experience the rage, the hurt. Get it out! Out is better than in! Or pay the shrink if you really need that.
posted by Goofyy at 7:16 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

How do you stop? You stop thinking of yourself as a victim. You look at your part of whatever the situation was and how your actions may have contributed to the outcome. You stop thinking of yourself as some helpless creature drifting along at the whim of others.

If you can't let it go, then pursue it. Or investigate pursuing it. Having once been hit by someone who ran a red light and caused me injury and a lot of damage to my car, I can somewhat relate to your situation. I had nightmares about the accident. I had to go to therapy to get over the fear of getting back in a car. I was in physical therapy for months. The other driver would not admit fault and that drove me insane. I consulted a lawyer and he told me something very important: just because you are right doesn't mean you will win and winning will probably never get you that "I'm sorry" for fucking up your life for months on end. I could make it my personal project with a lawsuit for the next two years or I could get over it. Getting embroiled in a lawsuit makes it everything you eat, breathe and live until the case is over. I decided it wasn't worth it to me to have to make it my life for the next year or two.

You have to decide how much of your time and your life you are willing to devote to festering about some event in your past. Festering about it keeps it in the present. Keeping it in the present means you can't move on. Fight the battle if you must but realize your time might be better invested in yourself and to stop giving the situation any more power over your life and your emotions. Therapy can indeed help you with it.
posted by 45moore45 at 7:21 AM on January 21, 2008 [3 favorites]

Tricks to stop the compulsive thoughts once they get started.

Here are a few ideas that I've picked up from various sources.

* Try to come up with some simple guided imagery to help you dispose of the thoughts when they take hold. For example, imagine the thought as a helium balloon above your head, you let it go, and it floats away. Or imagine the thought as a piece of paper, you set it on fire and it disintegrates. Come up with one that resonates, and repeat as necessary. The idea is to interrupt the pattern, and practice disposing of it so that it doesn't hold such power over you.

* Focus on your breathing. Take a few deep breaths when the thoughts take hold, focusing on the feeling of breathing in and out, taking fresh air in, and releasing the troubling thoughts as you exhale.

* Wear a rubber band on your wrist, and snap it when you catch yourself having these thoughts. The act of doing it, and the sharp sensation may help you interrupt the thought pattern.

You've been wronged, wounded, and wounds take time to heal. So be gentle with yourself, allow yourself time to heal from this, but know that you WILL get over it because you are proactively taking action to correct these harmful thoughts.

Sorry about your situation, and I hope these are some helpful ideas.
posted by man on the run at 7:21 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Get lost in this book for a while. Might help.

this one offers perhaps even more answers, especially in the second half. It has large sections devoted to just this very problem.
posted by caddis at 7:28 AM on January 21, 2008

I would check out this movie. It's changed my outlook a lot.


You may have a touch of OCD. I know from experience that if you have a touch of it (I do), it's very hard to get a thought out of your head. One thing I learned (from the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook) is that if you have the thought running in your head, you can say outload to yourself, forcefully "Stop!Stop!Stop!". Maybe throw your head into it at the same time. I've done that at times and it can be very effective.

A similar thing happened to me, and I'm still pissed off about it. Then I moved to the town where the institution was, so I pass it every day. And I know a lot of people who have gone there (it's a school). I've just had to suck it up and deal, mostly. I resist the urge to flip them the bird when I walk by...I work in the same industry.
posted by sully75 at 7:39 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I know, btw, that it's hard to say "well, that's that and I'm wasting my life worrying about it". If you are OCD you might not be able to stop worrying about it, even if that would make you feel better. So don't beat yourself up about it. You were wronged, it's not your fault. But do everything you can to be gentle to yourself, offer personal (unspoken) forgiveness and decide that you are going to move on.

My personal script is like this: "Gina X, I forgive you for being a nasty person and keeping my deposit, and for being nasty about it, when I gave you 4 months notice that I wasn't coming".
posted by sully75 at 7:42 AM on January 21, 2008

this one offers perhaps even more answers, especially in the second half. It has large sections devoted to just this very problem.

I am not sure if you are being sarcastic, but I found Desmond Tutu's outlook on forgiveness very helpful and insightful and I am hardly a Christian.
posted by milarepa at 7:56 AM on January 21, 2008

not at all. I just like going back to the original source material as well.
posted by caddis at 7:59 AM on January 21, 2008

I spent several years as a member of a Friends (Quaker) meeting, and the approach I learned from a good friend was "holding the person who hurt you in the light". This is Friends talk for praying that God helps them get to a better place, letting God decide what a better place is. If nothing else, this helps you let go of your anger, which may be causing you more damage than the monetary loss because it has no end. (In addition, many Friends believe that when someone wrongs you, they also hurt themselves because their offense has distanced them from their own Inner Light or God within/conscience).

You don't necessarily have to believe in an anthropomorphized God for this to work. One method for people who aren't necessarily Christian/deist is to imagine them bathed in a white light (yes, I know it sounds New-Agey, but strangely it does help you let go). You might want to think of this as leaving it to Karma, if Eastern religious metaphor is more your speed. Karma is not revenge or necessarily retribution, in my understanding (please feel free to correct me, wiser ones) but the natural order of things re-adjusting, actions having consequences, etc.

But the next step is always letting go.
posted by lleachie at 8:03 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart has been recommended lots on MetaFilter -- I also just read/listened to her speaking on the subject of "shenpa" and learning to stay. Basically -- in an enormously simplified nutshell -- she talks about the kind of obsessive/repetitive thinking you describe as getting "hooked."

That hooked feeling -- that triggering thing that makes you keep thinking about what happened or how you were wronged -- is called shenpa, and what it's really all about is running away. Seems paradoxical, right? Somehow being hooked into the obsessive thought helps you run away from what's really at the core of what's happening. So her solution is learning to stay -- learning to feel that yucky running-away-with-it feeling without actually running away with it. Eventually, the notion is, you'll be able to recognize the shenpa when it arises and not react to it -- it will just be, and you won't be compelled to run away with it with your worrying mind.

She recommends as a basic practice four steps: Recognize. Refrain. Relax. And Resolve. Recognize means just that -- you recognize that you're getting hooked in: "Here I go, thinking about that again!" And then, instead of following the hook and continuing to go there, and instead of beating yourself up for having even started to go there, you stop. That's what refraining is, simply stopping the thought. Then comes the part where you relax. You take a deep breath. Maybe a few deep breaths. And then comes the resolve -- the part where you remind yourself that you will do this again and again and again.

She explains this far better than I ever could in her audiobooks Getting Unstuck and Don't Bite the Hook. But in the immediacy of the moment where those repetitive thoughts play like a movie screen in your head, remembering to recognize, refrain, relax, and resolve is a simple thing you can do to calm yourself and interrupt things.
posted by mothershock at 8:23 AM on January 21, 2008 [182 favorites]

Try to come up with some simple guided imagery to help you dispose of the thoughts when they take hold.

Seconded. This helps clamp down on unwanted thoughts fast.

You know that saying "the best revenge is to live well"? You could do worse than meditate on that for a while.
posted by Leon at 8:29 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. I went through a moderate bout of depression about two years ago and this book really helped me break out of it. There's something about Buddhist philosophy that just helps you center yourself. I can't recommend it enough.
posted by JeffK at 8:36 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Without saying what this wrong was and the circumstances are, it's hard to give good advice. Perhaps fighting IS the best way to recover?

Is this a roomate who left without paying this month's rent? Or a boyfriend who stole your car? Those situations deserve different reactions.

Are you SURE that your obsessions are irrational? Could it be that because you aren't feeling 100% at your best, you are trying to justify giving up by calling it obsessive?

Good luck.
posted by gjc at 8:38 AM on January 21, 2008

I personally take a lot of comfort from my belief that people do what they are fated to do and so cannot bear ultimate moral responsibility for their actions. Which is not to say that I believe harmful actions should be consequence-free, but I do feel that any redress should be motivated by such considerations as prevention, deterrence and compensation rather than retribution.

That probably sounds very dry and academic, but I do find that once I've calmed down enough to recall this thought it always helps a great deal whenever I'm feeling hurt or angry, even when the person I'm angry at is me. Although some of the negative emotions remain, the hate disappears, which makes a big difference.

I think it's a lot like the old saying, "There but for the grace of God go I". Such-and-such might be an asshole, but I try to remember that from my perspective, they are simply the way they were always destined to be, nothing more or less, and that's equally true of me.
posted by teleskiving at 8:45 AM on January 21, 2008

Following on from what sully75 said, Eva Kor (the subject of Forgiving Dr. Mengele) is featured on The Forgiveness Project which looks like a great website about moving on.
posted by teleskiving at 9:00 AM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

This is going to sound weird, but when I was robbed (and again after I went through my painful divorce), redecorating helped. I know it sounds weird... something is happening to you that is upsetting and costing you money. For me, I reached out.

I found a friend (or friends, as the case may be), told him/her point blank that I needed help.

In instance one, I got robbed two weeks before Xmas; the boyfriend got together with his sister and while I was at work, redecorated the house with tinsel, lights, candles, and swaths of cloth. It probably only cost about $50 and they put a cutout of santa claus over the hole where the window had been crowbar'd out. It sounds weird, but it helped. When I came home and saw how cheery and bright everything was, I cried with relief; it lifted my mood immensely.

During the divorce, I went and stayed with a friend for a week; she cooked for me, took care of me in every way (daily walks, movies, the whole nine yards) and offered to let me borrow enough money to get new window coverings and repaint my walls. I opted to move into an apartment instead, but the change of scenery helped me finally break the cycle of lying in bed every night, going over the traumatic events over and over again, asking myself why, questioning god... the whole nine yards. It broke my mental cycle to be somewhere else.

If you have a good friend or family member who you can borrow from and repay without interest, my suggestion is either a break away from your daily routine (because it helps tremendously, mentally and physically, to remove yourself from the place where you're feeling the stress) and/or repaint and in other ways alter your home surroundings. When I moved back into my home, I redecorated and rearranged all the furniture. It felt like a cleansing ritual; newish surroundings visually got my mind in a different space.

Meditation also helped; I made a point of meditating only on positive things once a day, 10 minutes at a time, and that helped reset my energy as well.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 11:39 AM on January 21, 2008

Response by poster: caddis, it's interesting that you recommend the King James Bible. I just discovered lolcatbible.com, and have been entertaining myself quite a bit translating Luke into lol cat speak. There's not much in there about compulsive thoughts though, so I suspect you were recommending forgiveness.

sully75, My mother and sister have mild forms of OCD, so I likely I have tendencies in that direction. I'm pretty sure I don't meet the diagnostic criteria, just because my first psychiatrist, who treated me for nearly two years, was *very* good and certainly would have recognized OCD. But yeah, it does feel like compulsion, and I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be having so much trouble with it if my depression were under control.

gjc, giving up really is the most sensible thing to do. Like 45moore45 said, even if I won, it wouldn't ever get me a heartfelt apology, and the money involved would have to be in the tens of thousands to be worth the hassle and the effect on my health.

man on the run, thanks for the tricks. The rubber band tip seems like a good one to use when I'm out walking the dog, which is when the feelings tend to get the most intrusive. There's something about being out on a cold, overcast day toting a bag of poop that doesn't tend to inspire the most cheerful thoughts.

mothershock, shenpa is *exactly* what I'm feeling. I think I'll pick up a few of her books. That could be the insight I'm looking for.

I'm feeling a lot more hopeful, but if anyone has any further suggestions, please bring them on.
posted by happyturtle at 12:21 PM on January 21, 2008

This sounds really bad, but I moped and moped (my house was robbed and due to bad luck on my part, I was out several thousand dollars' worth while none of my roommates were even affected) and finally my boyfriend told me that if I didn't cut the crap he was going to stop talking to me until I got over it. I was SO angry with him at the time because I thought I needed support, but it made me realize that life had to go on, and it was going to go on whether I was ready to move on with it or not. And sure enough, within a couple of days I'd stopped thinking about it so much.

I don't know if "Get someone to get really angry with you and not getting over it" will cut it, but maybe you could steer a close friend to this thread.
posted by crinklebat at 12:28 PM on January 21, 2008

Here's what I (try) to do: When the first obsessive thought comes back in; stop yourself (much like you would stop your wandering mind when you're meditating) and say to yourself "This is not happening at this moment. I am (ex. sitting at my computer reading Metafilter.)"

Then focus on sensations currently happening in your body and describe them to yourself (ie: my lower back is a bit tight, my posture isn't as straight. there's a twinge in my left hip, etc. )

Consider it a more active route back to mindfulness.
posted by xena at 12:40 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Maybe a consoling thought for you could be the Asian idea of karma: an article of faith that those who do wrong to others get punished by the forces of the universe in this life and/or the next even if you aren't necessarily there to view the outcome. I took several lengths of cloth to a seamstress in Thailand to have some dresses and suits made...and then the seamstress and my payment skipped town, never to be heard from again. I'd be more upset about the situation if the joke weren't really on the seamstress: she's stuck trying to sell the wool garbadine and/or whatever she's made out of it in a country which never gets cold enough to justify wearing it!
posted by bunky at 12:42 PM on January 21, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I often tell myself that at the end of the day, they have to go home to their lives, and I get to come home to mine, and despite the depression, I have a pretty good life. I have a husband and a dog who think the world of me, and while I'm no paragon of virtue, I don't have to reconcile myself to any reprehensible acts that have caused willful harm to others.
posted by happyturtle at 3:25 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

Write down how you were wronged. Write down how you would like it to be resolved, including any ugly things you wish would happen to them. Burn it and let it go.

Next time the thoughts come in, start writing what you learned from the situation, keep that list. The next time the thoughts come in write down all the things that make your life great...big and little, from your great husband all the way down to the simple, like finding a great parking space. I know this all sounds very "Pollyanna", but actually writing down the wonderful things makes me see them more and more in every day life. Worrying, dwelling and obsessing takes much more energy than finding simple little things to be happy about.

**yes, I understand you may have a more serious condition with diagnosis and meds, I'm not suggesting this as an "easy fix" to a serious problem, just one little step that could help along the way**
posted by illek at 3:52 PM on January 21, 2008

What helps me when I'm dwelling on having been victimized is thinking of the ways I've wronged others. "Oh, but I've never done anything THAT bad," you might think, and you might be right, but you've done something at some point in your life. Maybe you've cut someone off in traffic, maybe you've been curt with your partner, maybe you've lied to your boss. Sometimes I've lashed out when I've been hurt. I hope my victims have compassion for me and I hope they have forgiven me. When someone wrongs me in turn, I think of how I've wronged others, yet I am still not a terrible, unworthy person. I'm just another flawed human - as is my perpetrator. And that makes me feel empathetic, not victimized.

Somewhere I read that the best thing to do when you can't let go of a resentment is to pray for the person. It's impossible to pray for someone and hate them at the same time. If you're not religious, then just wish them good. "You stole my stereo but I hope the sun shines on you today." "You broke my heart but I wish you well in your career." Be sincere in this, and it's unreal how effective this is at lightening your heart. (Btw, this is a bastardized-by-me form of Buddhist metta meditation, if you want to Google it.)
posted by desjardins at 7:40 PM on January 21, 2008 [4 favorites]

If you are not religious then milarepa's suggestion seems the best in this thread. We all have trouble letting these things go and reading about how others have been successful can be the best therapy. I am buying that book for sure. Forgiveness is the virtue that saves, not the one who is forgiven, but the forgiver. You can believe that because you forgive, that Jesus, God, the holy spirit, will forgive you. Or, you can believe that Jesus was one smart fucker who knew that forgiving others is the quickest way to personal nirvana. Hate and anger will kill you quick. Forgiveness lightens your soul. That doesn't make the process of forgiveness any easier. Start small. Forgive all the little sins with wild abandon. You were going to forgive almost all of those anyway, just make it 100%. Then up the forgiveness a notch. Forgive the guy who really deserves a kick in the crotch, for whatever. Just smile in the face of his aggression. It really is uplifting. Trust me. Don't get egotistical over it though, as that is counterproductive. Pay the toll of the person behind you on the bridge, especially the guy who honked is ass off because you refused to let him cut in line. Next time let him cut (I still have issues with this step). You go much beyond this and you are a better man than most. It still scrubs the soul, really.
posted by caddis at 8:18 PM on January 21, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think there are very mild forms of OCD, so your psych might have missed it. I don't know all that much about it, but when I read about the symptoms, I got them. It's not necessarily the handwashing kind of thing.

Yoga helped me immensely at the time too. I did a lot of it, very hard core, for one year. It calmed my mind amazingly well.

All the best. I'm sure this will pass. At a certain point you will still remember it but it will be just that...a memory. I just thought about how I passed the institution in question yesterday and I'm not even sure I thought about my money, I was more thinking about the friends I've made there in the meantime.
posted by sully75 at 3:38 AM on January 22, 2008

Response by poster: I just came across an article about this topic:
Researchers at Yale have identified a gene mutation for "rumination" -- the kind of chronic worry in which people obsess over negative thoughts. It's a variation of a gene known as BDNF that's active in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in thinking and memory. In a study of 200 mothers and daughters published in the journal Neuroscience Letters last month, the Yale scientists found that those who had been depressed in their youth were more likely to be ruminators and to have this particular variation of BDNF.
I strongly suspect that my mother, sister, and me all have this gene variation. The article mentions a few suggestions for breaking the cycle, but not nearly as many as this thread.
posted by happyturtle at 2:02 PM on January 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Um yeah I got hit with that stick real bad.
posted by sully75 at 6:20 PM on January 22, 2008

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