Imagine you’re cleaning out your kitchen. You’re looking through the pantry and you see a large, stinking pile of rodent poo. Would you keep it in your pantry and let it fester? Or would you throw it out? Obviously, you would immediately dispose of the disgusting excrement, and disinfect your pantry. However, if it seems so obvious for your pantry, why do we so often keep toxic thoughts and grudges in our mind? It can be a difficult thing to own up to, but it’s common for us to let negativity and grudges chafe at our positivity and decrease our mental health. If any of this is sounding uncomfortably familiar, then it may be time for some mental spring-cleaning.
I am certainly not innocent when it comes to holding grudges. Doing so becomes a common occurrence whenever I, in my very human tendency, try to place blame on someone else for the completely random, blameless events that naturally occur in life. For example, in fifth grade, my family and I lived in Chile for six months while my father taught there on sabbatical. While we lived in the city of Valdivia, I attended private school with my brothers. Because I was an outsider—a “gringa” with an accent, crooked teeth, and awkward chubbiness—the “popular” clique of girls cruelly teased me in class. Of course, not all of the students bullied me; I made a few truly invaluable friendships with wonderful, supportive people with whom I still keep in touch. But I was far from happy. I would often cry myself to sleep, dreaded going to school, and became increasingly shy and insecure.
I resented these girls for a long time. I was young and going through a very vulnerable stage of the development of my self-esteem and social skills. I could not understand why people could be so mean to someone who had done nothing to them. As the years went by, my bitterness grew along with my insecurities, and my self-confidence continued to falter. In my darker moments, I would look back on those girls and unload the all my frustration and blame onto them, designating them as the root cause of all of my problems and shortcomings.
Then one day, as I reminisced on those six months in Chile, I realized that I could not remember the names of the girls who had caused me so much grief. I could not even remember what they looked like. They had merely become nameless, faceless, ambiguous menaces. I was clinging to these vague embodiments of them in my mind for the sole purpose of having something at which to point metaphorical fingers in my bleaker moments. It struck me how futile it was to spend so much time and energy resenting and almost hating people who I had known so long ago—blaming these faceless girls for my insecurities instead of focusing my energy on more productive outlets, such as actively working to improve my self-esteem on my own and stop being passive in my self-betterment.
As I reflected, I was shocked as to how long I had held such enmity towards these girls in my mind, directing negative thoughts and energies at them, as if that would pay them back for their faults against me. It is noxious and mentally draining to spend so much time and energy hating a group of people, an individual, or whatever to which you chose to attach blame for all of your problems. It is much more fulfilling and healthy to look within yourself and see where these feelings of negativity might be coming from, instead of focusing on the people you can barely remember or, in
the case of WBC some cases, have never even met. Seeing what you can do to address that negativity without multiplying it and spreading it to others is a much more fruitful endeavor.
Today, instead of pitying myself for my past and hating the girls for their actions, I use my experience to fuel my desire to help others in whatever way I can, especially if they are going through similar trials as I did. It is a very simple thing to reach out to someone shy or to make a small gesture to someone to show that you care, and it can mean the world to that person.
As spring approaches, consider taking some time to reflect on your mental “pantry.” Could it use some cleaning? When you take the time to clear the rubbish and toxic waste in your mind, it feels as if a weight has lifted. With this junk out of your mind, you can step forward with a lighter step, using your newfound positivity and energy to rediscover what you’re passionate about and pursue it productively, instead of investing all of your energy dwelling on the ghosts of your past.