Me Before We

Learn to love yourself first

How Resilience Helps You Disengage From Your Painful Past

How (and when) self-preservation helps you let go of your past.

When you reflect on your history and how it has impacted you, you may appreciate the building blocks that contribute to your resilience. You may see the opportunities to engage in the fortunate and challenging experiences that helped to shape you in a way that helps you to feel solid in who you are, now. Then again, you may look back with such dismay and despair that your past feels like a boulder you’re forced to drag up a never-ending hill. You long to free yourself from your past because it doesn’t represent who you are now or who you want to be in the future.

When your past has been damaging, it may come easily to you to perceive yourself as damaged. The distorted lens through which you learned to view the world and yourself, can evoke shame, self-consciousness, guilt, and disgust. It can even make you feel like a fraud, like you don’t belong and don’t deserve. You may have had experiences in your past that are so awful, so shameful, so disorganized and confusing, that in order to make sense of who you are today, it might feel necessary to disengage from your history because of just how much it obstructs your self-perception.

First and foremost, appreciate that you are here, despite the incredible weight of your past. It takes profound resilience to be where you are after where you have been. You may have come to believe via the negative experiences in your history, that you’re “supposed” to go through life feeling bad. Yet, the fighter within you is able to recognize that what you have been through doesn’t have to be how it always is. You are more than the negative messages you receive from your past. Your resilience is such that you can begin to recognize the damaging messages from your past as negative propaganda.

This opinion differs from more traditional psychoanalytic viewpoints about the importance of processing your past and using the information from it to strengthen your understanding of yourself. This traditional viewpoint remains extremely helpful for many. However, sometimes there is neither the time nor ability to slog through the emotional mud to figure out how you got here. Rather, in certain instances, it is possible to work toward freeing yourself from what you previously endured, the parts of your past that feel alien to you now.

Now you can work on redefining who you are to see yourself as a person who has arisen from difficulty and continues to work on feeling solid and connected. If you continue to work on decreasing the meaning and value negative experiences to your current life, your past won’t necessarily resurface in unhealthy ways.

Provided you can feel deserving of feeling better, your hard-won resilience can allow you to take what you need from your past and leave behind what you don’t. If you are able to discriminate what is helpful to you versus what is okay to discard, you have already begun the process of disengaging from the negative messages of your past.

It can of course be useful to seek help or counsel when the problems and self-perceptions you drag around feel bigger than your ability to handle them. But, for some, simply understanding that you don’t have to be defined by your past, that you might not relate to it at all anymore, means that you may already be leaving it behind. Where you are right now and the things you’re doing in your life are so different than where you once were. The extent to which you are now proactive and positive disproves the antiquated belief that you’re doomed to repeat damaging patterns of your past.

There is no danger in allowing yourself to believe you are more than what your past would have you believe. The experiences you had that make you feel broken don’t mean you are broken.  Rather, by being engaged in the present, the experiences you can have are very different than the experiences you have had. It’s okay to acknowledge that you were profoundly damaged by events that unfolded in your life. And it’s also okay to permit yourself to move beyond them, or to acknowledge that they don’t feel like they belonged to you in the first place.

If your past experiences and relationships were so painfully negative and fraught with shame and betrayal that you feel permanently marked by them in your current life, it’s okay to work on letting go and evolving beyond this dead weight.

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Twitter: @DrSuzanneL

FB: facebook/DrSuzanneLachmann

Image: Flickr/Christopher Johnson cc license

Suzanne Lachmann, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist in NYC specializing in psychotherapy.

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