This post is inspired by a question I hear a lot from the women I work with:
“How important is it to dig into my past stuff, and when is it more important for me to just say ‘the past is the past’ and move on with my life?”
As with most things, people are all across the spectrum with this inquiry.
On one far side of the spectrum, it sounds more or less like this— let’s call this person Zoe. Zoe says, “My _______ (mom, dad, ex, etc.) ruined my life and I’m never going to be okay again. They made my life miserable and I hate them for it.” While it might absolutely be true that Zoe was deeply wounded (abused, neglected, violated, etc.) by someone in her life, she has become so attached to her suffering that it defines her, and she’s gone from being legitimately victimized to living in the victim stance.
If this is Zoe’s first real attempt at getting support and healing, she may say this at the beginning but then be willing and able to process the experience, acknowledge that what happened to her was NOT okay, and integrate the experience into her life story while no longer being defined by it. This is what I call “moving forward” — rather than “moving on,” which can have a really self-judgmental tone… though I used “move on” in the title because that’s more commonly the language people use!
In more extreme cases, some people are so attached to their story and resentment that they are not willing to do the work of releasing it, even though it continues to make them suffer. You may have heard the metaphor that resentment is essentially drinking poison expecting the other person to die.
On the other far side of the spectrum are the folks living in minimization and denial. Let’s call this one Veronica. Perhaps Veronica genuinely doesn’t yet recognize that the way she was treated or what she was taught was harmful because A) it’s all she knows, and B) a lot of unhealthy shit is totally normalized in our culture. Or maybe she sorta-kinda recognizes that certain things weren’t helpful, but says to herself, “No one’s parents are perfect, it really wasn’t that bad. And what’s the point of digging into the past anyway? It’s over with and I just need to get my shit together.”
What Veronica doesn’t yet recognize is that, even if it’s true that her parents did their best (and perhaps their best was inadequate), very often it’s the more subtle messages and behavioral modeling — not just “big T” trauma — that get lodged in the brain early on. Veronica has carried those assumptions and beliefs forward — at least in her subconscious mind, if not the conscious mind as well — and they continue to impact her present-day behavior until she can make the connection, release and heal any associated trauma or wounding, and start to re-train her brain with up-to-date and more helpful/healthy beliefs. Very often, that work is most successfully done working with a therapist or coach who has a strong understanding of trauma and the subconscious mind.
(Worth noting that while I used parents in the example of Veronica, early programming/conditioning and wounding can certainly happen outside of just parental relationships, too.)
TL;DR — if you haven’t yet made the connection between past experiences, beliefs/ideas that were conditioned into your thinking, and your present-day beliefs and behaviors, it is absolutely worth digging to do this work. If you feel stuck in the past, work with a skilled trauma therapist on healing the wounds and integrating your story; and if this doesn’t seem to be helping, it might be time to get really honest with yourself about whether you actually want to let go of your pain.
I’d love to hear what’s resonating with you from all of this, and if you’d like to see more blogs or podcasts on related topics. Please share in the comments or shoot me a DM on Instagram @valkaymartin!
When to Dig in to the Past and When to Move On
July 23, 2019