So, to continue September’s theme of Working On Your Own Shit, let’s talk about the past. What do we want? To find the right person. Or, if coupled, to succeed with that person. But if there’s anything that can fuck up that process, it’s the dark hauntings of the past.
Our pasts influence us. Difficult or traumatic events change us, for better and for worse. Those bad events can come from childhood, or they can come from previous relationships. They can range from enduring abuse as a child, to having been lied to or cheated on by a partner, or even just having been disappointed over and over again. Sometimes, those wounds don’t quite heal. And unhealed wounds can make finding or keeping relationships really difficult. Why is that?
Well, think about this. If you’re hiking in the forest and sprain your ankle, what happens? A lot of your energy and focus goes toward nursing that ankle and preventing further pain. No longer are you enjoying the hike or noticing the birds and trees. You need to get that ankle dealt with before you can resume hiking again. It’s like that in relationships too. If you have wounds, you’ll do what you can to protect them, and that makes it tough for the relationship to grow or thrive.
People have asked me how you let go of these past pains. Here are 3 ways that have worked for me and others I’ve known or worked with.
Committing to Forgiveness
Forgiving past hurts is a process, but it’s also a choice. You’ve probably heard the saying that forgiveness isn’t for THEM, it’s for YOU. Forgiving someone else’s shitty behavior doesn’t let them or what they did off the hook, it lets you off the hook and frees those resentful feelings. You’ve probably also head that saying:
Resentment is liking drinking poison and hoping the other person will die.
I’ve seen the forgiveness method used among people who’ve endured extreme abuse, such as holocaust survivors and survivors of torture in prison camps. Did you ever see the film Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie? It’s based on a true story about a soldier who was captured and tortured by a sadistic captor. It’s worth watching.
The reasoning behind the choosing-to-forgive method is that the actions of those that hurt you AREN’T ABOUT YOU. It feels like they are, and the real dicks of the world will try to make it about you, but it isn’t. If someone abused you, that’s on them and their weak-ass shit. If someone cheated on you, that’s on them and their immaturity. Sure, there are always things we could do better and ways we can prevent problems, but people’s bad behavior is still about them. And you can choose to let it go.
But choosing to forgive doesn’t work for everyone. I can tell you honestly it doesn’t work for me. I’m just not that evolved. Which leads me to…
Understanding Who Hurt You
When people hurt us, it’s easy to focus on the anger and it’s easy to focus on the wound. When we’re wounded, we become all about ourselves — our hurt, our pain, what so-and-so did to us, how unfair it was. It makes sense… it’s that sprained ankle crying out to us. But focusing on ourselves is a trap; what’s helpful is to understand the person who hurt us and what’s going on with them.
If it’s a parent who hurt you, ask them about their own parents and childhood, or try to get the info from other family members. Shit treatment doesn’t come from nowhere. Chances are, that person endured their own ration of shit too. Doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it at least explains it. It helps you see the wounders of the world are wounded themselves. Understanding them makes them seem less powerful and more… human.
For me, what’s helped me is to classify certain wounders of my past into psychopathological categories. I once dated this guy who had super unpredictable moods and he was really negative and kind of coldhearted. For a long time afterward, I hated that guy. But when I did the math, I realized he was depressed. And his behavior made sense given his sketchy family background and his upbringing. Once I understood him, I could forgive the things he did/said because I saw that he was just struggling along and doing his best; it wasn’t good enough for me, but it was never about me. Bad match, move on.
Get on the Couch
Yeah. If you really want to get beyond past hurts, see a therapist. Unlike you or your friends, a professional knows how to dial right in on those wounds and help you understand and move past them. That’s what therapists are trained to do.
Yeah, therapy costs money. Pay it. If you find a good one, the positive impact on your life will be worth it.
Yeah, therapy isn’t “cool.” Especially for you men, who resist therapy like it’s the worst thing ever. But in my experience, the most resistant men are the ones who need it most. I’m serious. Men struggling with divorce, men who’ve endured abuse, men who’ve been cheated on… they resist, to their own detriment.
So if you’re struggling with past pain and you’re one of these therapy resistors — and I know there are a lot of you out there — the only thing I have to say is, and I mean this in the most loving way possible:
GET OVER IT. Not the problem, but your phobia of therapy. Dive into that rabbit hole and face the shit.
Remember, despite my couch joke, therapy isn’t like in the movies or like the stereotypes. You don’t lie on a couch, you sit and talk. You don’t go for years and years, you go for a while (months at most). Therapists aren’t cold analysts or touchy-feely-sing-kumbaya types… those are stereotypes. If you find the right therapist, you will LIKE that person and you will feel GOOD with her/him and you will WANT to go because he/she understands you.
Get some. Every successful guy I know who got through a painful event (a bad childhood, a divorce, being cheated on) did the therapy thing and were glad they did.
That’s it. Go. Forgive, let go of the past, and embrace your new life.