Can we leave the past behind?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Rosalind Welch Ad.Dip. CP MNCS
24th January, 20140 Comments
The past is part of us - we are a product of our environment, history and genetics, all of which have played a part in constructing our individual personalities. By accepting the genetic make-up and personality traits inherited from our parents and the influences from culture and environment, we can recognise our own character and values, know them to be ours rather than inherited and be true to them. Recognising that your parents are also individuals with their own personalities and histories is essential in recognising where their responsibilities end and yours begin.
In reconciling ourselves with the past we have to come to terms with the decisions made by others and their impact on us and, where we had choices, seeing that they were limited to the options available at that time. Accepting our past for what it was involves respecting our decisions as being right for us at that time, even if we question them now.
The past may have a traumatic history of neglect and abuse, and disturbed relationships in childhood are often re-enacted in the present relationships - we cannot wipe the slate clean, and events in our lives will inevitably remind us of the past. Raising children may remind you of how you were raised; marital discord may remind you of rows between your parents when you were a child; you may find yourself repeating phrases you heard as a child, adopting the ways of your parents and playing the same roles.
It may be difficult to leave our past behind if present-day crises are re-opening old wounds; a neglected or abusive childhood makes us more likely to suffer from anxiety and personality disorders, to be criminals, to smoke and abuse alcohol or drugs.
If we can accept ourselves, our histories, our genetic heritage, and accept responsibility for ourselves - but not accept responsibility or guilt that belongs to others - and see the reality of our histories with an adult perspective, it is not ‘leaving our past behind’, but rather finding acceptance and the path to peace with oneself, breaking the cycle of generational dysfunction.
As adults knowing our own values, we work within a community; we enjoy interaction with others, in families, social groups, colleagues. We have a role within that society, a role which relates to our identity utilising skills which will gain respect from others; this is vital for our self-worth, the respect we feel for others helping us to accept and value who we are, what we are and where we are.
If we can stop reacting to triggers from the past by responding in the present using our own values for what is happening now, we may indeed ‘leave the past behind’.
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