What's the past got to do with me now?
“Why do lots of therapists want to delve into the past? What’s past is past and there’s nothing we can do about it”. As a counsellor, I hear that a lot.
It’s true that I don’t know of a therapist with a time machine who could literally travel back through the years and physically make changes with us to the historical events that make up our lives.
Well what’s the point then?
Well we’re all a product of our past, and that past is usually influenced by our parents or parental figures, teachers or our peers, for example.
Most parents do or say things that they later regret, some withhold the encouragement or physical affection that may have enhanced and enriched our lives as children. Parents are usually busy people and children often demand their attention at some very inconvenient times! The truth is that parents are human and products of their own parents and of life’s varied circumstances.
Regardless of the reasons behind our parents relationship with us, or how they may have lacked the ability to provide a healthy and nurturing environment for us, the messages that they passed on to us were very powerful and far-reaching.
They are the blueprint or example for how relationships work. They also give very clear messages about what kind of behaviour is acceptable or unacceptable.
As far as my experience takes me, however, I’ve never come across a single parent who has given any consideration, however fleeting, to how they may screw up their children’s life. Of course, that isn’t to say that that wasn’t how life played out and, for all sorts of reasons, their contribution to your early life may have been less than helpful.
There were other people in your life that played their part too. While many teachers were encouraging, supportive and inspiring, some may have left a legacy of fear, shame or low self-esteem. There may have been classmates who were cruel and intimidating and whose ‘innocent’ jokes were cutting and humiliating. All of these experiences will have had an impact on you. The outcomes may have been positive and spurred you on to success, but they may equally have crippled your confidence and shrunk your ambitions.
This may give some indication as to why many therapists are interested in your past. It’s sometimes useful to look at some of the attitudes and events that you grew up with in order to challenge some of the powerful beliefs that took root then. They were beliefs and behaviours that helped you to feel safe, secure, accepted and loved. The big question that you may want to ask yourself now is, “Are these things still true for me, or do they need updating now that I’m an adult with more sophisticated resources and strategies at my disposal”?
Sometimes it’s these old ways of thinking that we hold onto and carry around with us that need to be reviewed and revised so that we may live more satisfactory and fulfilling lives as adults.
Looking back often gives us clues as to the best way to move forward.
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