Why is it so &#%$ difficult to leave the past where it is?

Back in my obsessive TV-watching days, I happened upon an episode of Hoarders. It was the first and last episode I ever watched.

This particular episode focused on a woman who lived alone and had accumulated so much stuff that she had to climb over it to get from one part of the house to another. It was upsetting and disturbing and I felt compassion for her instantly.

At one point in the episode, she, her mother, and her son met with a therapist. The therapist asked the woman why she thought she had created this life for herself, and her response was that because her mother ignored her stepfather’s abuse of [the woman] when she was a child, she developed a deep-seated lack of self-worth, and believed that the way she was living was all she deserved. Her “stuff” gave her life meaning and worth in a way.

The therapist then asked the woman to talk directly with her mother and to tell her what she needed. The woman turned to her mother and her mother asked her, “What do you want me to do?”

[This conversation is paraphrased.]

Woman (to mother): “I want you to apologize.”
Mother, “I have already apologized to you many, many times.”
Woman: “I need to feel like your apology is real.”
Mother: “I don’t know how else to tell you I mean it. I am sorry.”

At this point in the conversation the therapist interjected. She said to the woman, “Your mother has apologized. I heard her do it. What else would you like from her?”

The woman kept going back to her wanting her mother to feel bad, to feel sorry for what she had done or had failed to do.

Then came the following words out of the therapist’s mouth that I will never, ever forget for the rest of my life.

She said, “You don’t want an apology from your mother. You’ve already gotten that.

What you want is for it to never have happened.”

And that’s it. That’s why people bring up the past over and over and over and over.

Not because they need an apology. They usually get one. It doesn’t make them feel better.

Not because they want someone else to feel bad. That usually happens, as well. It doesn’t make them feel better.

People keep dredging up the past because in some remote corner of their belief system, they think that by bringing it up repeatedly it will somehow cause it to never have happened.

As convoluted as that may sound, I believe it’s true.

Think about the last crappy thing that happened in your life. Didn’t you replay it over and over in your mind? Didn’t you think about it or talk about it for hours, days, maybe even weeks afterwards?

Every human experience evokes emotion, which imprints upon us and our memories. It stays with us, and by allowing the same emotion we feel during a hardship to resurface over and over, we are reliving it again and again. Which doesn’t make it go away, but rather remain with us for far longer than it probably needs to remain with us.

So what does one do? How does one move past…the past?

I’m not a therapist, but I think in most cases there are three ways of doing that:

  1. Accept what happened as a valuable lesson on either how to be or how not to be and give thanks for it either way.

  2. Accept what happened as an opportunity to help others who may be going through the same thing.

  3. Accept what happened as part of your rich personal history and remember that everyone “effs” up. Everyone.

E-v-e-r-y-o-n-e.

The past can never be changed. That’s why it’s called the past. It has passed.

And I know you’ve heard this one, as well: The present is a gift. That’s why it’s called the “present”.

Hey, every day’s your birthday.

 
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Now read this

Pour some sugar on it

I don’t know why this story has stayed with me since I heard it as a fifteen year-old, but it has. My grandmother told it to me, and I asked her to retell it several times over the years until she passed away in 2013. When my grandmother... Continue →