I don’t know anyone who is “wallowing” in the past.
I know a LOT of people who are struggling right here, right now, in the present; and they’ve come to understand that things that have happened in the past have contributed to their present struggles.
I know people who are trying, very hard, to understand how what has happened to them in the past impacted them.
I know people who are trying, very hard, to find a way to function in the present without feeling like the past is slapping them in the face almost every second of every day.
But none of that means they’re “wallowing” in the past.
People who have had painful things happen to them are very used to being accused of “wallowing.”
The assumption among many seems to be that if someone is focused on understanding the role of the past in their present functioning, they are choosing to stay “stuck” in the past.
Believe me: no one is trying to stay “stuck in the past.”
I’ve never met a single person who is struggling with their past, who wouldn’t gladly give up the ability to ever think about the past again, if it meant releasing that struggle.
Unfortunately, “just move on from the past” isn’t a strategy.
We don’t think about the past, let alone obsessively, for no reason.
We think about the past because something happened that impacted our nervous system.
We think about the past because we’re trying to understand what the hell happened— and how the hell we can move on.
When you’re in a car accident, and your car is badly damaged, and you bring it into the repair shop, the mechanic is going to ask you “what happened?”
That mechanic isn’t trying to “fixate on the past.” They’re trying to understand the damage that your car has sustained.
The better we understand our damage, the more effectively we can plan how to respond to that damage.
Healing isn’t about the past. It’s about the present and the future.
But in order to understand what we’re up against and what we have to work with in the present and the future, very often we have to understand and revisit our past.
If you can’t stop thinking about the past, you’re not alone.
If your past is in your face every day in the form of flashbacks or abreactions, you’re not alone.
You’re not alone and you’re not “choosing” to stay “stuck in the past.”
Don’t shame yourself for struggling to come to terms with your past.
Don’t insist or expect that you NEVER think about the past.
Don’t let anyone else tell you you’re “doing it wrong” because the past is something that you think about every day.
It’s true that there tend to be productive and less productive ways to think about and engage with our past, and sometimes we need to acquire and develop skills and tools that let us engage with our past without getting sucked back into it.
But we can do that.
Our past is what it is. We’ll never have a better past— but we’ll never have a worse past, either.
The name of the game is creating a present and future we can live with and love and be present in— and sometimes to do that we have to learn different ways of relating to our past.
We can do that, too.
Easy does it. You’re not expected to know exactly how to do all of this, certainly not all at once.
We start with self-compassion and self-honesty— and a commitment to being and staying rooted in the present, even as we engage with the past.
One thought on “You’ll never have a better– or a worse– past.”
So very well explained Doc. Sad fact is that some people in relationships, have given 100% in the past and have found it thrown back at them. Going forward, they are wary of trust and commitment again. This has a detrimental effect on their future relationships. If course, the past involves more than personal relationships, from abuse, addiction to name a few. As you say – the main point is not to let the past dictate our present or future lives.Not an easy task.