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Impact Of Our Past
Influences That Shape Our Life Most of us revisit the past, yet we are not the product of our past and we can't create a new future holding onto the emotions of our past. Our past contributed towards our upbringing yet it is not causal to who we truly are - our individual characteristics and our very being, our essence and deepest sense of our core self, our future potential. However, we are shaped by the impact of our past through early bonding patterns, family interactions, dynamics, experiences, expectations, roles, interpretations and comments made about us, alongside significant milestones, turning points, crisis. These aspects don't rule us exclusively, yet play an important part, some of them unconsciously. We may have some unhelpful memories and dwell on the past. If we keep revisiting the past, living in the past, it can shape not only our current thoughts and feelings but also our future. Reconciling our past, making peace with it, learning what we need to learn, may be important, yet the past is always past and we are now in the present moment.
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Other Influences Other interacting factors which shape our life include:
- Our biology & genes (DNA) - the things that are inherited
- Our personality & temperament (e.g. tending to be more introvert or extrovert, optimistic or pessimistic, paying attention to details or to the bigger picture, led by our intuition, heart or mind)
- Our environmental & social structures, including, social "norms", the prevailing thinking at the time & our position with regard to authority & power
- Our educational, ethnic, cultural, sexual & religious background & heritage
- The impact of our experiences, "the water that has flowed, under the bridge"
- Fortune, "good or bad luck"
All these aspects, including our genetically-determined dispositions (genetic predispositions) - part of our DNA, don't exclusively determine our characteristics, identity, personality or our destiny (as if our whole life is determined). Science notes a biochemical activity of regulatory systems - "switches" influencing our genes, alongside environmental effects, which also influence these switches. Our history impacts upon us, yet does not define us. (See also Our Free Will)
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Exploring & Releasing Our Past Our early experience unconsciously plays a role in developing our personality and as we learn to adapt to our environment it may also be at a cost to our vulnerability, tenderness, creativity, aspects of ourself we learnt to hide, limiting our potential. The purpose of exploring and releasing our past is not to dwell (see Unhelpful Memories, Dwelling On The Past), judge, remain stuck in regrets or blame us, our families or upbringing, but more to understand what has happened - the impact of our history, the complexity of our family dynamics and roots (see also Our First Relationship - Early Connections & Bonding Patterns), so we are no longer a hostage to our past, holding onto unwanted burdens. We may now want to lay all our backpacks down, release any repetition compulsions. (See also Releasing Ourselves & Letting Go)
Understanding The Impact Of Our Past Some of us may feel as if we are stuck in the past, can't move forward. Some of us may want to fill in the gaps in our childhood, to make sense of them. Others may have difficulties now, which can be tracked back to childhood experiences. We may have absorbed negative beliefs about us, which carry on into our adulthood. For example blaming ourselves for any of our family's shortcomings we may have become our own worst critic. Through exploring and releasing our past we can acknowledge our strengths and limitations, defences and openness. By understanding the importance of the impact of our history, we can learn from our experiences and make new meanings, and create and have the life of our own choice. Psychotherapy may therefore include what it would be like to let go of an old part of our life behind, so we are not so dominated by our past, and embarking upon a new phase.
Echoes Back In Time What's happening now may echo back from our history. Many of our issues, feelings, beliefs and behaviours now, have origins in our previous experiences. Aspects of our past may not have previously been considered, resolved. These connections between current struggles and experiences from our past, can sometimes catch up with us, or trigger us, influencing how we are now. A trigger may be a distant memory, belief, family experience, a certain inference, look, smell, touch, sound, taste or familiar experiences, a specific event in the past when we felt stuck, or a series of events or traumas. We may have forgotten or hidden to ourselves and others experiences from our past. Yet their shadow can affect us now in subtle or direct ways and also through our unconscious, so we can integrate what we ignore. Where we are from, where our parents are from, their shortcomings, the impact of our parents and their parents, their history, the stories (and versions) they tell us (and haven't told us), the unspoken loyalties, oaths, sacred cows, our early bonding patterns may continue to resonate in us, affecting our relationship style. How we learnt to deal with feelings like rejection, anxiety, anger and conflict, and how we were loved, praised and criticised, can affect us now. We may need to make links between what we learnt as a child and how we see us now, our current lifestyle, relationships, interactions and behaviour. Being centred in our own ground may be important for us.
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Our Childhood Environment & Conditioning Growing up we all experience a range of positive and negative family dynamics (see also Our First Relationship - Early Connections & Bonding Patterns). Lifelong we subconsciously absorb our environment and experiences, both positive and negative, like blotting paper. We can continue to hold on to any blaming, shaming or humiliating messages we received back then. These messages can include family "secrets" (some of which may have a corrosive effect), the way our parents behaved, communicated (or didn't communicate) between themselves and with us - even with good intention (e.g. "Always... Never... Remember... Don't upset... It is weak to... " - these reminders don't even have to be spoken). We may have internalised certain messages from our upbringing, like "Who do you think you are?", "Pull yourself together", "You are not good enough", "Don't be a nuisance", "You'll never be satisfied" or "Just get on with it", that can affect how we are now. Mimicking, Iiving up to or not exceeding our family expectations may inhibit our lifestyle or individuality. We take in more of our parents' programming than we are aware of. Our reaction can be to ensure we act in similar ways to them or, indeed, do the exact opposite. We may have taken on roles back then, which may no longer help us now. Our childhood environment and conditioning, traumas may affect our sense of who we are, our beliefs, esteem and relationships later on. Also, how our parents gave us, or didn't give us boundaries can influence us. The impact of these boundaries can be looked at in counselling. (For details see Our Resilience, Hardiness & Protecting Our Personal Boundaries)
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Perspectives From Our Past Clouding Our Vision Now As children we see the world only from our own, personal perspective - yet as an adult we realise that there are other perspectives (see also How Our Perspective May Influence Situations). Sometimes when we grow up, we continue to believe that our way of seeing things is the only correct way (see also Rigid Boundaries). Our understanding of the world becomes inflexible, because events no longer confirm our expectations. In order to be in a meaningful life now, some of us may want to be released from any rigidity in our past. For example we may have felt fearful or lonely as a child, which may continue through our adulthood. (See also Our Vision, Visualisation, Envisioning The Reality We Wish To Be True)
Releasing Us From Our Past Neuroscience shows us that our brain only provides us with some possible interpretations of the world based on our past experiences. The influence of our history is therefore deeply ingrained, where often the familiar chatter (or dialogue) in our mind reflects influential messages from the past. Some of us may no longer want to hold on to any old pain, want to heal our past, ready now to find our way through this and let go. This may include separation from our unfulfilled childhood, so we are less tied to it (see also Our Painbody). The purpose of psychotherapy is not about analysing or "dwelling" on our past for its own sake, and is more about understanding the full impact of our history, releasing us from its binds, old patterns so we are freer to Iive now.
Unhelpful Memories, Dwelling On The Past Our memories can be happy, sad, and replaying these often with a slant can have associated positive, negative effects. We can't delete the past, yet if we are not careful, we can let our past control our life in the present (and future), rewinding rather than living our life now. When we keep replaying old memories (including mistakes, bad memories, negativity), re-living what has happened, we also trigger the associated feelings and unnecessary pain. If we have bad memories, we may be re-living this negativity every time we rewind and replay things. We may want to make peace with and reconcile this within us, learning what we need to learn. When our mind dwells on the past, disappointed we miss out on opportunities in the present. Choosing whether to remain dwelling on the past and rewinding things or whether to be willing to forget, to heal and make peace with our past, discover what lessons we may need to learn and let go, being in the present moment, with our compassionate self, may be challenging. (See also Stuck, Fixed Somewhere Between The Past, Present Or Future)
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Coming To Terms With Our Past Events themselves cannot be changed, yet how we interpret them is up to us and we may want to loosen the grip of the hand of our past now. Although we can't ignore or escape our past, we can in many ways come to terms with it and understand how we have developed. For example, we may have chosen safety as a child, which may not be so necessary now. Our childhood hurts and wounds can be subtle or extreme. We may have been affected more than we had realised from past experiences, e.g. the effects of childhood bullying, an absent or intrusive parent problems with early bonding, the impact of our parents' separation and trust issues (see also Our Painbody). We may have experienced neglect, abandonment, invasion, abuse - emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, affecting our boundaries, trust, conflict issues now (emotional distortion may also include being treated like an adult or parent well before our years, even though we are very much a child that we prematurely grow up yet miss out on developmental stages). We may struggle to find our voice, assert ourselves, open our heart. Loss of an aspect of our childhood may continue to affect us now. Most of us have experienced cruelty, hurt or humiliation, because we were different in some way. For some, it can seem as our spirit is crushed, as if somehow we are still carrying a weight around us now. Guilt, shame or a sense of impending doom may follow us around. How we avoid intimacy now may carry origins of previous painful betrayals (see Relationship Counselling & Marriage Counselling). There may be things we'd like to forget, mistakes and bad decisions made, yet they can also be viewed as being part of our journey of learning, wisdom - honouring our past and what we've learnt, using this way if seeing things to live now, so the past becomes more of the past. Making peace with our past, we are more able to be in the present, so we no longer forsake who we are.
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Healing & Liberation From Our Past Feelings We may have learnt to keep some feelings inside, which now no longer serve us. Many of our responses and entrenched patterns in how we are now come from the experience of our childhood conditioning and expectations (see also Unhealed Wounds). We can loyally hold on to things for years, and some of these can eat away at us. We may have been holding on to a guilty secret. As adults we can still sometimes be in touch with that frightened child inside. We may have built a wall around us. For example, if we are ashamed and repress this, our shame doesn't go away and we tend to meet this again and again. We may have felt abandoned as a child and continue to feeI abandoned now. This can be explored in the counselling and psychotherapy. We may no longer need to hold back or hide our thoughts, feeIings, as we become open to the full range of our personality. Each time we have an opportunity to be liberated from what we've held on to - loosening its grip on us. Grieving over the loss of our past may be important for us. FeeIings belonging to the past have the potential to be released and accepted, which help to heal our wounds (see also Releasing Ourselves & Letting Go). Being willing to feel our core painful feelings may support us and for others it may be more significant to acknowledge the conclusions we drew back then about ourself that may have limited us, kept us in a cycle of pain and that it is now important to access healing and our truth through our compassionate loving adult to reassure our child within. As we let the past be the past, for both us and others, we don't need to repeat the past in our head, enabling us to be in the present. Changing what we want to change may be important for us. (See also Responding To & Managing Our Painful Feelings Back Then & Now)
In each family a story is playing itself out, and each family story embodies its hope and despairAuguste Napier
Effects Of Early Decisions We may be tied rigidly to our old life narrative and patterns. During the psychotherapy sessions we have the opportunity to recount this story so far, as we experienced it. We may see how some decisions we made in our early years (our oaths, promises, loyalties, even our "sacrosanct, sacred cows") followed a "life script" (as if we were in a play, on automatic). These decisions may have helped us when younger, yet now limit us, affecting our relationships, creativity or free will now. New dimensions may reveal themselves, as we take control of our own narrative.
Transforming Old Beliefs Feelings from our past may not disappear. However the therapy can offer the opportunity to experience them now, only this time from our adult perspective, so their impact is understood. We may have internalised negative experiences, blaming ourselves. Our beliefs can now be more accurate, up to date and helpful. We no longer allow the conclusions, we made when younger, to define who we are now. Acknowledging our strengths, limitations, regrets, defences and openness, we are more able to create and Iive our life of our own choosing.
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Choosing Our Own Life Direction The therapy can help piece together our already chosen pathways between our past and present. By making connections between childhood and adult experiences, psychotherapy can help us to disentangle us from the bonds of our past, our "emotional baggage", so we are freer to choose our own direction, path and are less governed by our history.
Fresh Challenges We inevitably develop lifelong patterns of feeIing, thinking and acting - at some level re-enacting aspects of our past, in the present. Many of us experience our habits as "who we are", and changing them, if that is our choice, presents fresh challenges, as may learning to trust again, listen to our intuition.
Linking Our Life Now To Our Past Many problems are complex and have traces and trails linking them to our past, even though they may not seem obvious. In order to fully be in the moment, we may need to make these links to our history. For example, throughout our upbringing we received direct or subtle boundaries, which may have been healthy, loving, fair and firm or invasive, abandoning, controlling and chaotic, consistent or inconsistent, too tight or too loose or indeed non-existent. Back then we had little control over those boundaries, yet now as an adult we can choose our own healthy and appropriate boundaries. (For details see Our Resilience, Hardiness & Protecting Our Personal Boundaries)
The Impact Of Our Past Affecting Our Relationships Now Some of the problems, dissatisfactions in our relationship, marriage, may relate to how our emotional needs were met (or not met) in our early years or problems between us and our parents, whether they are alive or not, separated, and it may be our work to mend what we need to mend. Otherwise the very qualities we don't like or accept in our parents, may also become what our partner doesn't like in us (or we don't like in them). If we have never been satisfied about what we received (or didn't receive) from our parents, then we may likely project this onto our partner - holding grudges, disappointments. These negative experiences can get played our in our relationship as our capacity to genuinely love may not always be easy for us (see also Relationship Style, Attachment Patterns). Very few of us have had parents who were so emotionally healthy that they could give all the love we needed to us. Our parents may have done their best (see also Evolving Consciousness - Benefit Of Hindsight), yet the feelings and any pain of our wounded child (and our child's reality, sense of self back then, may live on now) may need to heal, so we are in touch with our own power. Reconciling with our parents and their shortcomings may free us and the counselling and psychotherapy can support us in this process. (See also Influence Of Our Past On Our Relationship Or Marriage)
Connecting To The Innocence Of Our Childhood - Our Child Within The knowledge of how finite life is, can allow us to appreciate and live life to the full, seeing things with fresh eyes. When very young we (our inner child, feeling self) were full of feelings, vulnerability, tenderness, our sensitivities, simply experiencing them before they were considered right, wrong (see also Our First Relationship - Early Connections & Bonding Patterns). Some may want to reconnect to that inner voice that may have guided them as a child - being in the moment, that innate sense of internal presence - our core essence - what we are, that is not our history, the voice which is free of fears, negative thoughts and conditioning - the sacredness of our child within who may need our own help and love to now flourish. We may have innocent memories of being curious, willing to learn, carefree, playful, light-hearted, full of belly laughs, expressive, surprised, surprising, spontaneous, with a sense of purity and simplicity - the qualities of our inner child as we open our heart to love. So we can now feel safe and soothed, we may want to liberate our wonder child within, so we are no longer scared or terrified yet we may have abandoned ourself. We may want to regain our passion (which may have got lost, buried or shamed) and the passionate desire we had to love and care (see also Relationship Style, Attachment Patterns). There may have been unseen, unacceptable, abandoned or rejected parts of us back in childhood, which may need our own compassion and action now. It may now be important for us to focus and embrace our own inner child (that intrinsic sense of our self that is not alone - our inner knowing) with understanding, comfort and compassion - taking care of our own inner child - our feeling self, so that we stay connected with ourselves. The inner child therapy can offer support by keeping this dialogue alive in reconnecting to our feeling self again, our true essence, trusting our own innateness, sense of being (see also Sexual Healing), connecting to other aspects of us, including our spontaneity, sense of innocence, love, joy, imagination, creativity and things, interests that give us pleasure and a positive emotional experience, which may have got lost or crushed in childhood. If we were unseen in certain aspects, felt ignored, neglected, received indifference, shamed or made to feel guilty as a child and we may continue to do this ourself now...
We are all children, who just get a bit bigger.
Struggling To Sense, Reassure Our Child Within If we imagine the feelings of our innocent child within and we ignore this child by ignoring their feelings, passions, the child feels abandoned. Feeling our feelings, acknowledging them, responding to them, taking responsibility for our pain means we are no longer abandoning ourself, validate our inner child, validate our feelings. We may feel disconnected from our inner child or frustrated that this experience seems more like a mental concept, trying to be in touch with the concept of inner child from our head. And if we are stuck in our head it may be hard to imagine that we can now adopt the feelings and needs of our small child now, spend time with, listen to, care for, hold, connect and be with our child within so we really get to know our inner child, listen to our small child within's call for help, reassure our own inner child as a loving parent would, so we no longer just give to others but also give love to ourselves, allow our child within to thrive through our loving adult and not through our wounded self - having compassion for our wounded, fearful self. Turning towards, listening to our inner child's feelings with love as a good parent would may be a part of our healing, being intuitively loving to our inner child - the way we always wanted to be loved. "What is our inner child's purpose?". "What does our inner child need from us as a loving adult?" may be a useful enquiries. Sensing what our child within needs, not to take rejection personally, to stay strong in our truth and not give ourself up for others may be important as may creating our own safe space, being anchored, centred, grounded, so we can connect with ourself and others as our inner child feels relaxed and no longer abandoned because we are a loving advocate to our child within that takes care of our emotional, physical, financial, spiritual wellbeing. Our inner child speaks to us through our physical sensations, emotions and we can imagine our resting place at the centre of our core. In order to connect to our child within - our being, some may turn to a spiritual source of support.
Struggling To Grow Up We may be living a provisional life in a sort of fantasy world, in what has been called Peter Pan syndrome - puer aeternus, some of us may live as an eternal child or adolescent struggling to meet life's challenges. We may have an innocent charm, which others enjoy or exploit. (We may feel ungrounded, not centred, maybe uncontained, with few boundaries, as if our feelings, thoughts, even our body spills out - that we don't quite inhabit it.) Despite our age, some of us may have a young (defensive or or wounded) part of us who feels like a perpetual child, kidding ourself that we are taking care of ourselves. We may feel stuck or lost - a lost boy, lost girl, taking things very personally (maybe trying to get others to look after us) who feels very young inside, impotent, often fearful, confused, or simply not wanting or know how to grow up (see also Relationship Style, Attachment Patterns). Giving ourselves permission to grow up, be vulnerable, yet empowered individuate, take responsibility for ourselves, being in our own inner authority, potent, emotionally mature, valuing our wisdom, may support us. We may want to give ourselves permission to be the man, woman we want to be without giving up our child-like qualities (see also Self-Identity & Personality). The counselling can explore this further.
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Recognising & Valuing Our Past We have been shaped by the experiences we have had - not only our successes, strengths and talents, but also the insights we gained from past mistakes or failures. As we recognise and value our past, it can allow us to make more informed choices now.
Being "In The Moment" For some it may be helpful to revisit underlying core issues, any defining incidents, wounds, unresolved conflicts and positive experiences and make links with our own values, dreams, hopes, aspirations and what really matters to us. Free from our historical responses and reactions, and any "past baggage", we have the potential to be in the present moment. When we cultivate our ability to live in the moment, paying attention what's happening around us, we worry less about what happened in our past, and be less anxious about planning our future. Experiencing what is happening in the moment, frees us up.
Unmet Needs The way we get and don't get our needs met, varies in us all, and how we behave affects this. Our unmet needs from our past can be challenging for us now and in our relationships. We can deny or repress our needs, believing they can't be met. We may struggle to take care of our own adult needs and wants and may want to be in touch with, ask for what we need, speak up for ourselves letting others, our partner know what works best for us. Our personal boundaries can support us in getting our needs met (see also Unmet Love Needs & Neediness). We can be tempted to make others responsible for meeting our needs. For example if we didn't get the approval, validation, love we needed when growing up, we may still in some ways be searching for it now in our adulthood. These can be connected up in counselling or psychotherapy. (See also Codependency (Co-Dependency) - Caretaking)
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Being OurseIf To get our needs met, we may have learnt to adapt by denying or repressing certain feelings, when we were younger, at a cost to our more authentic seIf. The therapy can help us with this integration.
Our Weak Spots We all have weak spots - areas of vulnerability or anxiety, originating from our early experiences. Some of us find it hard to acknowledge and accept these, or see them as intolerable (for details see Our Sensitivities - Pushing Each Other's Buttons). We may for example deny our vulnerability to us or others, pretending we are totally selfsufficient.
Keeping Emotions Inside Expressing emotions can be a transformative process. It can take up more energy holding on to our emotions (old hurts, buried pain, etc.) than to release them. When stored, they build up inside, disproportionably affecting the intensity of our emotions now. We can choose to leave our hurtful path behind (see also Releasing Ourselves & Letting Go).
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Our Own Interpretations Often when we were very young, we believed our family was the way the whole of the world was. Although we know that is no longer the case, we continue to see the world through our "filters". Sometimes we can get stuck in the perspective we hold. Realising that we have been seeing things our own way and not as they are and recognising how some of our own interpretations have restricted us, we are able to unhook from them. We can then be freer to Iive in our own chosen way. (See also Our Assumptions & Interpretations)
Not All Difficulties Are About Our Past Not all our distress is located in the past. Therefore alongside working through our past and the consequences of our history, some people may wonder what all this means, what is their own life purpose and direction.
Our Future Footprints Having understood the impact of the footprints we've made in the world, we may be curious about our future imprints - the marks we want to make and leave. Simply existing in the world, lack of vision, meaning or purpose may be a concern. Letting go of our past bonds can also lead to wondering about our future direction. We may seek a deeper connection to our own essence - the lifelong experience of what we are inside, the place which instinctively knows, our inner being. Seeking and being on our own path or connection to a life larger than us, may be further challenges. We may also have a sense of the life's interconnectedness.