How Our Past Gets In The Way

 In America

Recently I was hurting deeply about an angry interaction with my ex during which he blamed me for our teenage daughter’s ongoing struggles. I was consumed with remorse, rehashing what happened, how I should have done better. How I could have prevented the ordeal, if only I’d done x,y,z instead. When I shared my tale of woe with a wise friend and fellow coach she responded “When we have the thought that things should have been different, it adds a deeper layer of pain. It happened because it was meant to happen.” 

She reminded me that there was no upside to remembering the situation in a way that continued to generate self-blame, regret and shame. These emotions would not serve me in moving forward and creating a better relationship with my daughter or my ex. Nor would assuming I knew how our next interaction would go. By dropping my “story” of went wrong, I was free to have a fresh start.

We all have pasts that include negative, even traumatic experiences; failures, disappointments, losses. If you’re like me, you spent years analyzing your past to understand present difficulties. But, often we use these past “negative” experiences to justify why can’t achieve something now: we had a bad relationship with our father, so we picked a bad husband. We had setbacks in our careers–we switched jobs too often–so we don’t believe we can be successful in the future. People we loved treated us badly, so now we’re skeptical and mistrusting of relationships and feel isolated. We struggled with addiction and believe we are irredeemable.

But here’s a concept: because everything that happens in life is subject to interpretation, why not interpret our past in way that strengthens and inspires us? My coach, Brooke Castillo asks clients to rewrite their past in a way that serves them. “You get decide what you’re going to make your past mean in your life. You’re doing to decide whether you’re going to be the hero of that story or the victim,” she states. We can look into our past for all of the evidence of how it’s made us the person we are today: resilient, creative, strong, adaptable, etc. These are the skills we can use to create what we long for.

When we change how we view the past it transforms how we view the future: anything is possible. Fate is not a factor. It’s the same with how view our ex. It doesn’t serve us to think “he’ll never change”. As long as you maintain that belief, you’re not changing either. As Brooke recommends “Don’t rely on our past for your identity. Rely on your future. Take the knowledge you need from the past and leave the rest.” And allow others to do the same.

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