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There is a dangerous trend I have noticed in the self-help/coaching/counseling industry. Somewhere along the way we got the message that our past is a bad thing. The industry trend is to tell people that real change and movement comes from looking forward, setting goals, and just doing it. Yep, we do need to set goals, look forward and just do it AND sometimes we need to heal our past first. As with any all of nothing thinking, we have lost some key components of real and lasting change.
Your Past matters. Yep, I said it. It is ok to have a past, it is ok to share stories from your past, it is ok to have trauma and pain in your past, and it is ok to have a joyful past. Bottom line you can’t ignore your past. It creeps up on us, in the personification of our fear mongers as our parents, in the way we talk to our kids, or in how we interact with our spouse. Our past plays a role in our current lives. Period.
The glitch is when to we get stuck in the past. When the story of our traumatic childhood holds us back from making real changes in our current lives. When we are living and re-living the past over and over in our day-to-day lives. We become victims, martyrs and just plain unhappy people. I assume this ‘getting stuck in the past’ is what all the “only look to forward” people are talking about. But I believe the message gets skewed and turns into an absolute!! And rather than the message being, heal your past, so you don’t get stuck there, the message becomes ignore your past.
Here are some ways you can start moving through the stories from your past that are holding you back:
Share your story: That’s right. Share it. Bring it out of the closet, dust it off and share your pain, your struggles, the irrational beliefs that have become rational that you got when you were 8, share those stories. Find someone who loves you who can just listen. No judgment, no advice, just someone who really gets it. In this day and age, we don’t seem to have the patience for each other’s stories. We get impatient, give too much advice, or want to share our story too quickly. So choose wisely. As you share your story, your perspective changes. You may be able to see the other’s person’s side; you may be able to let go of some of the old resentment, or it may just feel really good to say out loud what has been playing unconsciously all these years.
Feel the pain: Cry, get angry, punch a pillow, through some old dishes. Whatever it takes, express the sorrow, grief or tragedy of your story. This is a KEY step:
To not get stuck in the story, you HAVE to feel the pain.
Cry for the 8 year old who was told they were stupid and would never succeed. Punch a pillow for the anger you feel for not getting that promotion you deserved. Grieve for your mother who you lost at age 18. Just FEEL. Feel the resentment, the bitterness, and the anger.
Let it go: Our past is our past. You can’t change it. But once you have expressed your feelings about your story…it loses some power. That story from your past no longer has complete control over you. It is no longer debilitatingly strong. Letting it go involves letting go of the power of the story. Loosening the reins of the resentment and bitterness. Letting go means that the story is just that a story—a painful, potentially traumatic story. After sharing your story and feeling the feelings associated with your story letting go becomes easier. Forgiveness is a possibility. Realizing that the people who hurt you in the past had their own pain and brokenness. And maybe just maybe they were doing the best they could with what they knew then.
Rituals can be amazingly helpful in letting things go. One in particular I love is to Write down your story or record it (you have to use a tape player to really embrace the recording part of this ritual). Describe it in vivid detail! Share all the emotions attached to it the grief, sadness or anger. And then when you finish read it one more time and do a check in that you are ready to let it go. If you have grieved enough and are ready to move forward, destroy it. Rip it up, burn it, drive over the tape, whatever it takes to physically destroy that old story. Then as you move through life, and you hear that old story come up, acknowledge it and remind yourself you have
These steps are in no way a quick fix. Each of these steps can take days, weeks, months or years depending on the power of the story and how far we have buried the story in our own psyche. It is immensely powerful to face our stories, look at them dead in the face and slowly release their power. Bottom line to Live Happier we have to face our pasts.
What stories are holding you back? What from your past is keeping you stuck? What rituals have you implemented to let them go?