What Role Does a Difficult Past Play in Your Life Now?
For many individuals, the past is not past but remains an ever-present influence in their present life. Even though the physical effects of past events often demand more attention, the psychological legacy may be much more difficult to move on from. If past events are processed as experiences to learn from and grow as a person, pain and upset can be transformed into greater wisdom and strength. However, if not resolved, past challenges keep us hooked into the emotional charge of the time.
Loss and Grief
Traumatic events often involve losses like ill health, reduced mobility, lost opportunities, dashed hopes, the loss of the person you might have been, and many others depending on your circumstances. Grieving for what is no longer possible or available is a completely natural response and there is no rule about the length and depth of grief. However, if grief sets in as depression and withdrawal from life, it becomes problematic. “Snapping out of it” is generally not an option, but a gradual and gentle re-engaging with life is paramount.
Trapped by Blame
While blame is a common response to people or circumstances that have caused suffering, it also traps you into emotional bondage to what has been. It keeps you in a state of helpless anger, sometimes even feelings of hate and thoughts of revenge.
Letting go of blame does not condone what happened but liberates you to begin life afresh unburdened by negative ties to the past. To free yourself practice a form of forgiveness that does not require “feeling positive”, but instead reaches for a state of neutrality where what happened is accepted as fact and you allow yourself to begin again with a clean slate.
Stuck in ‘Analysis Paralysis’
The question “Why?” is so seductive that you may be consumed by searching for an explanation for why something happened the way it did. But many events result from being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people. If you can’t find a satisfactory explanation for past events, accept the not-knowing, let the past be past and turn to the future.
Poisoned by Hindsight and Regret
Speculating about what you should or could have done in the past is a form of self-sabotage. It keeps you focused on the past instead of the present and future. Usually people do the best they can with what they’ve got at the time. But if you went against your better judgment and intuition, you need to accept that you are a fallible human being like everyone else, forgive yourself and if possible make amends.
Haunted by Memories
Painful memories are difficult to resolve, even more so if they invade your sleep in the form of nightmares and flashbacks. Don’t hesitate to get help if you cannot process them by yourself. Talking therapies alone are generally not effective, as painful events do not only get registered mentally and emotionally, but also leave physical traces in the body’s cells, neural pathways in the brain and energy circuits. You might find practices from Energy Psychology, Energy Medicine, Kinesiology, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Yoga and other therapies effective if the practitioner has experience with trauma work.
Suppressing Your Pain.
When past experiences were so painful that processing them is too overwhelming, avoidance behaviours are often adopted as a way out: ignoring or numbing the pain with alcohol, drugs (legal and illegal), sex, workaholism, excessive use of technology etc. However, until you honestly look at your pain, it will hold you in its grip. The only way to resolve painful feelings is to feel and acknowledge them, understand their context and accept them as a wound that may leave scars but does not need to hold you in its grip. Many people achieve this through telling their story in writing, through art or by connecting with others who have overcome similar experiences.
Accepting the Past.
Be quite clear about the distinction between condoning and accepting. When you condone something, you give it your seal of approval. An attitude of acceptance does not include judging past events as okay or insignificant. It simply acknowledges what happened in a matter-of-fact way without being pulled into one of the counter-productive emotions described above.
When you accept the past in such a neutral way, you are detached from its drama and the emotional charge associated with it. Your internal position is that of a witness who knows what happened and recognizes the event for what it was. Most likely you will never forget the experience but emotionally you have made peace with it and are no longer held in its power.
Appreciating Your Progress
There is much to appreciate and be grateful for when you release the hold of the past. This does not have to be in the form of warm fuzzy feelings but rather as an acknowledgment of overcoming difficult odds stacked against you. Take stock of all the good that has come out of a difficult experience: greater strength, a reset of priorities, increased emotional maturity and empathy, not sweating the small stuff and many other gains.
What is your relationship with your past? How have you been able to move on? What new wisdom have you gained? What has held you back?
Star, C. (2018). What Role Does a Difficult Past Play in Your Life Now?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 21, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-role-does-a-difficult-past-play-in-your-life-now/