My sister and me both had our dad do stuff to us at night sometimes. She’s still really angry about it but I’ve cut him out of my life. I’ve been reading your blog and focusing on being grateful and I’m feeling good. My sister says I’m just suppressing my emotions and that
it will make me sick. I know she’s wrong but I don’t know how to explain it.
Can you give me an answer to give her?
I’m sorry that you and your sister had those experiences but I’m also very happy to hear that you’re practising gratitude as a lifestyle. There’s no single better thing a person could do for their psychological or spiritual health than appreciating. I hope you’re also appreciating your obvious natural skill at mental control too. And there’s no better thing that you could do for your sister than modelling the behaviours that will benefit her.
Remember not to expect to always be in control though, okay? That’s unrealistic. There is no road without ditches. You can’t pave the entire world and still know where to go. You need not-road to define your road. So when you doze off and lose control and you end up upset in some way, don’t add to it by being upset you’re upset. Instead just remember that your fluctuations are built into the system, so when they happen you can largely ignore them and switch back to appreciating and you’ll be fine again. Appreciating feels magnetic and wanting feels like suffering, so everything about our psychological landscape is designed to push us toward health. People make it complicated sometimes but it really is that simple.
Okay, so you have to ask you sister, if you’re suppressing emotions, then you must have a storage place for them—what is it? In what gland or duct or organ do you store these pent-up emotions? It’s as though she sees your dad’s actions as adding to you somehow—as though he has poured some foul liquid into some secret body part that you must sweat and cleanse and purify of toxins. And that no matter how much pouring you do this will stay with you forever. It’s really a silly idea, but because 99% of the population believes it, it feels like it’s “real.”
The truth is you don’t store emotions for later extraction, you store thoughts for later replaying. So you have a memory. It’s yours. It’s like a big filing system of everything that’s happened to you. And yes, that stuff with your Dad is likely to be there. And if you access it a lot like your sister does, your brain will move those filing cabinets closer to the doorway to your consciousness. They’ll make it easy to think them because your brain is helpful. It does what you ask it to. So if you ask it to keep getting the same thoughts then it will start to store those thoughts in a very efficient manner.
The difference between you and your sister is that you have accepted what has happened so there is no angry, regretful, suffering story to tell yourself. For you that story is over. It had an ending. Your dad did something that violated your sense of self. You’ve chosen not to think about those days in favour of thinking about what you’re grateful for. If your mind is processing grateful thoughts then you will get grateful feelings because we use our thinking to conjure our emotional reality on a moment-to-moment basis.
By contrast your sister chooses to continue to live in the past and to see your father and therefore re-trigger those thoughts. And then when they are re-triggered she keeps thinking them because she’s innocently blaming them on your father. She’s not seeing that these are choices she’s making regarding where she is choosing to place her psychological energy. She’s continuing to tell herself a story about how the past events shouldn’t have happened. But “shouldn’t” just refers to lines in our heads and people cross those all the time so “shouldn’t” is effectively an ego-based word that has little place in a healthy person’s vocabulary.
We don’t have feelings we conjure them. The past does not dictate today’s thinking. Where you have driven does not dictate which way you can turn the car today. If your sister wants to drive in circles through the same ditch from decades ago then that is absolutely her prerogative. But you aren’t crazy or wrong or suppressed to be driving down new, beautiful roads in life. You’re free. You understand that you are not your past, you are your current thoughts. That’s how you stay in the Flow of Tao—you stay in the current.
Rather than being conscious of your past you’re conscious of your present. I’m sure you can easily see the difference between your grateful life and your sister’s wanting one. But you’re already doing the most helpful thing you can for your sister—you’re living a happy life and you’re proving that her past does not have to dictate her future. So I’m with you—for her own sake I hope she notices that fact sooner rather than later. Because the moment she does she will be free.
I hope this helps. Maybe just print this off and leave it for your sister to find. She won’t like being responsible for how she’s felt—she really wants that to be your dad’s fault. So there will be some initial resistance. But again, the best possible thing you can do is prove to her it’s possible by actually going out and living a happy life. After all, there is no way around the sharp edges in life. There’s only what we do in the moment we’re in.
Congratulations on spending your moments wisely.
Much love, s
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.