When any of us begin the journey of processing how our pasts impact us, we inevitably find a deep sense of ambivalence (mixed feelings) on why the journey even has to take place. Will this actually help, or is it just going to make me feel worse? I can’t change the past, so why should I meddle in how it made me feel? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? These kinds of questions drone on and on.
Ironically, despite the deep-seated ambivalence, I find that many of us can’t help but think and talk about our stories, long before we intentionally try to engage them. Even if it is as simple as driving past a place you used to go to when you were a child and you feel this compulsion to tell your carmate, “I used to play at that rec center,” we find our pasts spilling out of us, often at random or inopportune times.
This phenomena leads into the first reason why engaging our pasts is necessary: we can’t help it. Whether we like it or not, we continue to ponder the meaning of our stories. We continue to repeat ourselves, talking about past experiences that no one cared to witness in the moment. We can’t stop.
Our pasts spill out of us whether we know it our not.
Because of that, it is helpful to begin to process these stories with intentionality and care. That way, you learn to control and contain (1) how you hold your history and (2) when you share it. Learning about our pasts in safe places gives us the chance to better understand when it’s valuable - and as importantly, when it’s not - to offer vulnerable parts of our lives to others. Without that practice, we truly don’t know when or how to offer ourselves and often end up sabotaging connection in the process.
Connection is often another hindrance in honestly talking about our pasts. We are terrified that being honest will hurt our parents, shame our families, and betray those closest to us. Here’s the problem: not being honest about the hard things makes our familial relationships brittle and fake. It leads us to dance around and tip toe, careful not to step on any toes. Do you personally feel how exhausting this is, especially in certain seasons?
It’s a setup that is destined to break down eventually, via further distance, growing resentment, constant tension, and dutiful (rather than delightful) vacations and time spent together.
Not being honest about our pasts leads to a very disheartened, fragmented way of living.
It also leads to a lack of vitality and courage. It leads to addiction, fantasizing, or workaholism. It leads to toxic burnout.
When I say honest, I don’t even mean that you need to be honest with your loved ones right away. Honesty begins internally. It begins with an acknowledgement with a close companion that you were hurt when you were young and you’re not over it. This new admittance allows you to begin to form new traditions and new practices that will change the generational curses that have followed you. Never talking about it guarantees that your kids will have the same childhood that you did. Never talking about it also slowly kills us from the inside, zapping strength and resilience to carry on and to engage our lives with bravery.
Admitting that someone or something hurt you in the past allows you to take note of a pain point. Once we know that, we can begin to triage care on that spot. Sometimes, we don’t even know that something is throbbing until we have a loved one who bluntly says, “you’ve talked about this before. Why can’t you just get over it?” Repeating ourselves in some area of our lives is often a good starting place to notice pain points.
Are you repeating yourself in any place?
- Can’t get over that dissolved friendship?
- Can’t let go of something your partner said?
- Something about work won’t leave your mind?
If a memory or experience is raw to the touch and still stresses you out, I’d argue it’s doing that for a reason. And that reason is not just in the present struggle, but also in your past experiences.
- Could that dissolved friendship achingly echo a memory of you always feeling like a burden to a parent?
- Did your partner’s comment eeringly feel like how your mom or dad used to talk to you when you were young?
- Does this struggle at work seem reminiscent to the identity you clung to as a young adolescent? If you lost that, you wouldn’t belong anywhere. Could that be why it’s tied to you so strongly now?
These are vague and general examples that I’ve blurred the details from in my engagement with my clients and loved ones. It gets way more specific than this.
It’s counterintuitive, but once we really let these places bleed out in the arms of someone who sees us well, we begin to heal. If we’re not healing (it’s a slow but noticeable movement), we’re likely not being held in the way that we need.
Furthermore, thankfully, this honesty actually allows us to notice all of the joy we have. Before, we were manufacturing and concocting it to seem like the end result, though at close inspection, we saw the foundation was cracking and creaking under the weight of our loyalties. Now, we get to embrace the joy through truly engaging the sadness. When we ignore this pain, we have to numb ourselves to do it. But, we don’t just numb ourselves to the sadness. We inevitably numb ourselves to gladness, too.
Do you have any pain points that are emerging as you read this? If so, note them and tell them you’re tucking them safely away until they can get the care that they need. Don’t wait too long to tend to these places - they can really begin to pile up.