Home Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy We All Have Ghosts from Our Past – Here’s How to Deal with Them

We All Have Ghosts from Our Past – Here’s How to Deal with Them

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In Greek Mythology and the story, The Seven Against Thebes, Polyneices soul was free to cross the river and find peace among the dead. Five of the chieftains who fought with him and marched to Thebes were according to Creon’s decree to be left unburied.  

How can we deal with the ghosts of our past that follow us? How can we create a more harmonious relationship with past events and our emotions captured at those times? 

We can learn to have a certain relationship with emotions. Controlling one’s emotions and suppression can result in the frequency and intensity of negative emotions. These experiences often result in negative emotions due to our relationship with such an event and our appraisal of that event.  

Please take time and assess the following metaphor: the unwanted ghost. 

Imagine the doorbell rings and you answer the door. At the door is a past positive individual who smiles and this brings you feelings of joy and warmth. Now please imagine later that day the doorbell rings again, and you hope it is another positive individual; instead, it is a ghost which burdens you with negative feelings. You reject the ghost and shut the door insisting they are not welcome.  

The doorbell rings again and this time it is the same unwanted ghost. You become more irritated and form a deeper negative relationship with the ghost. You also now worry that the ghost may return even when the doorbell does not ring.  

This metaphor shows us that we can begin to build up positive and negative relationships with emotions even without meaning to do so.  

As an emotional intelligence teacher, foremost teaching to share is that ‘emotions are data.’ If we continue to shut out negative emotions we will not learn from such experiences. Anger is a good example and it might tell us that someone did something wrong. If we do not assess this emotion and shut it out, we will not learn. It could be a value or belief that we need to assess within ourselves.

If we do not assess emotions, we can fail to build up emotional self-efficacy. This means in sum that the belief that we can handle difficult emotions. If you fail to let in negative emotions then you may fear you cannot handle such emotions. Lastly, if you repress and fight with negative emotions you can create additional suffering within.  

The metaphor with the ghost does not suggest that we should seek to suffer or that we should fully embrace negative emotions that could result in a further downward spiral of emotions. The metaphor portrays that at times it is healthy for us to experience and assess emotions as and when they arise so that we can learn our own emotional data, find meaning and grow as a human being.  

Once we begin to understand such ghosts and develop a better relationship with them, they will no longer frighten us and will find peace. 

David Chorlton is a positive psychology practitioner, emotional intelligence teacher, and mindfulness teacher. 


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