How Does Your Past Affect You?

Keep on doing what you're doing and you'll keep on getting what you're getting! Yet how often does that realisation surprise us! Granted, there are certain things we cannot change.

How many of us fully appreciate the impact our personal history has on us, the accident of our birth, bringing with it riches or poverty, class, ethnicity, gender. This often impacts on our choice of education, influencing any opportunities that may or may not come our way. Those early experiences shape our opinions, unconscious prejudices, expectations, values and the direction our lives subsequently take.

Add into the mix our personality and characteristics. These too colour our choices and decisions, whether we take a right or left turn when we reach a crossroads. Some of these choices we choose are life-changing; whether to continue with further education, travel, settle with a family, go into business.

Habits and patterns can become entrenched, with good habits keeping us disciplined, moral and on track. Bad habits rarely serve us well, as in guilt, fear, obligation, money, tradition, a manipulative relationship. Sometimes the realisation dawns on us and it's time to address the role of negative patterns in our life.

Let's reflect on how our past affects us;

We never forget a thing. We may not be consciously aware of some memories but everything that happens to us stays in our unconscious minds and is triggered whenever similar events occur. Think how a smell, taste, photograph can 'take us right back' and evoke really clear images. Both good and bad from the past can filter through and affect us.

Everything that happens is internalised from our own perspective. When six people witness a road traffic accident, none with a vested interest in what's happened, they may have very different versions of what they've seen. Who's right and who's wrong? No one of course, it's simply a matter of perspective, interpretation. So when something more personal happens, like being bullied, rejected, abused, it has much more significance and influence over us.

When something directly affects us, good or bad, it taps into past joy, pleasure, hurt, rejection, making us smile and feel reassured or wounded and hurt, potentially causing us to default into old patterns.

There are two significant ways our memories affect us.

Restorative memories mean that you've learned from past experiences. Tough or difficult times are able to teach us about resilience, enabling us to become stronger, with improved boundaries. When we work through the negatives, maybe with the help of friends, family, therapy we learn to value and appreciate those experiences.

- Restorative healing of the past teaches us about growth, adjusts our emotional responses, becoming able to understand, accept and move on from what's happened. We appreciate the lessons learned, the new ideas that have come our way and the steps we've taken as a consequence.

Regressive memories prompt an opposite response, where we're constantly stuck in a negative cycle of expectation, anger, resentment and victim mentality. We may be constantly looking for warning signs, anticipating the next bad outcome; not a helpful approach to life.

- As such, regressive past experiences are not healing. If people treated you badly you may have learned to shut yourself off, become defensive, protective, reluctant to engage, so avoiding the potential for further hurt. The younger you was perhaps stuck in a situation and unable to respond to protect yourself, so withdrawing into yourself and becoming angry, stubborn, defensive.

- We may not fully appreciate that the years teach us a more sophisticated set of skills with more appropriate, adult ways of dealing with bad treatment. Learning to react with silence or anger is not the only choice as we get older.

- Taking some personal responsibility is important, checking if we were complicit, perhaps for a myriad of reasons, in allowing bad behaviour to come our way. Sometimes the fear of anger, confrontation or abuse can push us into silent submission. But gradually we come to learn what treatment is and is not acceptable.

- Learning that not everyone will behave well, or indeed even like us no matter what we do can be a tough lesson. And sometimes trying to get people to like us is the biggest mistake of all! We grow when we let go of that need and accept that life is about accommodating other approaches to life.

- For some people moving on and healing requires time, maybe to talk and gain insight, better understanding and the ability to empathise with the other person's viewpoint, even if it's not fully understood. Mediators, friends or even a therapist may play a role in enabling that to occur.

- Having a specific time and place set aside with a neutral professional can sometimes be a good opportunity to focus on positive ways to heal past hurts and conflict. Sleep is often a good healer too, allowing us to process the day's activities and put them into a better perspective. How often do we hear, 'sleep on it', before we make an important decision, often finding that we feel quite differently the next day. And exercise stimulates endorphins, which help lift our mood, causing us to feel better, more upbeat and less entrenched.

By learning ways to change automatic negative responses to past hurts and experiences we're able to value the lessons learned and discover more positive, beneficial ways to respond to life's events, moving forward in an adult, more appropriate way. Our history can help us evolve.


Susan Leigh, Altrincham, Cheshire, South Manchester counsellor, hypnotherapist, relationship counsellor, writer & media contributor offers help with relationship issues, stress management, assertiveness and confidence. She works with individual clients, couples and provides corporate workshops and support.

She's author of 3 books, 'Dealing with Stress, Managing its Impact', '101 Days of Inspiration #tipoftheday' and 'Dealing with Death, Coping with the Pain', all on Amazon & with easy to read sections, tips and ideas to help you feel more positive about your life.

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