I didn’t realize how much the past was going to affect my current relationship. I’ve heard this statement implied many times. It might be “relationship” or “me” or “my situation”. But the other day I heard it expressed overtly…just like that. Many of us seem to be hell bent on believing that behaviors, lessons and experiences from the past have no bearing on what we are doing.
But the trouble is, it does. I hesitate to use a sports example, but here it goes. Imagine going golfing and when your game goes the same as it did the last 50 times you think “I’m surprised because I assumed nothing about the way I’ve golfed in the past would affect my game. I didn’t think I was going to have any of the same swing flaws. When the pressure was on I didn’t think I was going to revert to the same bad swing that I’ve reverted to thousands of times before.”
Wouldn’t it be great if it worked that way? We could use that so many ways. I didn’t get annoyed by my co-worker today after being annoyed everyday for 2 years because magically I didn’t behave the same way as I have my entire life. All without conscious thought or effort. Yes! Let’s do it that way!
But, yeah…it doesn’t work like that. We have behaved the same way time after time after time for a reason. It doesn’t just magically stop or change just because today is a different day. It changes for a reason. True, sometimes that reason is not at our conscious level. Some other variable has changed. Maybe we’ve had insight from another experience and are subconsciously applying it hear. But other than that, it doesn’t change…unless we choose to change it.
Truthfully, you could say starting today I’m going to build it all from scratch. I’m just going to do the right things. But, what if you don’t realize some of the less effective things you do? How do you know to watch for them and guard against them? And how do you know what to keep?
For me, the more effective way is to look at our past, what it has taught us and how those lessons, behaviors and traits affect us today. It lets us build on our strengths. It helps us identify where we need to improve or even learn new skills. It gives us a framework to watch and assess our current and future behaviors.
The trouble is, it isn’t always fun. It may mean thinking about experiences that were difficult…sad, hurtful, depressing. But looking at the entire range of our experiences lets us figure out what we did well and what we didn’t. When we only look at positive experiences it can skew our perspective. We may be missing some of the areas where we can learn the most about ourselves. And the risk is that despite our hard work to change, we’ll likely keep bringing those experiences into the present.
I’ll be honest. This is a pretty familiar battle for therapists. Clients often don’t want to go to those places, revisit those feelings, memories and experiences. But generally if there is big resistance to exploring something it means there is a reason. There is a difference between “okay, we can talk about that old, worn out topic but I really don’t see the point” and “I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THAT!” When therapists get that second response we tend to think “BINGO!”
You’ve heard me say it before and I’ll say it again. Sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hard thing. And that goes for change as well.