Who likes to live in the past and not enjoy what the present or future brings? Is there any masochistic pleasure in remaining captive to past experiences, or are we talking about an inability to put aside what has already happened and to look openly and optimistically at what is to come? How can you look at the present, enjoy it, when there are so many aspects of your past that you have not yet understood, accepted or assimilated and integrated?
The frequent advice to leave the past behind, to detach ourselves from what it was, is just an apology for dissociation. Sometimes we need to dissociate ourselves from what was, to take emotional distance, just to be able to survive. But if we want to evolve, to develop, we can’t just close everything in a box and ignore it.
Do you believe that there is a future without integrating and accepting all these parts of yourself, which often refer to our past, to painful experiences with significant people in our lives? All these experiences have created a familiarity for us and more than that, they have created attachments, truly symbiotic connections that we can hardly overcome. In the absence of emotional autonomy, we can leave the past behind only seemingly – because it exists internalized in our psyche through these connections.
It seems strange to many of us that the strongest, most symbiotic ties are those that hold us captive and do not allow us to discover our own identity. We have developed a loyalty to these people that is often accompanied by a sense of guilt if we want to look to the future and leave everything behind. Maybe some significant people no longer physically exist in our lives, they are no longer in a relationship with us. What remains active is their image, the way they are represented in our psyche and the representation of the relationship with them. And we need to work on these representations and images – basically, on the psychic contents, so that we can restructure them and give them a different meaning. Until we have gone through this process, we will continue to be captives of our own minds.
Beyond the images and representations of these people, often the beliefs they share have been taken over and assimilated, and this currently influences us in the decisions and choices we make. How many of our beliefs and values are 100% ours, passed through the filter of our own needs, desires and motivations? Most of them are assimilated and introjected from the family, the school and the environment. Certainly there is a foundation that does not make sense to erase or cancel. But it is important to be aware of it, to know if it really represents us and if we want to perpetuate it or vice versa, we are at the point where we have analyzed it critically and we have taken from there only what is really useful to us and which supports our identity. This process of identity building is what helps us look to the future: we can only know what we want if we know who we really are.
We can make plans for the future and focus on them only if we have made peace with the past – a longer and more difficult journey that we take at our own pace. That’s why I don’t resonate with the advice that presses us to get over it, to leave it behind – because it’s just a temporary relief. The past comes back, it comes to the surface and it doesn’t give us peace until we understand what happened and until we have really learned the lesson we needed to learn and integrate. Sometimes it comes back and forth, with more and more painful lessons that push us to the limit and help us make changes and evolve.