Are you living in the past?
Updated: Oct 24, 2019
By: Yocasta Grassals
Many of the people that I have helped in my Clinical Practice, and from a conference that has come to me for a “5-minute personal question”, have the same thing in common, among other matters they maintain their focus and attention to past events; whether there good or bad.
As part of the protocol in the first interview session with a person, in order to get to know their history, we ask several questions about their childhood, family, etc. Through many conversations, the responses can be different, but in the majority of cases people still seem to maintain a strong connection with their past, what was lived, and with what happened years ago or recently. But it’s part of the history.
The practice of living in the past is one of the causes that prevent full healthy enjoyment of the present day. Besides, it subtracts the opportunity to project towards the future.
Sadly in my experience many people, not to say major percentage of people, at some point have detained themselves (even if it was momentarily) in the past, sometimes because the past was so good that they don’t wish to leave it behind, other times it’s because the past was very bad, but either way they refuse to let go. In some occasions the failure to “let go” of the past is done unconsciously, they don’t even realize they are living in the shadow of “what was” but no longer is.
In the case of someone having a good past, the person remains wrapped in the mantle of memories and imagine going back to those moments and enjoying them as if they were present. They search for photos or objects that represent those events. They listen to songs that take them back to those same places, at the end; the imagination gives them back the positive range of emotions that was lived in the past.
On the contrary, if the events that haven’t been “let go” are negative or not so good, the person remains sad, miserable, dragging in pain, resentment, hate, regret, and in some cases even feel guilty. All of those things are like ropes that bind; they don’t allow the person to move on freely with confidence.
A couple of years ago in my native country Dominican Republic, I took care of a young man that was dismissed from his job for refusing to perform upcoming work for a port where ships dock. Initially, it was taken as an act of disobedience from the orders that where given, but later the young man’s behavior in his performance started to change until finally, it came to his dismissal. He mentioned that he frequently had nightmares and could not get a restful sleep.
As usual, I began the session with some exploratory questions that allowed no justification, but to understand the situation and why the person holding back. In one of our sessions, we spoke about some childhood events and the relationship he had with his biological father, as he was telling the story he paused and began to cry. When ready to continue he shared with us that going back to those memories and remembering that time caused him pain. His father was very violent, and when he was a child he was naughty and disobedient. The father learned to manage him by tying him up to a stakeout in full sunlight, preventing him from moving and kept him there for hours.
This was done many times, so many that this man still carried into adulthood the emotional scars of the unusual way that he was disciplined. Now, apparently, he was aware of what had happened when he refused to perform work near where the boats docked, “It was like seeing those same ropes around my body” he said.
I asked this young man a question that I’ve asked many times to other people: If you had the chance to do something about you past what would you do? Some people say they would “erase the past”, others would say they would “take the good and get rid of the bad”. Some people with understanding have said, “it isn’t possible to go back to the past”. It is true, time passes and there is no way of going back, you don’t get the opportunity to choose the good events and get rid of the rest, you can’t erase what happened. The only thing that does exist is the opportunity to learn from the past… Yes, learn from these events for which you had to go through before reaching the moment that you are living now.
If in your case, you are still having dreams about the good moments that happened in the past, they’re no longer here, wake up and come to reality. If you enjoyed them, you did well but you cannot keep yourself in the past that now is fictional because it’s no longer here. If you are dealing with a past full of pain and frustration, give yourself the opportunity to live new moments. Every day is a new opportunity to start over. If you feel like you can’t do this alone search for professional help without weighing down the people (siblings, parents, spouse, children, etc.) around you with the pain and misery your carrying.
Live in the present day because, in reality, that’s what you have, tomorrow isn’t promised. Life changes in an instant you may never get what you planned for, without you knowing life can end and what you have planned will never come. Am not saying you can’t make plans or have goals for the future, it is good to have them but you should enjoy the present moment that you do have; there are those who wrongly refuse to accept and live it. A wise man, Salomon wrote “He has made everything beautiful in its time”, referring to God (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Truly every stage in your life is beautiful just like the seasons of the year different to one another but still beautiful in their own way. Salomon also affirms in 3:15: “Whatever is has already been, and what will be has been before, and God will call the past to account”.
For you to be able to restore your life and be in a place that you correspond which is here and now, get out of the past that you have carried with you for years and allow yourself to enjoy the present moment that life has given to you.
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