Dealing with the Past
Learn to forgive yourself
Dealing with the Past
Life is a manifestation of where you direct your energy.
Water the weeds..or water the flowers?
Water the negative…or water the positive?
Energy does not discriminate.
Right now, you are a sum total of where you have been investing your energy in life.”
This reminds me of the old story about the two wolves that live inside of each of us.
One is friendly, positive, caring, creative and resilient.
The other is the complete opposite.
They are warring with each other.
The one that wins is the one we feed.
In my coaching practice, I come across those who choose the pain of where they are rather than the release of where they could be. They are choosing to feed one of the wolves.
I get it.
Sometimes the certainty of the “known”, the problem “state”, seems safer than the uncertainty of a future; the as yet “unexperienced state.”
This is in no way an attempt to deny the very painful and challenging experiences someone is working through, but an attempt to explore how we often choose to label or define ourselves as “victims”.
If a traumatic situation is the source of our current problems then surely the past must be healed?
Yet, and this is the paradox, one aspect of healing is the willingness to let go of that thing we perceive as the source of our pain.
“The truth is unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realise that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.”
The problem with holding onto the past is that it is just that - the past. It cannot be changed in and of itself, even though we can change the way we perceive and respond to it. Seeking to control what has happened takes our focus away from considering how we can move on from what has happened.
Look at Maraboli’s quote in a little more detail.
It was a younger, indeed another you, that experienced and responded to the past situation. Yet, we often view a past trauma with the benefit of age, the power of hindsight.
The truth is that you THEN, did the best you could at that particular time.
Those who have experienced abuse or trauma from an accident not of their making will often question what they could have done differently; how they could have taken control of the situation. The simple fact is that at that time, in that situation they responded in the best way their younger, less experienced self could with the knowledge, resources and power they had then.
If anything trying to blame yourself now for what happened then is less than useful.
Forgive the situation.
Again, any situation we have experienced is related to a whole series of other events which culminated with that specific moment in time.
So, playing the “if only” game is ultimately self-defeating
If you’ve seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show on stage, you will know that a whole series of audience responses have evolved to go along with the characters' dialogue.
In one scene Brad and Susan are listing the things that they did that brought them to their current plight in the castle of Dr Frankenfurter....
If only we hadn’t come .... says Susan
To which the audience call out ... But you did
If only the tyre hadn’t punctured ...says Brad
To which the audience call out .... But it did
And so on.
The” But it cid” or “But you did” refrain can go on and on to some far-distant point in time and serve little value in trying to solve a current issue.
If only I wasn’t born, you may end up saying to which the answer must be, but you were!
Such regressive and potentially depressive thinking is, even more, self-defeating.
The Stoic Philosophers had a useful set of attitudes when if came to looking at our problems.
“How does it help, to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them”
“It isn’t the things themselves that disturb people, but the judgements that they form about them”
An overview of Stoic philosophy can be stated in modern parlance as shit happens.
Recognising any situation for what it is, and then noticing the emotional power it has is the first step in forgiving it.
A situation is a situation and any event (happening) is an event (or happening). It has no feelings about itself and in and of itself has no motive other than being something that has happened or is happening.
The past is over, it’s done and the present is unfolding.
We have no power to rewrite history, but we can reframe it and learn from it.
We can’t change it but we can change our response to it.
“Incredible change happens in your life when you decide to take control of what you do have power over instead of craving control over what you don’t.”
More relevantly our reflections on the past, can help us in dealing with the now and perhaps even help shape the future.
So, what about forgiving others?
That’s often a tough one because we often seek to apportion blame and responsibility. Also, in a number of situations, there may well be someone or some people who can be blamed. Abusers, murderers, and corrupt organisations are just some of those we could genuinely blame for our pain.
Forgiveness for this group of people is more about recognising that holding onto the pain, the anger and the hurt is actually more about harming yourself than them,
Fred Luskin is the founder of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project and author of Forgive for Good. He suggests that in the most elemental terms, to forgive is to let go of bad feelings or the desire for revenge after you’ve been harmed.
“You’re letting go of your internal bitterness, resentment and self-pity over an experience that’s in the past “Forgiveness is allowing negative feelings of outrage and grief to come in, and then letting them go because you’re now at peace with your life.”,”
He writes about two kinds of anger.
Constructive anger which can solve a problem in the moment by allowing you to respond appropriately to the threat.
Destructive anger that is repetitive and has no positive effect or outcome.
“One of the biggest misconceptions about forgiveness, is that it means you’re condoning the offender’s behaviour. In fact, forgiveness means that you don’t condone it. You know it’s wrong or inappropriate, but you choose to cleanse your heart. You don’t make excuses for the behaviour. You just accept it and make peace. That’s very different.”
Forgiveness is far from condoning, excusing or even forgetting.
As Robert Enright suggests in his Eight Keys to Forgiveness
There are many forms of emotional pain; but the common forms are anxiety, depression, unhealthy anger, lack of trust, self-loathing or low self-esteem, an overall negative worldview, and a lack of confidence in one’s ability to change. All of these harms can be addressed by forgiveness; so it’s important to identify the kind of pain you are suffering from and to acknowledge it. The more hurt you have incurred, the more important it is to forgive, at least for the purpose of experiencing emotional healing.
When we suffer we often search for some kind of meaning in what we have endured. If this search gives us no answers we lose our own sense of purpose and that itself can lead to a feeling of hopelessness and a depressing conclusion that life itself has no meaning,
We can choose to see how our suffering has changed us in a positive way.
“Even as one suffers, it’s possible to develop short-term and sometimes long-range goals in life. Some people begin to think about how they can use their suffering to cope, because they’ve become more resilient or brave. They may also realise that their suffering has altered their perspective regarding what is important in life, changing their long-range goals for themselves.” -
To be clear such reflections are not about diminishing the reality of your pain and suffering, simply looking to make the best of it or even that all things happen for a reason. It’s about recognising the wounds within yourself, the injustice within a situation.
Letting go is sometimes the best way to heal yourself after someone hurts you
Remember, in terms of forgiving a person for the hurt they have caused you
The act remains unacceptable
Explore what you have learned about yourself from the situation
Be good to yourself
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.