Change your past? Your past is over. Yet it still affects you. If, like me, you have experienced difficult or traumatising events in your life, perhaps as a child, memories of your unresolved issues still mould who you are today. You’re probably still thinking about them, talking about them and most importantly living from the memory of them. And that hurts.
Living in the past
Living from the memory of your past is unhelpful in the current moment because:
Your past is over
The only way it still exists is in the thoughts and beliefs you have about it. Your story of it. Our stories are rarely accurate, they tend to subjectively distort, omit and embellish. If I ask my siblings to recall an event from our childhood, they will all tell me different stories. Notice then that it’s not your past that affects you in the present, it’s your story about it.
You’re more mature now
You may have interpreted the situation back then more negatively than you would now. More information and learning may be available to you today, allowing you to interpret the same event differently.
You still suffer
If the memories you have of the past are negative, when you remember them in the current moment it causes you suffering, even though nothing bad is happening to you right now.
The suffering in your past is over
The suffering your experience now is new, you are creating it with your current thinking. No matter how painful or traumatic your past situation was, this is still true. You may have been abused in the past, but that situation is over now, so the pain you create with your thoughts now is actually coming from you. It’s perpetuated by your thinking.
You limit what can be achieved in your future
By focusing on the deficits from your past, you stop yourself living a full and happy future.
You behave badly
You excuse current bad behaviour by blaming what happened to you in the past.
You suffer stress
If your memories are stressful, they will trigger stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol and noepinephrine in your body. These hormones affect your heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, digestion, reproductive organs, growth, immune system, muscle tension and brain function. If you keep re-triggering stress it may become chronic. Chronic stress contributes to mental health disorders, cardiovascular disease, obesity, skin disease and gastrointestinal disease. Think about this for a minute and what it means for you.
The good news
Some people find these ideas confronting, but they are very good news for you:
If your thoughts are the only things creating your current suffering about past events, you can change your thoughts.
When we re-frame a negative memory from our past, our body’s response changes – reducing anxiety, stress, fear and down-regulating our stress hormones cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. So when we change the story, we change our chemical response to that experience. You can re-interpret your past to produce a better experience AND better health. How does that sound?
The way to change your past is to change your thoughts about it
This is the major part of the work I do with my clients, where they learn to re-frame stories from the past to support a better future. Please note that I’m not suggesting here that people dealing with trauma, PTSD or mood disorders don’t get therapy. Therapy can be a perfect and necessary part of the healing process. All I’m saying is that functional people stuck in pain from past events can choose to make positive changes. It can also be very useful to work with clients who have already completed therapy.
You can look at your life in any way you choose. So why not choose a way to look at it that makes you feel better? Can you find a better way to interpret your past? Can you look at your past, no matter how horrible it was for you, and see it as the perfect teacher enabling you to learn what you needed to learn? Can you talk about your life as a good life?
The power to change your past is in your hands. You can take responsibility for choosing new beliefs that make your life better.
In case you are saying “But why did this happen to me?”, I will offer this. Things happen in life because they happen. Life isn’t fair, but if you think negative thoughts including anger and blame, you may feel like a victim. Choosing to portray yourself as a victim perpetuates the harm you have experienced. It also gives away your power. Any time you are looking for pity or experiencing self-pity, you are abandoning your power to heal the situation for yourself. Your past is gone.
When I argue with reality, I lose—but only 100% of the time. You move totally away from reality when you believe that there is a legitimate reason to suffer.
You cant change what happened in your past, but you CAN change the way you view it now and how you feel about it. If you choose to see your history as building the skills, resilience, courage and abilities you now have, how will you feel? Are you stronger now? More empathetic? Would you have all your positive attributes now if your past had been easier?
So the good news is, you don’t have to carry your stories in to your future. You can think any thought you want about your past.
You get to decide. You get to define your own past.
We are the sum of our experiences, but we can create NEW experiences with our thoughts.
You can choose the story you tell.
Telling a New Story
Let’s agree that changing your past takes work. You will need to really hear your own story of your life and work out which bits serve you and which bits don’t. You will need to take responsibility for change. You will need to take massive action in re-defining those stories that are not serving you and practicing your new thoughts until they become habit. You will need to embrace change.
If you would like more help with this, contact me for a free strategy session and we can talk through your biggest current issue and make a plan to fix it.
Photo by Naassom Azevedo