Have you ever been told to just let it go?
If you’ve ever faced workplace aggression, there’s a good chance you have. But what if I told you that may be bad advice? Perhaps it’s in the not letting go that you can find healing.
Recently I was awoken in the middle of the night. But unlike months ago when the rapid beat of my heart would jolt me from slumber, this time the mid night awakening came gently.
My inner voice had a gift to return. Something valuable I hadn’t fully realized I’d lost.
I heard her whisper one short question followed by one bold statement, both of which headed straight to the soul:
“Haven’t they taken enough? Don’t let them take the good years too.”
She was referring to the bullies in my last workplace. And that I’d allowed a relatively short period of abuse to overshadow many wonderful years.
As I laid there in the dark, I felt myself drifting to a different space in time. As each memory played out before me, I could feel the energy each experience had illuminated within me. I felt the joy, fulfilment and pride once again. The sense of belonging that motivated me to do more, become more.
When I awoke in the morning, I had a profound realization: the gifts of these past experiences were still available to me…all I needed to do was accept them back.
Below is how I came to understand how your past might hold the key to your future happiness:
Why The Past Matters
In 1895 Sigmund Freud said of a patient suffering from past trauma: “I think this man is suffering from memories.”
The past matters because as much as we’d like to forget certain painful parts of it, our minds and bodies remember. It influences how we understand and perceive our world.
Memories have the power to alter our feelings and reactions. Will we be fearful and cautious moving forward? Or courageous and confident? The memories we choose to draw from may determine which approach we take to the rest of our life.
For those of us who’ve faced workplace aggression, we know how injustice, betrayal and loss can take our good memories hostage. How they cast a dark shadow over our accomplishments and shroud our relationships in suspicion. Rolling all the years prior to the abuse into a deep fog.
In my case, workplace aggression was threatening to wipe out more than a decade of my life with one dramatic resignation.
I became curious to know why this happens.
The Negativity Bias
As it turns out, we’re internally wired to pay more attention to the negative than the positive. Our very survival depends upon it. When something threatening happens to us, our minds and bodies hold the memory to ensure we avoid a similar experience in the future.
Being traumatized results in an overactive internal alarm system that can go off even when the danger has passed. A child’s refusal to hear me, a friend’s perceived cold shoulder… both had the ability to trigger my internal senses even though neither one posed a threat to my safety.
I came to understand that subconsciously, when our brains sense something even remotely familiar to the traumatic event, it sends the message that danger is near. We feel an immediate need to:
Understanding how powerful our memory is and the influence it has on our current and future behavior can reduce our healing time and allow us to move forward from the positive instead of the negative.
So how do we do that?
Rewiring The Brain
I found a Ted Talk in which Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist with an interest in neuroscience, discusses how taking in good, current experiences can rewire our brains, thus increasing happiness.
After hearing my internal voice encouraging me to revisit my past good experiences, I was curious if this could also apply.
If we, as he suggests:
• Have a positive experience (in my case, a past positive experience)
• Enrich It
• Absorb It and
• Link positive and negative material
Could it rewire our brains and therefore heal us faster?
I found that for me, it certainly seemed to help.
Reclaiming My Past
So I allowed myself to go back to the days of a healthy workplace. To the many years before I’d learn how damaging workplace aggression could be…
A time when group projects led to the kind of laughter that brought not only tears, but belly aches.
To years of working under a remarkable leader and how his guidance and support made me not only a better leader, but a better person.
I revisited the early mornings where the view of the sun rising from the airport terminal made for one of the loveliest I’d ever seen…and I’d seen many.
I remembered visiting places others only dreamt of. Where the opportunity to see the world for free was handed to me at the end of each shift as an airline employee.
I thought about the many skills I gained while I was there: how to work as a team, deescalate a tough situation, and most importantly, how to open myself up to another’s point of view.
I went back to the sense of community and the friends that, in the midst of my darkest hour, stood by my side.
…I also remembered how things ended. How I took a stand against injustice, even in the face of persecution. How I displayed undying loyalty to a company I believed in even though none of it would be reciprocated. And the time I finally put myself first and left the abuse I wasn’t yet able to define.
So Should You Just Let It Go?
As much as some may say to let it go, to forget it, and move on, there is power in our past.
We can overcome the pain and find healing by better understanding the negativity bias, how to rewire our brain and reclaiming the positive moments that belong to us.
Yes, the same workplace that brought so much pain is perhaps the same one that will bring additional healing, wisdom, and happiness.
So when you’re healed enough and your inner voice comes calling, don’t be afraid. Turns out, the past isn’t as scary as it may seem…In fact, it may just be as wonderful as you remember.
Whatever your experience has been, I wish you well on your path to peace.