It can be hard to let go of a painful past. Sometimes we move forward only to find that something pulls us back again.
Our past can have a powerful effect on our lives. It is a powerful force with which we must reconcile again and again. It is a fixation, an obstacle to moving forward in life.
In a conversation with Marie-Louise Von Franz, Jung spoke about the power of the past. He said, “If one does not constantly walk forward, the past sucks one back. The past is an enormous sucking wind that sucks one back all the time. If you don’t go forward you regress. You have constantly to carry the torch of the new light so to speak, historically and also in your own life. As soon as you begin to look backward, sadly, or even scornfully, it has you again. The past is a tremendous power.”
I know how difficult it can be to overcome the control our past can have over us. I spent decades trapped in a toxic cycle that emanated from my past. I know that letting go isn’t easy.
The first step towards change is by understanding and changing how you respond to your past. This includes removing any sense of blame or injustice or anything else that describes what happened. Stop blaming other people: parents, siblings, and teachers. You have to learn to take responsibility for your own life. You have to work with and transcend your painful past.
Transcending doesn’t mean leaving something behind or getting over it. It’s about understanding what happened and rising above your habitual response to it.
Transcendence is about getting a higher perspective on you as a human being who has suffered. You rise above and can look down on it. Looking down you can see your personal story as a whole life process.
This is not the same as the self-pitying “Why me?” syndrome that many people fall into. Some people do need help coping with their feelings of worthlessness and do need sympathy, but the problem is that too many people get stuck there.
Another problem is that many people cling to their past lives like a crutch, using it as an excuse for their current state of hopelessness in life, and blaming it for their lack of action. Clinging to the past in this way traps them in the ‘poor me’ mind-state with the belief that life has been unfair on them.
Let go of the past and take responsibility for your life.
“…no matter how much parents and grandparents have sinned against the child, the man who is really adult will accept these sins as his own condition which has to be reckoned with. Only a fool is interested in other people’s guilt. He will ask himself: “Who am I that all this should happen to me?” To find the answer to this fateful question he will look into his own heart.” C.G. Jung.
It’s much easier to blame someone else for your past and thus your current state than it is to take responsibility for how you respond to it.
Letting go of your past isn’t about forgetting it, or even forgiving it. Letting go is about letting go of ‘how it should have been’ or ‘how it could have been.’ It’s about accepting it and moving on.
If you can let go of blame and work to understand your past and how it influences you then you will have the foundation and the framework to survive anything life throws at you.
This kind of expanded vision frees us from the limited ego and its expectations, and it empowers us to transform ourselves through every experience. Facing life consciously, whatever our circumstances - that is real freedom. To be liberated from our suffering, we have to be willing to give up everything: our past, our present, and our future, to our individuation process.
If we cannot psychologically surrender everything, then we are trapped. Whatever we refuse to surrender will keep us bound to it.
We can’t change the past but we can change how we think about it.
I had a difficult childhood but once I realised that my parents also had difficult (similar) childhoods, I realised how history was repeating itself, generation after generation (I call it the narcissist/co-dependant dance). I began to understand the patterns and why no one could be blamed. I realised that I had to become responsible for my life and for breaking the pattern so that it didn’t trap my daughters and negatively impact on their lives and lead them into relationships with difficult people.
Our perception is the lens through which we see the world. Our perception is the only place in our lives where we have complete freedom. Freedom isn’t about having or being whatever we want. It is about trusting what we have and what we are – no matter what that is. Our real freedom is the freedom of our awareness to perceive “What is” in our lives any way we want.
This is what Jung meant when he said that we must ask ourselves, “Who am I that all this should happen to me?”
Your past does not define you. How you respond defines you. Too many people use their past to do nothing with their life. Life demands that we participate and take action but some people just say, “No I’m too injured.”
Don’t stay trapped in your past or one day you’ll wake up too old or broken to do anything about it.
Actively work with your past but not in a way that is destructive or obsessive. Try to see what you can learn from your past, what insight you gained from traumatic experiences, and how those experiences made you who you are today. Embrace the person you have become no matter who or what you have become. Your past can empower you, but only if you let it.
Listen to your deeper wisdom.