Last week, we learned that apathy is a prerequisite to happiness. It was a hard pill to swallow but ultimately good for everyone.
If you missed that post, I highly recommend reading it. Being the source of your own unhappiness is the worst kind of sickness. If you trade that unhappiness for a healthy amount of disinterest, your life will be better on every front.
But fretting over problems that don’t concern you is only one way that you sabotage yourself. If you’re like me, you have another symptom to live with.
Or I should say relive with.
The Curse of Re-experience
My name is T. Alan Horne, and I have a problem.
Like many people, I find myself obsessing over the past. Reliving bad experiences is something a lot of people do. And I am no exception.
In my particular case, I am often drawn back to situations where I said the wrong thing and hurt people’s feelings, or shared too much and made people feel uncomfortable, or just plain made a fool of myself. And some of these recollections can be so strong that I literally feel like I’m experiencing the moment again, making the same mistakes over and over.
It’s nowhere in the same league as, say, PTSD flashbacks experienced by soldiers who have seen real war, but for me it has always been inescapable.
That is, until recently.
Long List of Remedies
I’ve tried a lot of different things over the years to get a handle on my flashback problem. Each has at least a partial success rate. Some of the things I tried are
- Creating a mental abstraction (you can call it a fantasy) where I murder the bad memories.
- Creating a similar abstraction where I forgive or try to heal the memories.
- Insisting that I’m okay with the memories and that they don’t bother me.
- Kicking things.
- Eating my feelings.
If any of those work for you, then by all means, carry on. I don’t want to get between you and your personal problems.
However, I have recently discovered a form of constructive apathy that works even better, for me, than the above methods. And as it is a benign method that is unlikely to hurt others, I don’t mind if you know it, too.
Like some of the other methods, this one requires a mental abstraction.
What I do is approach the painful or embarrassing memory—addressing it in my mind as if it were an actual person—and say these exact words: “I give up trying to fix you.”
I’m not sure how I arrived at these words. Before I said them for the first time, it didn’t even occur to me that I was trying to fix the bad memories. Yet upon reflection, that was exactly the reason why I forced myself to relive them, over and over again. I had the delusion that if I made them real enough, I would be able to change the events that created them.
So I told them that I was quitting. “You’re broken, and you’re going to stay broken,” I tell them. “I can’t fix you, so I won’t try.”
I’ve only been at it a few weeks, but so far it’s been more effective than other methods.
Keep in mind that a lot of other positive things have been happening these past few weeks to boost my mental health. But I believe this method of addressing bad memories is a good application of constructive apathy, and may potentially be useful to people other than myself.
Applying the Power of Apathy
It’s funny that I only recently thought to use constructive apathy this way, since I have been using it in other ways for more than a decade. But though this application may be new, the principle is unchanged: you have to stop caring about things you can’t control.
This is particularly important in the age of social media. Every day I see people destroying themselves to attack an issue they feel personally responsible for stopping/preventing, even though it lies completely outside their purview. It does not amaze me that mental health problems have mushroomed in recent years. Such bad news should honestly not come as a surprise to anyone.
But there are steps we can take, so long as we are not too proud to admit we are not responsible for the world’s problems. Allowing yourself to not care could save your overworked mind. And that may be the only defense we have in a world that cannot slow down or hold its peace.
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