I haven’t met anyone who enjoyed looking back at the bad things that happened to them. Most want to leave the past buried and pretend it doesn’t exist.
Is it best to leave the past buried? Does it affect your life now? Why not ignore it?
The truth is the past isn’t the past until it has been dealt with properly, because our past effects today in a negative manner. Therefore, it is still the present. – Jimmy Evans (See article here.)
How does your past affect your present?
Everything that has ever happened to you is recorded in your long-term memory. Even if you can’t remember it, it’s stored. The way your parents treated you. The way they treated each other. The way your siblings treated you and each other. Your teachers, friends, boyfriend/girlfriend, the lady at the grocery store. It’s all stored.
There are two types of long-term memory – explicit and implicit.
Explicit memory requires conscious thought. If I asked you what you ate for lunch last Sunday you would have to use explicit memory to remember.
Implicit memory is acquired and used subconsciously and affects thoughts and behaviours, and how you relate to others today.
In his book, I Don’t Want A Divorce, Dr David Clarke points out that
…every person has some unresolved issues connected to past relationships. These issues always – that’s right, always – transfer to a marriage partner… pg 103
You transfer past issues to current relationships. On top of that, your parent’s marriage has a great influence on the kind of marriage you will develop.
Your relationship with each parent teaches you how to act in your marriage. Your relationship with your same-sex parent will determine your behaviour as a spouse. Your relationship with our opposite-sex parent will determine how you interact with your spouse. Plus, any emotional pain you experienced with a parent remains inside and transfers to your spouse.
Most of the time marriage problems don’t start in marriage. They start before. There are usually childhood wounds that affect marriage, and if you ignore them they will continue to impact your life.
I know a 40-something year old woman who eats whenever she gets the chance. She dominates her meek husband and belittles him in public. She is bossy and behaves like a man.
Turns out she had an alcoholic father and never knew where her next meal was coming from. Uncertainty, powerlessness, and fear were her constant companions. Now she makes sure no man will ever control her life again or make her feel afraid.
Tom (not his real name) had a controlling mother who also indulged him. In her eyes he could do no wrong. She made excuses for him and defended him when he didn’t deserve to be defended.
Unable to make a success of his life his wife carried the burden of providing financially. He blamed his inability to succeed on everyone else. He criticized his wife publicly, and constantly belittled her, yet he expected her to be a dutiful, attentive wife. His marriage is over. His wife has had enough.
I get mad when I perceive that my husband is ignoring or neglecting me (notice that I said “perceive”. My perception is not always correct! 🙂 ). My history taught me that I am not worth noticing or caring for.
Am I not justified in being mad? Does the controlling, “never-stop-eating” woman have justification for her actions? Does the unsuccessful man have an excuse for why his life has not turned out well? Yes. We could all blame it on _______ (Insert whoever or whatever). But do those reactions help us? Do they improve our relationships? No.
We live with unnecessary unhappiness and conflict because of “justified” reactions.
Face the junk. Deal with the pain. Heal the wounds. Dig up the roots of the problems.
To experience deep, lasting change in your marriage, you need to address problems at their root. And grow from there.
– Kay Yerkovich (See article here.)
So how do you get out of this trap? How do you heal from the wounds of the past? How do you get to the root?
I always ask myself why. “Why am I mad? Why am I hurting?” There is always something below the surface that’s causing a reaction.
1. The first step is to become aware of the childhood experiences that affected you the most. These memories are rarely forgotten. If you try to recall the most important memories you are likely to only remember the ones that shaped what you believe about yourself the most.
I have a string of memories that made me feel like I didn’t matter. My mom brushed off my physical wounds and hurts and didn’t seem to take them seriously. My dad didn’t show an interest in me and my life. (Note: This is not about parent-bashing. It’s about facing realities so you can heal. My parents loved me dearly and still do. Most parents never intend to hurt their children!).
2. Next, find out if you made a mistake while interpreting any of these events. If your father neglected you and as a result you concluded that all men are that way, then you must recognise this interpretation as a mistake. It’s not true.
3. Surrender the hurt from these memories to God and ask Him to heal you as He promised in Jeremiah 30:17 “For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the LORD…”
Whether your wound is valid or not, it is still a wound and needs healing. As you heal the strong emotions attached to the bad memories will fade. You will be able to remember those experiences without feeling the pain. This may take some time. And that’s ok.
4. The final step to prevent the incorrect interpretation from affecting your present, is to replace that false belief with the right one. Romans 12:21 “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Replacing these beliefs may take time. Triggers to old reactions come from all sorts of places, sometimes unexpectedly.
As soon as you recognize that you are acting on an old lie, acknowledge it. “I am feeling hurt/neglected/ignored” (or whatever your lie is). Ask yourself why you are feeling this way.
Is your reaction justified? Is it realistic? Did your husband mean to neglect you? Did your wife mean to show disrespect?
Surrender those wrong thoughts and feelings to God and ask Him to remove them from you. Letting go may require a mature conversation (not a yelling match) with the person who has triggered the feeling. It helps them to understand your reaction.
Once you have surrendered those thoughts and feelings to God, replace the lie with truth.
Dealing with your past won’t be easy. But you have to choose your pain.
You can live with the pain of past hurts that will impact your relationships, or endure the pain that comes from facing your wounds and healing. The latter is temporary. The former is not.
Sometimes you have to go back to move forward.
And it’s not so bad after all.