By Barton Goldsmith
The wonderful multi-award-winning producer, writer and director Norman Lear was being interviewed by Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy asked Lear, now 99 years old, what advice he would give to younger people.
Without missing a beat, Lear said: “Learn to let things that bother you go.”
He elaborated, of course, but those few words are some of the most powerful in the world. I know that if people could just learn to do it, the murder, divorce and addiction rates would drop like a stone. And I would be out of a job (but thankfully).
It’s a Process
Learning to let go of what triggers or haunts you is a dream for many people, and each of us has our own personal demons to slay. The big question is: How do you let go? There are many answers to that question, and no one answer works for everyone, because we’re all different.
Where psychotherapy may help some people who hold on to negative or intrusive thoughts, others don’t respond to traditional treatments. Luckily there are many new treatments available, and you can find the right one if you look for it.
Even after you’ve worked on this, you may have to deal with the after-effects of a traumatic experience. It’s hard to forget that someone held a gun to your head or broke your heart. And truly letting go means not forgetting what happened but rather learning to live with it so it doesn’t haunt you.
Case in Point
Elvira (not her real name) was haunted by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for years following the end of an abusive relationship, and getting it under control was not easy. She tried many medications, none of which worked. She got counseling from some good people and did her own work, but she would still wake up in a state of anxiety every single morning.
When we started working together, I asked her to imagine, as often as she could, that the discomfort she was feeling was the negativity leaving her body. Whenever a negative thought entered her mind, she would repeat this visualization exercise and would soon begin to feel OK again.
Before you can release a negative emotion, you must first notice it and recognize the negative thought behind it. Once you do, you can kick the negative feeling to the curb with the power of positive thinking. In this way, you are taking control of your uncomfortable emotions instead of being run by them.
Elvira has a successful acting career, and she still has some bad moments, but she also knows they are only moments. To stay in a balanced emotional place, she continues to use visualization, journaling, psychotherapy and positive self-talk as her main weapons against any emotional darkness that may come her way.
It takes effort, but it’s well worth it.
Artists make us think, and they can teach us things we never knew about ourselves, but only if we are open to seeing them. Norman Lear is not only brilliant but deep, and we all need to thank him for the laughter he has brought to our homes, the social changes he has championed, and the wisdom that inspired it all.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, Calif., is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.
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