Are you chronically stuck in the past? Are you allowing your history to knock your present off track, much like a skipping record? That’s the question I’m posing today.
First, I think it’s important to note that while the things that happened to you in the past are distinct, individual moments in time, the idea of “the past” has no such distinction. It is impossible to completely compartmentalize the people and events from your past. Because, even if you no longer think of a specific moment in time, it is still there. You may never on call on the memory of it, but in some way it either a) taught you something, or b) reinforced something you already believed, effectively planting itself in your present, whether you know it or not.
In the words of Anthropology and Social Sciences Professor, Michel-Rolph Trouillot:
“But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past — or more accurately, pastness — is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past.” — Michel-Rolph Trouillot
This is all to say, there is no way to completely extinguish your past from your now, even if you’re a completely different person than you used to be.
A former drug addict might beat the addiction and become a stand-up, honest, law-abiding citizen, which are seemingly on opposite ends of the spectrum. But his past, the desire to overcome, the desire to change, and the desire to be better, all would come together to allow him to be this new person. There might be millions of stand-up, honest, law-abiding citizens in the world, but none would exactly like him, because they didn’t share his unique past.
However, there is a difference between the natural fusion of past and present, and allowing the past to dictate your life.
“Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?” —Mary Manin Morrissey
But how do you know if your past is overtaking your present?
3 Signs You’re Letting The Past Hold You Back
1. You cling to nostalgia
Do you find that much of your free thoughts are spent thinking about good old days? No matter how old we are, we all have periods of time in our lives that we feel were pretty great or special. The problem is when we begin to wish we could go back or attempt to recreate that time in our current life.
I’ve tried this in my life, and I can tell you it doesn’t work. People are constantly morphing into new people – we get older, our habits change, our friends change, our beliefs about ourselves and others change – and attempting to force people and situations into what they once were is a recipe for failure.
Try this instead: Think about what it is that is drawing your back to that particular time. Maybe you crave a particular kind of happiness or closeness. Maybe you had a lot of friends, but don’t anymore, and you miss the busyness of going out with friends. Figure out what it truly is that you miss, and then find a way to get it in your current life.
For example, if you moved across the country, but you realize that you’re always thinking about your old group of friends because you miss the companionship of always having someone to talk to, then you could find a way to meet people. Maybe try out a class or make a promise to say hi to three new people a day. You never know where a connection will be made. And instead of making yourself miserable wishing you hadn’t moved, you’re out making new friends.
And keep in mind, that the problem with living in the past and trying to live someone else’s life is that neither of these people are you. Tweet this.
2. You are hurt by imagined wrongs.
Has a friend ever said something that you took as an insult, but was in no way meant to insult you? Maybe they commented on the size of your house and you immediately thought they were calling your house small. Maybe it pisses you off when your mother-in-law stops by and goes right to cleaning your kitchen, because you feel she’s silently saying that you aren’t doing your job of keeping the house clean.
As a kid, I was bullied and called stupid a lot (even though I was far from it). This transferred into my adult life via anger and embarrassment any time I got something wrong – that irrational feeling of being stupid would always show up.
Try this instead: Look at the situation objectively. Is this person really trying to insult you, or is something from your past trying to bubble up. If you can recognize that the latter is happening, you can stop it. Remind yourself that you are not what this emotion is telling you. Try to think why this person is saying what they’re saying. Maybe your mother-in-law isn’t making a statement about your cleanliness – maybe she noticed that you have a toddler clinging to your hip while cooking dinner and thought she’d help out and take one task off your to-do list.
I should note that sometimes things are indeed meant as insults. But remember, you control whether or not the insults hit their mark. Your reaction determines whether the person is shooting bullets or shooting blanks.
3. You continue the same thought and action patterns despite knowing they aren’t working for you.
The past is familiar. And we tend to like what is familiar. Only sometimes, familiar is what gets us into predicaments.
Take weight loss, for instance. Have you ever tried to lose weight, but get caught up in resentment, toward those to seemingly get to eat whatever they want or toward your younger body that never used to gain weight. We begin to get frustrated when we aren’t losing fast enough, and then give up. We do this again and again, ad infinitum, and come to the conclusion that it can’t be done. Except our conclusion is based on faulty logic, incomplete data, and half-hearted attempts.
Try this instead: Instead of basing decisions on past occurrences, take note of the facts (not opinions) about the current situation. Instead of relying on what you think you know, take the time to really look objectively at the situation. Using the example from above, instead of assuming you just can’t lose weight, look at the steps that got you there. Did you really eat as well as you thought? Or did you happen to “forget” the nights of snacking in front of the tv? Keep analyzing everything until you get down to the root of the problem. It’s not that you couldn’t lose weight, it’s that you couldn’t lose weight doing what you were doing.
So, borrowing from the Morrissey qoute above, What is it you would let go of today? What is holding you back that you would let go of today?
Image Source Credit Image quote by Dennis Waitley