Neuropsychologist and writer, Marsha Lucas, PhD believes that emotional leftovers are similar to leftovers in your fridge. They’re kind of messy – and much of the time they get old and you might even delay their removal longer than desired.
We’re wired so that yucky emotional leftovers get more of our attention – for the sake of our basic survival, that unpleasant growl from a co-worker automatically gets more attention than the smile from a friend. Emotional leftovers that tend to linger for most of us are the negative ones – anger, resentment, “hanging” uncertainty, fear, grief…
Some leftovers are so old and moldy we’re not even sure what they are anymore, or we misidentify them. They could be from the immediate past, like the argument you had yesterday with your partner, or long ago, like the fearful frustration of trying to get your mom’s attention when you were scared.
Why do you hold onto those leftovers?
- You might feel justified in your anger or resentment, and feel the importance of holding on to it, perhaps to keep yourself “safe.”
- You might believe that letting go of your grief would be disloyal to whomever or whatever you lost, or cause you to lose an emotional thread to the lost.
- You might keep mulling over the frustration of an unresolved encounter, where you held back from dealing directly and authentically in one of your relationships (partner, friend, neighbor, co-worker) – easier to keep it going in your mind instead of dealing with it directly, so that you don’t have to reach a difficult or potentially painful resolution.
- You might be afraid of what’s next – and so your mind seems like a hamster on a wheel considering and reconsidering what to do, which decision to make, in an effort to make only the “right” choice and keep yourself safe from the unknown.
Practicing meditation is one way to drain the energy around your emotional leftovers by changing your level of consciousness, moving into being more mindfully aware – not only during meditation, but rewiring your brain so that mindfulness happens more and more in your everyday, walkabout life. Be aware that if you try to solve your issues while you’re meditating, you might come up with some new insights or a new strategy, which might even be valuable, but you won’t be re-wiring your brain. So, instead of focusing on the leftovers, you’re noticing that you’re standing in front of the fridge, and perhaps it’s chilly or your arm is tired from holding the door open. You’re practicing being more aware of what is going on in this moment, not the past and not the future.
If you find yourself endlessly wrestling, it can be a sign that you might also need some help in finding other, new, non-habitual, not-direct-problem-solving ways of resolving these issues – of getting rid of the leftovers. Many people find that working with a good psychotherapist and practicing mindfulness meditation create a profound synergy, one amplifying the effectiveness of the other.1