It is a very typical mindset that is espoused by pop psychology (much more so than evidence based psychology) that we need to deal with our past in order to be happy today. Yet what does it actually mean to ‘deal’ with it? The past is certainly not to be dismissed out of hand, it is to be respected, yet we all also need to be aware of being responsible for who we are today and recognise that we do actually have a choice and an ability to create who we are.
Are you haunted by your past? Do the ghosts of yesterday hang around, murmuring and moaning about old wounds and hurts; regrets about the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do?
Do they jab you with their pointy stick of guilt and shame for good measure? Perhaps it’s something about the end of a long-term relationship, with all the grief and loss that goes with that; or a dysfunctional family experience, the less than perfect parents or siblings, or the doctors that let you down and make you angry…. Very angry, or sad, or anxious, or upset.
Better with, or better without?
Be honest, when you think about those aspects of your life from the past, does it make you feel better, or worse? It’s like when you go for an eye test and the optician asks you to read the letters on the screen, and the lens is changed, asking, ‘better with… or better without?’
Think about it, would you be better without the regrets of the past? What if you could get rid of those negative demons, for good? Or at least alter your perception of them. What if you could simply change the lens through which you choose to view the world?
Anger, regret, guilt and shame weigh us down. If you imagine climbing to a high, snow-capped summit with a backpack filled with rocks, you’ll eventually realise that rocky burden is going to slow you down, making the climb so much tougher than it need be. The good news is, we have more choice about the contents of our backpack than we usually realise. So often we live our lives in a prison of our own making and can’t see that we are actually holding the key in our own hand.
Remaining imprisoned by the burdens and regrets of the past is like wearing our own set of shackles, having a personal cloud hovering over us; or our very own black dog of depression as an unwanted companion.
I am filled with metaphor today!
Life Is A Journey:
Human beings are naturally goal focused. On our journey through life, our emotional and psychological health is represented by a forward, outward, upward mind-set. We look forward to activities, progressive stages of life and outings. We focus outward on connecting with family, friends, work and hobbies, and we set our sights upward on ambitions, goals and achievements.
If you are spending too much time looking in the mirror and not enough looking out of the window, it might be time to stop, notice your choices and reclaim some control. When we only look back, we tend to blame the past and some significant elements of the past…..
It’s a fact that, when we arrive in this world, there’s no guarantee we will be on the receiving end of good parenting. However, having a child does not automatically make you a better parent, just like having a digital grand piano does not turn you into a concert pianist.
Research suggests that more than 70% of people believe their family was dysfunctional in some way, so you are not alone. We should all thank our parents for a very real gift. Sometimes they teach us how to do it, and sometimes they give us a clear picture of how it should not be done so that we can choose to do it differently for our own children.
At what stage can we start taking control of our own life and stop blaming parents for making us as we are?
Perhaps you really were the one wronged; someone let you down, betrayed your trust, and you’re still feeling the repercussions of that. You simply cannot just shut the door to your past, because some of that past is still in your life.
We pick up scars along the way; the scar on our knee where we fell over on the beach when we were twelve, the stretch marks, the bald patch, and the laughter lines.
As we make our way through life, life leaves its marks on us, both physical and emotional; we need to appreciate or even celebrate those scars.
One Important Key:
Hiding in plain sight is a key point we all need to know. It’s this: No one can hurt you without your permission. Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal or drinking poison to harm your perceived enemies. Either way, it’s you that gets harmed in the long run.
Psychodynamic approaches to therapy, whereby you regurgitate your past, are proven to be highly flawed and lacking in evidence. In my own field of hypnotherapy, regressive and psycho-analytical approaches lack quality evidence to support them yet are still taught without any accompanying critique by a great many hypnotherapy schools and colleges. These kinds of approaches, among numerous other criticisms, tend to permit people to blame their past and make the past responsible for who they have become and who they are. Of course we are products of our experience, but we do not have to be passive recipients of how the past continues to shape us.
You may like to visit this important article I have written on the subject before if you are interested in exploring this further, though it is a digression from today’s article:
– Scientifically Questioning ‘Regression To Cause’ Used By Hypnotherapists.
5 Ways To Alter Your Perception Of The Past:
1. Recognising The Issue:
Your brain is an incredible thing, it is wonderfully fantastical. When we ruminate and allow thoughts to run riot inside our heads, we can end up just creating more to get angry, upset or worried about and lead to further doubting of ourselves.
That rumination and constant reminding of those memories just makes life harder and harder. It retraumatises you each time, and what’s more, you run the risk of making the memory worse than the experience actually was. Science has proven memory to be reconstructive and we end up reconstructing the past in ways that adhere to our confirmation bias – allowing us to blame the past with more conviction.
You need to get rid of those negative thoughts and beliefs. You need to let go and start creating the bright future you want. Making the initial decision to recognise your own thoughts and the damage they are doing is the first step to taking responsibility for your ongoing experience of life.
2. Thought Stopping:
That angry, frustrated or bitter inner dialogue can leave us feeling permanently irritated and down. In our minds, we are either beating ourselves up or beating up others. Perhaps it’s time to be a little kinder to yourself and others.
Initially, learn to spot your own thoughts; use mindfulness, use thought awareness experiments. Then as you recognise them, you can do something about them.
We often refer to problematic thoughts as automatic thoughts, because we’ve become so good at thinking certain things, we automatically think that way. When thoughts happen automatically, we tend to be less vigilant towards them, we let them pass, we almost accept them. Having learned how to be more aware of our own thoughts, and accepted that they contribute to our problems.
Accept we all make mistakes. If you notice those same old negative thoughts keep popping into your head, simply say the word ‘STOP’ to yourself and replace those thoughts with something more positive and affirming. Choose to be your own best friend, instead of your own worst enemy.
Most of the issue will start with your thoughts. Your thoughts about the past, your thoughts in response to the past, your thoughts about apportioning blame, your thoughts about how the past affected who and how you are. Your thoughts will determine your feelings and your feelings will determine your behaviour. You’ll end up behaving in ways that lead to a life that is ultimately not as you wish it to be.
Learn to dispute your thoughts, learn to update your thoughts, learn to accept thoughts instead of fighting them.
3. Treasure The Good Stuff:
Often we focus on all the negatives about the past; the end of a relationship and all the things that went wrong. A positive memory box is a great way to celebrate either a person or a period in our lives. Pick the things that have a positive perspective and celebrate the past. All experience is about the acquisition of wisdom and learning. You can filter your past in a progressive way.
Those past experiences can also be used to make us stronger in some way. Therefore, ask yourself what can be learned from that experience, and how can we choose to let it make us stronger?
This reframing of memories is very different to repressing the memories, though despite popular belief, repressing such memories does not actually necessarily cause us that much harm. Human beings are not, as Freud described, emotionally hydraulic. We are not like a balloon that if squeezed in one place, the air is displaced and shoved somewhere else. Just because something is not vented with emotion, it does not mean it creates another physiological problem somewhere else within us.
4. Let Go:
Today stop looking back and wishing you could change things, or hoping you could somehow go back and do it over again – you can’t. That’s because you can’t go back into the past. You have to let go and move forward. When you keep thinking about the past, or what went wrong you may get upset, you get angry, you worry, you doubt yourself. You wonder how you could make such a mistake. You ask yourself why? But you get no answers. So you keep beating yourself up. Rumination of this kind cripples us.
Let go of the past and what went wrong. Learn from the mistakes of the past and now begin creating the life you want. Once you let go you open the door to receiving what you want, you allow your powers to guide you and bring you a better, more positive and rewarding life.
Many believe that if we stop blaming others that we somehow condone what they did too. This is not the case. By stopping blaming someone, we do not make what they did right. Instead we simply choose to stop letting it negatively and detrimentally effect who we are. We take responsibility for who we are. We start to own our own life.
5. The Best Response:
Zig Ziglar says “mentally strong people avoid giving others the power to make them feel inferior or bad.” Know that you are in control of your actions and emotions. Remind yourself each day that you have the strength to manage the way you respond to other people and your past. As Zig also says; ”Even when the chips are down and the insults feel personal, successful people find a way to look ahead and ignore the people tearing them down.”
Finally, we can’t change the past, or make it disappear from our minds, but we can start to build a better future by learning from our mistakes and making good choices in the future. And, deep down, in the end, we know the very best response is a life well lived. Learn how to stop blaming, stop letting the past be responsible for who you are and choose to own your life.
If you’d like to learn more or if this has resonated with you in some way, then visit these pages:
1. Has overthinking and blaming the past held you back and is it still doing so now?
Coaching with Adam Eason Or Hypnotherapy with Adam Eason.
2. Would you like a satisfying and meaningful career as a hypnotherapist helping others overcome such issues? Or find stimulating, valuable CPD for hypnotherapists:
Adam Eason’s Anglo European training college.
3. Are you a hypnotherapist for whom blaming the past is detrimentally effecting the success of your business?
Hypnotherapist Mentoring with Adam Eason.
If you’d like to learn more about self-hypnosis, understand the evidence based principles of it from a scientific perspective and learn how to apply it to many areas of your life while having fun and in a safe environment and have the opportunity to test everything you learn, then come and join me for my one day seminar which does all that and more, have a read here: The Science of Self-Hypnosis Seminar.