There are people reading this who really, really struggle with acknowledging how their past has affected them.
If that’s you, I don’t blame you. I struggled with the same thing for a long time.
We all know someone who doesn’t want to admit that their past was sufficiently painful to impact them now, in the present.
We all know someone who often says some variant of, “I don’t know why I’m so screwed up, I didn’t have it THAT bad.”
We all know someone who often says some version of, “My parents did the best they could. I don’t want to blame them for how my life has turned out.”
And we all know someone who says, “I definitely don’t have a trauma history, it’s not like I was ABUSED or anything.”
A LOT of people get hang up on acknowledging and accepting the pain of their past.
They truly feel that the pain they experienced in their early relationships “wasn’t enough” to cause them difficulty in later life.
They truly feel that their current pain somehow isn’t “legitimate” because, whatever they went through, they know or have heard of someone who had it worse.
Here’s the thing: our nervous system doesn’t care what we think “counts” as abuse or neglect.
It doesn’t care whether somebody else had it worse.
All our nervous system knows is what WE went through, and what WE needed to do to survive.
No matter WHAT it was in our lives that impacted our nervous system, we have to deal with the aftereffects.
Our symptoms and struggles don’t suddenly change or disappear if we today decide that our past wasn’t ‘bad enough” to “screw us up” now.
No matter WHAT we think of our past, whether we consider it objectively painful or not, it STILL impacted us exactly the way it did.
We have to deal with that.
There are people reading this who feel, because they weren’t hit or verbally berated or emotionally manipulated— because they didn’t suffer “abuse” as it’s often defined— that they “shouldn’t” have symptoms and struggles related to their past.
But that perspective overlooks the often devastating impact neglect and loss can have on our lives— especially if neglect and loss happened to us early and often.
We really, really need to resist the temptation to categorize our early experiences as “bad enough” or not to produce struggles now.
If we’re struggling now, we’re struggling.
Nobody LIKES the fact that they had a painful past.
Nobody LIKES the fact that they struggle now.
But we DON’T have to experience shame around the fact that we had pain in our past, and that it impacts us now. Of COURSE it impacts us.
We also don’t need to experience shame about the impact on us of experiences that SEEM similar to things other people experienced— but to which they responded differently.
OF COURSE we responded differently. We’re different people.
Your past, your pain, your challenges, your goals— they are yours.
The name of the game is accepting that what’s on our plate, is exactly what’s on our plate.
No mater how much we wish it was different, whether or not it seems to “make sense” given what we remember about what we want through, whether somebody else did or didn’t have it “worse” or “better” than us…we STILL have on our plate, exactly what’s on our plate.
Focus in on that.
When your inner critic tries to get you distracted by carping about the “legitimacy” of your pain, redirect your focus back to your goals and recovery plan.
Second guessing the “legitimacy” of our pain is a dead end. There’s literally no upside.
Whether or not it “should” have, your past produced exactly your current struggles.
Start with that fact.
One thought on “Was my past really “that bad?””
There are many people who believe that the right thing to say when someone is struggling is a version of “Think of all the people who have it much worse”. While that kind of statement can be effective in getting someone to stop talking about their struggles, it’s not helpful. It only increases the loneliness and fear and shame the struggling one is experiencing.
Thank you for know thing and being the encouraging, supportive person you are, Dr. Doyle.