Living in the Past Can Make You Crazy

Every day is like the film Ground Hog Day for Jill Price, a woman with an astonishing memory for the details of her life since she was a child. Diane Sawyer interviewed her last night on the ABC program 20/20. Price is able to remember everything that ever happened down to the dates and she’s written a book, The Woman Who Can’t Forget. She compares the phenomenon to having a “split screen” in her head. Her memory captures her daily life as if on video tape, while at the same time memories of her past are playing in complete detail on the other screen. Price says this continual reliving of past events and emotions makes it hard for her to move on with her life.

This got me thinking about a recent unpleasant incident that brought back a flood of memories from childhood I’d tried very hard to forget. I think there’s a point in your life when you mature when you have to let go of old resentments and unhappiness. This incident though opened the vault where I’d stored my ‘video tapes’ and they all came back in full alive again. I recognized that the ‘freshness’ of the pain I felt at reliving these memories meant that I hadn’t dealt with these emotions, merely suppressed them for several decades.

After this I spent several weeks meditating on forgiving and forgetting. What I focused on was that each of us has their issues that we take with us into adulthood that at times cause us to react just as we did when we were children. During times when we feel threatened we don’t think; we just strike back reflexively. What I needed to learn was to detach from the ‘strike’ and not take it personally. So often the reason we carry our past wounds with us is because we’ve taken it as a personal attack. Separating who we truly are at our core - where all is always well - from the outward personality that believes it has suffered an affront and wears it like a badge of honor is the answer. After working on this issue I do feel that I’ve made strides toward putting the past behind me – again.

As a friend of mine said, “I forgave some people from my past that I’d blamed for certain things and I feel lighter, as if something lifted from me.” And, it’s true. When we forgive we do feel lighter – and free. Free of the ‘kicked in the stomach feeling’ those memories had us reliving because of our attachment to blaming and resentment of others. When you stop and think about it blaming someone for something long after the event occurred is absurd. After all you’re the one that’s suffering right now in the present, and it’s likely that the other person hasn’t thought about you in years.

Moving on and forgiveness is also something we ought to apply to ourselves more often. Some past decisions still float up to haunt me once in a while such as not finishing graduate work in media studies after all the effort it took to quit my job to go back to school, and then going back into banking again. The emotions I still feel over this decision make it evident that I haven’t forgiven myself. The only answer is to either take action and correct the situation, or get over it and accept what is which is another work in progress I’m tackling.

But, this brings me to the realization I had after watching the segment on 20/20 of why the saying, ‘forgive and forget’ exists in the first place. If you’ve truly forgiven – you have to forget otherwise you’ll live with a split screen in your head just like Jill Price. Instead we can choose to learn from our past and grow more conscious so that we do things differently in the present like Murray’s character did in Ground Hog Day.

2 Responses to “Living in the Past Can Make You Crazy”

  1. Vicki Pearson Says:

    That is a really strange phenomenon that Jill Price has to live with–I don’t envy her! I know in my own life I used to go over the past a lot and that eventually I gave that up and am a happier person for it. I really had to go into myself and consciously release and forgive the situations and people who I was refusing to let go of, so I agree with what you are saying. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you condone the actions of someone who has hurt you, it simply means that you make a conscious choice to let it go, to release it. Sometimes we bring it back again and then we have to again release it. If there is something we feel we can let go of or forgive, we can ask our Higher Self to do it for us. All we need is the desire and to give our permission in letting it go.

  2. Vicki Sola' Says:

    Although I understood the concept intellectually, it took me a long time to internalize the fact that concept of forgiveness doesn’t mean that we should exonerate or excuse the actions or words of someone who hurt us, or that we should minimize our resulting pain. Rather, realizing that the deficit or problem is actually within and coming from that other person, makes it easier to let go, and thereby function more effectively in the present.

    If we’re beating ourselves up over actions taken or not taken, we must also be kinder to ourselves, knowing that we made the best decisions and did the best we could at that particular moment in time, given our circumstances and mind set — given who we actually were at that time.

    It took me a while to internalize and understand logically the fact that the act of hating — or just bearing negative feelings for another — hurts me more than the object of my feelings. It causes my own poisonous feelings to well up and flow throughout my own being — hurting only me, emotionally and physically, and trapping me in the past.

    Forgiveness allows us to stop producing that caustic poison that circulates within ourselves, eating away at our very spirits. It ends a vicious cycle that short-circuits our souls.

    I’ve forgiven someone who dealt me a very major blow, nearly two decades ago, and I now actually interact with that person in a cordial manner (not at all feeling martyred) — and I feel good about it. I feel freed. I’ve finally internalized the fact that that person (and others in my life, including myself!) did best they could at that given moment, given who they were then, within the parameters of their own experiences and capacity for understanding, bearing in mind the hurts they’ve suffered, etc. (And I do not mean this in a condescending way.)

    So, I cannot expect more from anyone than they are able to give, and ultimately, I can’t blame them for who they are — or me, for who I am.

    I’m still learning not take anyone else’s feelings or actions personally (and yes, it’s still easier said than done!)

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