Transforming the Past
What is the problem with only seeing the harsh reality of the past? Well, for starters, our personality is developed by our past. Whatever mind story (story you tell yourself, not always the reality) you develop about who you were as a child is permanently etched in your brain and incorporated into how you interact in the present. If that story is only filled with shame and regret, then you will carry those negative feelings into every adult interaction you have. Since I viewed my adolescence as bad, I struggled with self-esteem as a grown woman. In some ways, I still felt like that lonely, braces-wearing gawky teenager.
Until I re-wrote my personal narrative. Yes, high school was not easy for me. Yes, I was not popular. But the exaggerated feelings of teen angst were mostly in my mind and my own view of myself, no one else's. It was a hard time for me, but it was also when I developed the courage to move 2,000 miles to California for college, fell in love for the first time, and held a steady job for 3 years. Remembering the power you had in the darkness is what transforms difficult memories of pain into memories of strength. I now feel empowered and grateful for my teenage self, while in the past I felt only pity and sadness. Remember, who we are now is largely due in part to who we were then.
The obvious problem is that we cannot undo the past. Traumatic things have happened to many of us, and that is just the brutal truth. In therapy, we teach clients how to make meaning out of horrific or unpleasant life experiences. In creating your own view of strength from suffering, you essentially empower yourself to make meaning out of madness. This is important because your mind story of your past is a large part of who you are. If you felt weak then, you could feel weak now. But you are not! It all is in self-perception.
My question to you is, why not re-write your story? This time, focus on what you did right. Yes, you didn't score that game-winning touchdown. But you did play JV football for four years and had a great time with your teammates. Maybe your parents were never around. But you had a loving best friend who got you through the rough patches. Or perhaps you lost your brother to illness far too soon. But you learned the value of life and love at an early age. There is meaning to every tragedy, no matter how illogical or small.
So put down your phone and shut off the Netflix. Take a small amount of time today to reflect on a difficult time in your life. Maybe even write it down. But this time, view it from the perspective of how your strength/wisdom/spirit was able to grow and learn from it. I promise it will help you gain empathy for your past self. We are nothing but continuously changing, making mistakes and getting up when life kicks us down.
Think of your life as needing a filter. Instead of black-and-white, put some color back into your memories. (I prefer Chrome myself) You are the artist that gives beauty to your life. Don't spend one more day viewing your life through a smudged lens.
*inspired by a wonderful piece in Psychology Today, June 2016, "The Story of Your Life," by Susan Gregory Thomas (check it out today!)