So many people—millions of people—believe that the way to “leave the past behind” is to turn one’s back to it and march into the next pages and chapters of their life stories. There is a natural human tendency to avoid complex parts of our narratives. And that tendency is triggered in an especially strong way when these narratives include confusing, painful paragraphs, pages or chapters—whether they unfolded in childhood or adolescence or during a divorce or when a business faltered.
In truth, turning one’s back to the past doesn’t work. Because the troubled times we remain part of our stories, whether we want to ignore them, or not. Left to smolder underground, they will affect the present and the future.
I sometimes imagine people intent on running from the past as having a rubber band attached to their backs. You get the metaphor: More and more effort to escape results in more and more force dragging those folks back to the places they are trying to flee.
The reality is that there’s no need to flee. In fact, the right way to leave the past behind—the only way—is to turn around, face it and learn from it. Then you’re free. No more rubber band attached to your back. Clear sailing.
It’s easier than you think. Too many of us worry that thinking about our personal histories will get us lost in the past. That fear is a paper tiger. When we look at those parts of our stories that we most feel like turning away from, we don’t get lost. We find ourselves. That’s because the core of us is pure potential. Processing the past, learning to shed the negative patterns that took root there, unleashes that potential.
No one knows how this unleashing of potential happens, but I believe it is powered by the fact that we are—each and every one of us— possessed of goodness, purpose and potential. Those are the treasures waiting to be unearthed when we dig deep for the sources of our pain and, by facing them, restore ourSELVES to the people we were meant to be, from all time.
Dr. Keith Ablow