Have you ever wondered WHY you stay sad, or even traumatized, by the bad things that happened so long ago?
Do you ever think, “Why am I not over this yet?” or “Why does this still hurt after all this time?”
Do you have any scars on your body? I have a scar on the outside of my left leg, from my knee joint to my hip. After the car accident that killed my children, I was so severely injured that they had to slice my leg open and stick in a steel rod. The longest piece of bone left in that mangled mess was under one inch long! That was 1991, but the scar is still there. It’s not the exact same skin, obviously. But the skin “remembers” what happened, doesn’t it?
In this, we find a clue to why emotional memories trigger pain even so much later.
When something important happens in our life, unusually good or unusually bad, or when we just THINK something that happens is important (even if other people disagree), we automatically attach that happening to a person, place or thing. Maybe a smell or a sound. Maybe tall or short men. Maybe women with red hair. Maybe turning left at stoplights. Maybe growling dogs. It doesn’t really matter what it is. Once that association has been made, however irrational, every time we encounter that stimulus, it triggers a response.
This is a part of what is called “PTSD” – post-traumatic stress disorder.
You can probably understand how a traumatized soldier would start every time a car backfires. For years, the smell of smoke – even though I wasn’t in LA when my house burned down – triggered a whole string of emotions. Anything your brain associates with the original event sets off the response in you.
The problem is this: you may or may not even notice what the heck just stimulated you to feel those bad feelings again. And the more often you are unconsciously stimulated, the deeper the groove gets worn into your head, and the harder it is to get rid of it, especially without help. One of the things therapists and others who deal with PTSD and traumatized people do is to bring them to awareness of what triggers their emotions. Then the soldier – for instance – can say to himself, “That was a car backfiring, not a gun.” (Decoding Traumatic Memory Patterns at the Cellular Level, McClaskey, Thomas R.)
By calmly and logically bringing up the stimuli to the conscious mind (by using reframing, NLP, guided imagery, hypnosis, therapy, meditation, etc.) you can disassemble the stimulus-response mechanism inside you and reduce your symptoms so that you can have a freer, more peaceful, more open life.
Summary: You CAN get better! No matter what happened, there are ways to release it and not let those old stimuli trigger how you respond to things that happen in your world today. Promise! If you’re suffering, seek help.
24 thoughts on “How Can You Be Happy After Bad Things Happened?”
Glenn LIdstone says:
Great article Wendy and I would love to repost it on my website (fully acknowledging you and providing a linkback to your site). Can you let me know if that would be possible? Thank you.
Wow, Glenn! I’m so honored! Thank you. I just want to help people. You are fully deputized! ; )
It’s funny I feel this all the time. Never associated this with PTSD. My husband left me and 4 kids for a girl as young as my oldest son. Just today and everyday I admit I see a 27ish old girl and I want to cry. It’s so so painful for me. And every young girl I see, I see her.
Oh, Cece, I can so relate! And your feelings are SO normal! After my son died, every time I saw a 4-ish yr old boy with blond hair, I’d start to weep. It’s really super normal. The desensitizing thing really works, and you’ll be amazed how once you disconnect that trigger, it shows you what other things you may have as stimuli, and may (if you want) eventually help you open your heart to someone new and wonderful…and loyal.
Hope your life overflows (again) with love, joy and peace,
Ashley McIntyre says:
While reading this, I kept trying to think of my trigger. For me it is pain in any part of my body. I was healthy and great and one day that changed. I never had pain before my cancer diagnosis. Now, my oncologist tells me of things I need to look out for. So now whenever I have any pain, fear wells up within me and I question if this disease has returned.
I am learning now how to process the fear and not allow it to paralyze me mentally. Thank you for this and for helping me identify my trigger!
Wow, Ashley, I never thought of that. Of course pain is a trigger! Brilliant observation!
I do so hope you feel better soon.
Thank you so much for sharing this Wendy! I have similar feelings when my daughter takes a shower or uses the restroom. She has a seizure disorder and before she was put on the right medicine, she would fall when a seizure would strike. The sounds still haunt me but I’ve gotten real good at identifying what sound is what. I’m slowly getting better as I stop myself each time I remember the sounds and refocus my attention elsewhere. I take St. John’s Wort and meditate daily and constantly talk to myself so as not to panic at every little noise, I’ve never seen anyone professionally. Its really hard to be strong for her and me. And we’re still in the process of tweaking the dosage and getting the seizures under control. I remind myself often she’s on the right medicine now. Life is better but I wish anxiety, dread and fear would go away permanently. Thanks so much for your help and kind words and being on facebook!
Thank you for sharing. That sounds totally normal, if you ask me. But also certainly something that long term can wreak havoc on your health as much as your peace of mind. Is there any professional person you could talk to about this? Even some meditation CDs might help? I sincerely hope you can find peace…and the right dosage for your precious girl.
Donnell Buckley says:
Thank you for this post Wendy! As you know my step son passed away in January and it has been a horrible year. My husbands grandmother passed away earlier this month and it was like relieving my step son’s death all over again. With the holidays right around the corner and what would have been my step son’s birthday next month I have lots of anxiety going on. I have often thought of you through this whole process and used your strength as my own. I am so grateful that you shared your story with me and to know that we are not alone. You are such an amazing person and I hope to find the same success some day in whatever I choose. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
I’ve thought of you so many times since we last spoke! I knew you were going through a lot of pain when we last talked, but I didn’t know it had been added to by her death, too. Each loss builds on whatever’s left of grief from the ones that came before, which is why the stick breaks the camel’s back. You are an exceptionally bright woman, with a big heart, and I know for certain that you will find whatever you seek. Sending you much love and good wishes. I hope you find peace and a way to release the “stuck” parts of grief. Namaste.
Roger voyles says:
It’s useless. I’m totally helpless. I see no out.
Well, Roger, the whole point of my many posts is this: you are NOT helpless. Read the stories of people who have posted here. Read my bio. Read Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. If you’re a Christian, read the books by Corrie Ten Boom. Read W. Mitchell. Read Art Berg. Whatever you’re facing, however you’re feeling, there are people who have not only survived similar events but gone on to thrive. You MUST force yourself to ingest good, healthy content if you hope to break out of depression one day. I am speaking from personal experience. Suicide seems attractive in direct proportion to how hopeless you feel. Force yourself to consider alternative life stories, ones wit happy endings.
Sincere best wishes.
Wow…you are an inspiration…having gone through so much pain yourself, thank you for turning it around to help others get through theirs. This is what true human nature and love is about.
Thanks Leslie. Best wishes to you.
most men are very inrseteted in a woman that is inrseteted in them. When a man has a woman that respects him and also desires him, how can he resist? Thanks so much for helping me see this. I love your style and humor.Wendy Reply:July 20th, 2010 at 4:14 pmThank you, Rosemarie! I don’t underestimate how difficult it is to get in the one hot mama mindset (now there’s a book title!), but I do think it’s pretty difficult for most men especially one who loves you to turn down a woman who feels powerful in her body. Go for it! Wendy
Thank you Marcelo.
I got divorced recently, after ten years of being together. My ex decided to chase the ‘one who got away’. At least, that’s what she told me. I suspect she cheated on me, though I’m sure would deny it up and down.
I get to see her previous ex from time to time. I don’t have the resources to move right now, so am unsure what to b
My apologies, this probably warrants a more lengthy than a blurb on a website.
I guess my question is, does the ‘one who got away’ always trump the present relationship?
First and most important, I’m sorry for your pain. That sounds really difficult to endure. I’m not sure I understand your question. I suppose all of us have the “one who got away” in our histories, but in my theory, mature people honor their commitments and realize all that glitters isn’t gold. Wishing you comfort and strength. Once the pain dies down, you might discover you have a romantic future with a wonderful new partner yourself.
I was expecting a different article by the sound of the title but it was good, thank you.
Ha ha! Thanks.
Wendy, I want to thank you for this article, I’m a 40yr old woman that was molested by 2 of my Great Grand Mothers Brothers from the ages of 5-15. During my development phases I zoned out and ignored the sexual feelings I started to have because I didn’t want to enjoy the torment I was goin thru. I never shared that with any of my other mates in my past because I didn’t feel comfortable enough 2 share it with them. I have been in a relationship with my GF for 6yrs, we talked on the phone for 3yrs before we decided to date and I thought I had found my comfort zone. I told her what happened and what I was goin thru inside, I don’t get turned on like others do, things that make others horny or put them in a sexual mood does nothing for me. She has a HUGE problem with the fact that I don’t come on to her or touch her If she is around me naked. I’ve told her that I don’t have the internal feelings that a woman is supposed to have when she is touched intimately. She has told me she won’t and doesn’t want to understand how I feel and what I’m goin thru. She keeps telling me to “get over it, its in the past.” But what she doesn’t understand is that I’m not holding on to what happened to me, I have gotten past that cause they both have been dead many years now, but what they took from me I don’t think I will ever get it back and I feel that because I am the way that I am inside I will never have the loving, caring, honest, trustworthy, passionate relationship, that will lead to tru happiness and peace with someone that loves me just as much as I loved them.
Please help me understand what is wrong with me. I want to feel like the 40yr old woman I am, I want to feel the out of body experiences some women talk about, I want that tingle in my toes when I’m kissed.
Please help me understand Wendy. Thanks REDD
I’m SO sad to hear about what happened to you! That’s awful and wrong and utterly unfair. I can imagine I’d feel shut off from my body, too, if that happened to me. I wonder if you’ve worked with a professional to get through this pain, Redd? Have you thought about seeing a qualified professional? In my humble opinion, every day you do not choose to work with an expert who helps women recover from molestation, you are taking one more day of happiness from yourself.
All that said, I’ve known women who told me they went through sexual trauma, too, and who are now living healthy, happy lives replete with healthy responses to their sexuality. I sincerely wish that for you, too.
Sandi Gann says:
encouraging post, thank you. Something to think about and consider, and take to heart so as to progress in the healing process. Thank you for the insight.
Thank you for taking time to comment, Sandi. Best wishes to you.