Are the ‘what ifs’ and ‘coulda woulda shouldas’ stalking you?

Does your brain gets stuck in self-blame mode?

Do the what-ifs and coulda wouldas shouldas stalk you? I have some strategies that won’t magically make the pain vanish but they will lessen your suffering and help you find some peace.

Some examples of ‘what ifs’

Since I lost my son to suicide, my issue was going down that rabbit hole of coulda woulda shouldas which sounded like this–

“Why didn’t I answer the phone that one last time?”

What if I had gone and picked him up when his voice expressed obvious despair?”

“Why didn’t I call him every day he was away after walking out of detox, just to say that as much as I wanted him to get well, I loved him even if he didn’t?”

If you lost a loved one in an accident, you might ruminate over why you didn’t leave 10 minutes earlier, or what if you hadn’t planned the vacation where your loved one’s life ended.

Here’s an example from a tribe member who was traumatized by her emotionally detached and narcissistic mother.

“When I get manipulative letters and texts from my mother who psychologically abused me, I linger, wallow, internalize, and let fester all the crap she ever did that added to my childhood trauma and PTSD. I think about what if I had a mother who cared and came to my aid just one time. When I do this, I end up in a grossly unproductive, dangerous, and very scary place.”

Solution—set boundaries

Since you can’t shut these thoughts down and it isn’t healthy to do that, why not give yourself a time limit?

When I was grieving, I made the rule that I could not wallow in the coulda woulda shouldas for more than ten minutes. After that time was up, I had to distract myself.

Alternately, you can limit the number of times per day that you ruminate on things in the past. For example, you could, limit yourself to two ‘what ifs’ one time per day or whatever is a reasonable step down from your current self-blaming experience. You can always change it two weeks later, shorten the time frame for example.

So eventually I’d reduce it to 8 minutes, then 7, and so on. At the same time, I also pledged that one day I’d forgive myself. I didn’t set a date just the intention. And then I kept setting boundaries and reduced the time I spent self-torturing.

If those thoughts stalked me later in the day I would say, “Anne Moss, haven’t you already been down that rabbit hole today?” Notice how I used my name to myself.

In the trauma case, you might set an intention that you would one day forgive your mom so you can move forward. That’s not to say that you’d open yourself up to a person who has never been able to show love appropriately and causes constant chaos. But to forgive her in your own mind, just to give yourself peace and to take away the power of the memories.

Be patient and loving to yourself. Be patient with the process. Because tearing yourself apart is not a place you want to stay in forever.

coping strategies for grief and loss

Free eBook Coping Strategies for Grief & Loss

Short, easy-to-read strategies for managing the pain of grief by Anne Moss Rogers, Karla Helbert LPC, and contributing author Charlotte Moyler. Download Now.

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AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

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