Most people are still excited to open their refrigerator to see if there is anything left of their Thanksgiving dinner. They don’t mind a week of eating leftovers if it includes turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
Just as the leftover food brings memories of your special holiday with family and friends, certain feelings, behaviors and thoughts can be “leftovers” from experiences in life. Some of them are delicious, but some are bitter or sour, and you must decide what to keep and what to throw away. There can be times when I open a container of leftovers and the smell lets me know that I do not want to keep or consume the contents because I don’t want to suffer negative consequences.
Life transitions always leave leftovers. Painful or difficult changes may include the element of loss – of a loved one, a relationship, job or status, financial security, or your health. Even in a desired change, such as graduation or a move to another state for a job promotion, can result in the loss of family or social connections as well as uncertainty about rebuilding your life from scratch. With change and transition comes some form of loss. It is this loss that makes it necessary to make a decision about what to do with the leftovers.
What to toss:
False guilt – Guilt is a double-edged sword. It can be a helpful emotion when you have done something wrong or hurt someone, because it can help you see when you need to apologize and make amends. In fact, the complete absence of guilt can, at times, indicate a serious mental health issue or personality disorder. Taking healthy responsibility for your words and actions will ultimately lead to greater peace of mind and stronger relationships, so keep the guilt just long enough to resolve the offense, then pitch it.
However, when you are harboring “false guilt” you will find that it makes bitter leftovers. False guilt may be manufactured in your mind because you are desperately trying to control something that was not, or is not, in your control – like the mother who feels guilty because her adult child broke the law and is suffering consequences. While it may be appropriate to feel hurt, disappointed, angry or afraid, false guilt will only make it harder to handle the situation appropriately and should be thrown away.
Self-pity – If you have experienced something significant that made you sad or angry, or if you have been dealing with pain (physical and/or emotional), my first response is to say that I am sorry you are suffering and that it is appropriate for you to have an emotional response to your circumstances. But if you are storing a large container of leftover self-pity, I encourage you to throw it away. There is a difference between acknowledging, “I am really hurting right now” and whining, “Why do things always happen to me?” Minimizing or denying painful emotions can prolong suffering, but maximizing, dramatizing and dwelling on them will poison your happiness and spill over onto the people around you.
Resentment – The most toxic leftover from a significant loss or life event can be resentment. It is anger that has been “buried alive” and slowly turns into bitterness, negative attitudes, health problems, pessimism and depression long after the initial event. The only cure is to forgive whoever or whatever you blame for your pain. If it seems unfair that you are the one who needs to take action to repair damage done by someone else, keep in mind that the goal is not retribution, but healing. It is in your own best interest to toss the putrid leftovers of resentment that are making you sick and choose the freedom of forgiveness instead.
What to keep:
While there are some things that need to be discarded, other leftovers can be enjoyed for a lifetime. Think often about the people who make your life more enjoyable – special family members, a co-worker who brings joy into your job, a friend who keeps your secrets or a child who makes you smile. Take pictures often or journal about the good things that happened each day. If you can’t think of any happy memories, make some. I can guarantee that if you put your mind to finding ways to show kindness to others, you will make yourself happier as well.
What have you done to get rid of old negative feelings and behaviors? How have you made your positive memories and feelings last longer? We would love to hear from you in the Comments below!
Make it a daily habit to think about the blessings you counted on Thanksgiving in order to keep your mind more balanced and your attitude more positive. Then you will experience greater satisfaction and happiness today, and some left over for tomorrow!
Live, Work & Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.