Uncover (And Embrace) Your Past to Make More Room for Your Future
by DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT
Like everyone else, I’ve struggled through heartache and disappointment more often than I’d like to remember. Some big and some small, but nonetheless, all meaningful and difficult. Looking back on these periods of my life hasn’t ever been easy, but it has brought about new meaning and understanding that I wasn’t aware of in the moment,resulting in a renewed understanding of who I am and empowering me to choose relationships, friendships and a career that are fulfilling, reciprocal and meaningful.
Following my parent’s divorce when I was a teenager, I remember trying to reconcile my grief by thinking about what I “should” have known, seen or done. I remember wondering if I could have saved their relationship and condemned myself for not fighting for them to stay together. It was easier to focus on what I “should” have done or how I “should” have handled things; leaving only enough room for self-blame that lead to devastating beliefs about who I was, what I deserved and if I was worth it.
As an adult I recognize that I was just a kid, that I couldn’t have held their marriage together and it was not my fault. They had grown apart and that was that. It was difficult nonetheless, but their decision. Years later, in my early 20’s I was devastated when my boyfriend decided he wanted to date someone else. I remember feeling like the rug was pulled out from underneath me, and my life was on a downward spiral. However, in all honesty, it just wasn’t the right relationship for me, but because of my unresolved feelings about my paren’ts divorce, my failed relationship triggered all of my insecurities and intensified my devastation.
Does this sound familiar?
Luckily, I was in my master’s program at the time and encouraged to seek out a therapist, who helped me uncover the pain of my past and understand how it was affecting me in my relationships.
And now, as a therapist myself, I’ve had the privilege of journeying back with my clients to similar times in their lives to help facilitate closure, recognition, awareness and insight, a challenging yet rewarding process that takes courage, sacrifice, determination and strength.
You see, we are led by previous experiences in our lives that create themes we live by, mostly ones that we are unaware of. For someone it could be, “I’ll never be good enough,” or “I am not worth it,” yet for another it could be, “I’m the problem,” or “I’m a disappointment.” Our unique personality, life experience and early relationships shape these themes in our lives, most often when we are vulnerable, young and unaware of the underlying feelings left behind.
The biggest problem with this cycle is that these feelings often lie underneath the surface, unrecognized and unnoticed and shape our belief about who we are and ultimately results in a narrative we can get stuck in. We settle for less than we deserve, we self-sabotage, experience low self-esteem and seek out relationships that confirm our beliefs. Discovering these underlying themes and negative patterns is like going face to face with a worst enemy. It takes courage, strength and persistence to face painful memories of the past or make sense of unresolved emotions and experiences. However, I can promise you, as a human and a therapist, it is worth fighting for and, in the end, will only make you stronger.
Once we’ve confronted these negative patterns and recognized their origin, we are finally able to discover the beauty of who we are and embrace ourselves with love, compassion and finally practice self-acceptance. Creating a shift in perspectives from an internal feeling of self-doubt and shame to self-assurance and self-respect literally can transform our lives.
We will discover our true self and live by a new narrative that we can take ownership of. We don’t have to live under the pretense that life happens to us, but that life happens with us…that we are in fact in control of our relationships and direction of our life. This makes more room for relationships and experiences that feed who we are at our core and inspire a life that reflects back all the positive things that we are; beautiful, worthy, deserving, loved and valued.
Taking the time to invest in yourself, who you are and where you’ve been will provide the opportunity to recognize where you might be stuck in the past and allow you to finally find the freedom and fulfillment in your relationships and other aspects of your life that you have been craving. You will discover new insights and learn to recognize old negative patterns that once determined your self-worth. Just be prepared that it will likely be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but in the end will be the best investment and decision you ever made.
– Engage in an open conversation with yourself by writing in a safe place or finding someone you trust to talk to. If you find yourself feeling, “I’ve been here before,” or struggling with a current relationship, job, friendship, etc., writing or talking will allow you to objectify your thoughts and better understand what you are feeling.
– Identify what themes come up or what major life experiences stand out. For some this could be a life crisis, a traumatic experience or loss of a loved one. For others it could be a dissolved relationship, a disappointing experience or a memory that is painful.
– Think about what these experiences or themes have caused you to believe about yourself. Again, writing or talking this out will help externalize your thoughts and feelings and allow for more clarity internally.
– Identify where these themes or experiences are active in your life today by acknowledging any areas or relationships you feel these same things. Does your current relationship or a friendship remind you of a previous one? Have you felt what you’re feeling now in another situation before.
– If so, in what ways? Be specific.
Remember, life is a journey and it takes time to understand who we are, what has lead us to where we are and where we are going. Utilizing the steps above will not fix the struggle or provide a clear way out, it will however, bring a sense of understanding and awareness that will in turn allow you to make the changes necessary to live the life you want and deserve.
Do not be defined by the past, but instead, make peace with it by allowing your feelings and thoughts to be heard. When you’ve arrived on the other side with clarity, resolution and closure, you will find yourself making decisions and choosing relationships, jobs and friendships, etc., that mirror and reflect back all the wonderful things you deserve in this life.
Next week we’ll take a deeper look at what to do once you can identify negative themes in your life and how to move past them to discover new patterns that will reflect how wonderful, valuable and worthy you truly are.
“Our lives are a collection of stories, truths about who we are, what we believe, where we come from, how we struggle and how we are strong. When we can let go of what people think, and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness – the feeling that we are ENOUGH just as we are and we are worthy of LOVE and BELONGING.” -Brene Brown, The Hustle for Worthiness
DEFINE’s Emotional Wellness Expert, Jessica Pass, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Instructor at DEFINE body & mind. She has a private practice in Houston, Texas, specializing with children, adolescents, individuals, couples and parents. Jessica’s approach incorporates mind-body integration, education and practical strategies to improve emotional wellness, emphasizing all aspects of who we are to live fully and thrive in our relationships.
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