Are the pains from your past jeopardizing your chance for a happy present and future?
People are a hodgepodge of memories and experiences – some good, some bad. The events that happen to you shape the way you feel and interpret the world.
Does that mean we are defined by them?
No. But many people underestimate just how deeply negative events do affect them. Living through a rough childhood, being subjected to abuse, or being hurt leaves wounds on the mind that can affect your mental and emotional health throughout your life – if they are not addressed.
But how do you keep your past from poisoning your future? Well, the first step toward finding a solution is to become aware of a problem.
1. Traumatic Experiences
Traumatic experiences are often overlooked as a source of negative change and influence. That doesn’t sound right, does it? Anyone who has been through a traumatic experience and recognizes it, knows that statement must be false.
But did you notice how I slipped the word “recognizes” in that last sentence? Quite a few people are walking around with unaddressed problems because they don’t recognize their traumatic experience is negatively influencing them.
There are many opinions and definitions of trauma, but they tend to focus around an experience that threatens their sanity, bodily integrity, or life. That can include child abuse, abandonment, death or loss of a loved one, car accidents, being the victim of a crime, domestic abuse (of all types), a near death experience, witnessing something horrific, and much more.
And different people respond to traumatic experiences in different ways. The response can be something obvious, such as substance abuse, or it can be harder to notice, like how you forge relationships with other people.
A person may not even realize that certain behaviors, thoughts, or emotions relate to their traumatic experience.
2. Violation Of Trust
Trust can be complicated because it requires a person to show vulnerability to the person we want to trust. That is difficult if you have a past where your trust was violated and abused. When we are hurt, we tend to close ourselves off and put up our walls so that we will not be hurt again. It’s hard to make the choice to let another person in. We want to maintain some control over what happens to us, to not be taken advantage of or be wounded again. And so we may keep other people at arm’s length.
The problem is that trust requires vulnerability. There is no way around it. You can read article after article about how to spot liars and manipulators, who to avoid, how to avoid them; but those articles rarely point out that the same indicators they say point to an untrustworthy person are also common in people with social anxiety, autism, socialization issues, or other defensive people who have been badly hurt themselves.
“But how do I know I can trust you?!”
There’s no way you can know ahead of time. Any attempt at an educated guess is exactly that – a guess. All you can do is make a choice to extend a bit of trust to the person and see what they do with it.
3. (and 4!) Failures And Regrets
People tend to associate failure with regret and vice versa, but they are two different things. A history of past failures can feed depression, low self-esteem, and keep a person from looking for new experiences.
Regret can rob you of happiness when you dwell on past mistakes that were made, things you wish you had done differently, or scenarios where you did everything right, but it still didn’t work out. These are things that need to be framed and thought of differently.
Failure is part of the path to success. Only exceptionally lucky people manage to get everything right on the first try with no difficulties or outside influences. Most people who succeed will try something, fail, and then use what they learned to avoid that pitfall while trying again. Any kind of meaningful self-improvement involves failure.
Ask anyone in your life who has made positive changes for themselves if things went smoothly on the first try. Usually, those people will tell you that they made bad choices, faltered on their journey, and sometimes even fell backwards. The difference is that they got up, dusted themselves off, and tried again.
“I wish I would have done this better. I wish I wouldn’t have made that choice. I wish I would have made better choices…”
Well, you didn’t. And not a bit of it matters. Wishes won’t undo the past. At some point, we have to make the decision to stop letting regret control us, so we can enjoy the present and work towards a better future. No one else can do that for you. You have the power to change your future. And you probably have more strength than you realize.
But I, a random person on the internet, saying to make the choice to not suffer or dwell is ambiguous and unhelpful. What does it actually mean – to make the choice? The choice is to move forward regardless of how you feel, even if it means crawling.
Anger seems to be everywhere nowadays, justified or not. The problem with anger is that it can easily poison all of the good and positive things in your life.
Anger creates walls and boundaries that can be impossible to overcome, because we’re more focused on how we feel than actually looking for a solution. Angry people don’t tend to listen to find a solution. Instead, they are often more interested in having their emotions validated. But that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it’s necessary.
The real problems start when anger keeps you from healing, due to things that they might have done or had done to them in the past. Anger can create tunnel-vision where we feel we are right, where we demand that we be heard, that we deserve to have our pains addressed!
It’s unfortunate that closure and equal justice are rare, as they are two things that perpetually angry people are often looking for.
“I didn’t deserve to be treated that way! I didn’t deserve what happened to me!”
No, you probably didn’t. People don’t deserve to be harmed. But, what does one do if the source doesn’t care what harm they cause? What if they cannot comprehend their role in the damage inflicted, like people who are abused who perpetuate abuse?
We can’t hold onto that anger forever, otherwise it’ll just erode our own mental and emotional health. At some point, we have to learn that anger itself is just not productive. It can be a catalyst, but anger won’t do the work that is necessary to actually make a change. All it manages to do is upset one’s peace and derails their happiness.
Paving The Road To A Happier Future…
It is my sincere hope that you do not feel attacked or judged. I want you to find inner peace and happiness. But to do that, you must understand that you will only find it by working hard at fixing the problem and making better choices for yourself. No one else can do that for you. The types of pains that sabotage your present and future are often rooted in past wounds that require professional help.
I know all too well, because I had to overcome my own poisonous past and mental illness to reach my happy, peaceful present. You can do that too.
If you are unhappy with your life or feel your past is keeping you from the future that you want, talk to a qualified mental health professional. That’s what they’re there for. They make the process of putting your pieces back together much more efficient… though make no mistake, it will be challenging.