Remember Where You Came From

Jen, over at Semi-Charmed, raised an issue that I have to do more than just comment on. She’s looking for the proper perspective for her past. Our experiences and our perceptions of those experiences make us who we are today- for better and worse. But is it possible that by owning our past we define our present and future in negative ways? As Jen puts it:

“Is it possible that my conception of myself, my ideas about myself, and my (perhaps overzealous) claiming and ownership of my past have created a Jen who doesn’t know how to exist without a constant battle?

*Jaw hitting floor*

Could it be that accepting and being accountable for our past choices and experiences is Stage One of spiritual development, and Stage Two is realizing that none of that really matters?”

This resonates with me in a way that I can’t hardly describe, except to say that I have examined this all the way around and still don’t have a suitable answer.

Like Jen, I’ve had my fair share of drama and battles. Much of it occurred in my childhood, and so there are major parts of me that developed under stress, under unhealthy circumstance. On one hand, this has given me great gifts: independence, strength and wisdom, just to name a few. On the other hand, my past has left some very deep wounds and some traits that don’t serve me well at all: fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, oversensitivity, an inability to accept constructive criticism, lack of trust that sometimes borders on paranoia, and my least favorite, a huge, huge drive to seek approval. I can’t move past these things without acknowledging where they come from, but at what point do I stop honoring my past and the self that was created to cope with it?

Moreover, now that I realize that being shut out of an important meeting is so emotional for me because it smacks of the the abandonment and rejection that I lived with for so long, what can be done about it? Because, internet, as you can clearly see, acknowledging the emotional response and the role my past plays in my reaction offered me no peace. It only made me painfully aware that I was allowing that hurt little girl to handle the situation, and why. There was absolutely no power in it.

I’ve always cringed a little at the whole idea of placing blame for my weaknesses at the feet of my past. My therapist contends, and I agree, that I have been conditioned to deal with the world and its people in a certain manner, and that manner is what worked for me as a child. Those conditions were not the proper environment for healthy emotional development, and so, I have the wrong tools for the job. The point of therapy is to realize why the old tools don’t work anymore, to find new ones, and to be comfortable enough to use them. I guess that the path to this is discussing the past, because we do a lot of this in therapy, but that focus bothers me. I know that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, but as Jen so eloquently points out, are those who wear it like a badge generating the same fate?

Vera, the woman who gave Jen the excellent reading that is provoking these questions in her, commented on the post to say that she dealt with this by looking at who she was before life got a good chance to write on her character and being. Well, I don’t know that I really know who I was when I was five. I don’t know what Vera’s situation is, but I do know that before I was five, I was blissfully unaware of myself.

Jen claims her stake as a fighter. I guess I would claim mine as a survivor. I’m not a fighter, that’s for sure. My therapist said this to me one day, and it rocked my world: “you suffer. it’s what you do. you were born and bred to suffer, and you were commanded to do it with grace and without complaint, so that’s what you do- that’s who you are. you suffer.” Talk about jaw-meet-floor. That’s my role, it’s what I’m comfortable with, and if you leave a decision up to me, I will choose to suffer. When I am not suffering, I am riddled with anxiety (as opposed to managing it), as I’m existing contrary to my role. Yet I am a fully grown adult, and no one expects me to suffer. Which explains why they get so puzzled when I choose to suffer and then resent them for it.

There is no easy answer. In between my stints in therapy, I read some of Dr. Laura’s books. Particularly the one about overcoming a difficult childhood. I’ve mentioned this before- she insists that there is no closure, that it doesn’t exist, and that your best bet to heal is to get over yourself already and let.it.go. But how do you do that? If I just let go of my past before I’ve stopped subconsciously using it to respond in my present life, I’m giving up a huge key to irrational behavior. Then again, how does knowing where it comes from take the power out of it? I haven’t found that it does.

I spent the better part of a week trying to let go of the meeting debacle- to really realize and accept in my heart that it was a silly corporate pissing match that had so little to do with me that that part was insulting (see, internet, how good I am at suffering?!), and let go of the pain and fear it stirred in me, but I could not. I had a death grip on it. So while a major part of me was disgusted with myself, the other part was in a bad, bad way, and I cannot see how to soothe both parts. Giving myself permission to suffer is not moving forward. Trying to stifle what was a very intense reaction was addressing the symptoms but not the cause. This being a professional situation, I could not afford bitter righteousness (another of my many mediums). Being a younger woman in a total boy’s club, I could not afford withdrawn pouting (am woman of many talents). I was all out of tools, and the whole situation was making me crazy.

I think my view of my past is pretty accurate- there were good times and good things and good, well meaning people, and there was pain, abuse, hardship, fear, abandonment and rejection. Some of those negatives were created merely by circumstance, and some of them were lessons learned for others at my expense. So now what?

Really? Now what? Because I’m beginning to realize that figuring out who I am is not nearly as important as figuring out who I want to be, and how to get there. I can’t move forward if I’m always looking over my shoulder, but sometimes I have to in order to make sense of where I’m going.

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3 Responses

  1. Wow!

    This is really, really great. Like you, I found this idea to be pretty earth-shattering. I thought that being a fighter was something to be proud of, something to hold on to. It was a huge wake-up call to think about it in a different way.

    This is exactly the kind of introspection and reflection that will take us to the next level. I truly believe that we’re on the right track.

    You seriously rock!

  2. You’re on the right track. I can so relate to what you say here, I have been there and on bad days I can go back there. I wish I could tell you how I magically one day just woke up with thicker skin but the process took years of hurt feeling over real or imagined slights. Fighting back tears at the office because it’s so unprofessional to cry during your performance review don’t ya know.

    I’m turning 38 this week and there are days I still feel like a lost child.

    Good luck! Self awareness is only one of the many steps, conscious choices to change – fake it until you feel it, etc. are part of the process. Some days you will fake it and other days you will really feel like the grown up capable woman that you are.

  3. I think the last paragraph says it best “Because I’m beginning to realize that figuring out who I am is not nearly as important as figuring out who I want to be, and how to get there. I can’t move forward if I’m always looking over my shoulder, but sometimes I have to in order to make sense of where I’m going.”

    Who we were is not nearly as important as who we want to be…isn’t that what we all secretly want, to be more, to be better, to be anything other than the bad that we think we were?

    Great post!
    ~K

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