Turn the past into simple history

The relationship between your past and present is complex

The relationship between your past and your present is complex. Your experiences, particularly early life experiences, have affected profoundly who you are today. There is no such being as an ahistorical person.

Consider the more recent past, say the last 20 years. 

Let’s suppose you were diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago and you went through a rigorous and exhausting treatment program of surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and many followup examinations. Through all that you were in the midst of surviving cancer. Then, 15 years ago the doctors declared you cancer free. There has been no recurrence.

Undoubtedly, that trauma of cancer 20 years ago has significantly affected you. It was, after all, a matter of life or death. 

Your lifestyle and your attitude towards life is probably different from what it was before the diagnosis. 

But how do you see yourself now? 

Do you see yourself as a man or woman living and enjoying life the best way you can? 

Or do you still see yourself as a cancer survivor as you did 18 years ago?

The way you answer the question about how you see yourself says a lot about your present identity. Ideally your present identity, although shaped by the past, does not contain the past. 

And that is why I urge you to leave the past in the past. 

Don’t speak about the past as if it were still present: if you haven’t had a drink in 10 years, don’t say “When I drink…” 

Instead say “When I used to drink…” 

It sends the message to your subconscious that what used to prevail is now history.

We all know people whose distant past remains a part of their present identity. 

I knew a 55-year-old woman whose opening with almost anyone she met included the sentence, “I’m a survivor (of childhood sexual abuse).” 

That’s how she defined herself. 

She asked if I could help her to come to terms with her childhood sexual abuse. When I suggested we could turn it into simple history, that is, into a past happening without emotional charge, she replied thoughtfully, “If we did that, who would I be?” The thought of losing that ancient identity was too scary for her and she didn’t proceed.

There are a couple of things to pay attention to if you want your present identity to be healthy and unencumbered by the past. 

It involves knowing full well, of course, that your identity has been shaped by your past experiences.

The first, as mentioned above, is to notice your language. 

Do you speak of the past as if it were still present, or do you leave the past in the past?

The second thing to notice is a little more complicated. 

Are there topics you can’t talk about without getting upset? 

Are there people you avoid because you find yourself getting triggered? 

Are there events you can’t attend, like a funeral, because they bring up unpleasant stuff you are trying to forget?

If the answer is yes to any of these, then they are holding you back from living fully in the present. 

My recommendation is to do whatever you need to do to remove the emotional charge from past events and let them be simple history.

It’s doable and it’s freeing.

You can reach Registered Psychologist Dr. Neill Neill for an appointment at 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact.