“Get bored with your past, it’s over!” —Caroline Myss
“When the past calls, let it go to voicemail. It has nothing new to say.” —Unknown
These two quotes have been making the rounds on social media recently. They’re clever, and they sound like good advice. They even work pretty well for some people to a certain point. But, these sayings ignore the fact that your past is actually the automatic, generating force behind every moment in your life. You can no more ignore your past than you can wake up in a completely different body.
Specifically, the part of your past that is generating your present moments is the feeling you absorbed about being human from conception until the age of 2 1/2. During this time, you couldn’t think yet. Your brain was merely a sponge, soaking up how people around you felt about being human. You took this on as how it feels to be you as a human. Your brain turned all this absorbed feeling into your unique sense of self. After the age of 2 1/2, your sense of self became the automatic, generating engine for the moments of your life. In other words, your brain keeps generating moments in which you feel the same way you did in your most intense moments, positive or negative, before the age of 2 1/2.
Usually, when people talk about ignoring the past, they mean the negative stuff, which I call Learned Distress. Since you couldn’t think yet, when someone around your young self was having a bad day, you couldn’t process it and throw it out, nor did you even understand it was “negative.” Just like a sponge has no choice in what it absorbs, your little sponge-brain just absorbed that feeling as, “This is how it feels to be me.” Later in life, as your brain generates moments that feel the same way those early negative moments felt, you have the rational capacity to judge them and decide that you don’t feel good in these moments.
Along with the negative feeling you absorbed early in life, your brain developed a survival mechanism that allowed you to fit well with those around you. When your brain generates negative moments for you, this survival mechanism kicks in and allows you to cope with or control things in the same way that worked well for you in relation to your family and other early caregivers.
Those people for whom the quotes at the top work well developed a survival mechanism that usually allows them to keep negative feelings buried and somehow overcome that to make good things happen, or at least keep things under control and going in the right direction for themselves. There are also people who tend to feel the negative stuff, but still have a survival mechanism that allows them to keep overcoming the negative. These folks usually live in a lot of crisis, but they find ways to overcome it. Then, there are people who are completely overwhelmed by their Learned Distress in various ways. Their survival mechanisms allow them to keep going, but their past is usually hard to bury, ignore, or deny, and they often feel defeated in some way by their negative moments.
People come to me when, no matter their survival mechanism, their Learned Distress has become to intense to continue living with in the same way they always have. Learned Distress actually is recharged at night when we sleep, and it keeps growing in intensity over time as this recharging process takes place. So, the moments generated from Learned Distress keep getting more intense and difficult to handle over time. When people reach their breaking point, whether it is in their health, relationships, career, or self-expression, they also reach the point I love where their brain will really allow them to start unlearning layers of Learned Distress permanently. Since their control mechanisms have been what has allowed them to survive, the brain holds on tightly, but will finally start to let go when the pain and frustration of Learned Distress reaches this boiling point.
What’s great is that unlearning Learned Distress gradually reveals more and more of someone’s natural well-being. This well-being, which people sometimes call “higher self” or the part of us connected with God or Source, is the very center of our being. Well-being not only allows us to feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally, but it is the source of our creativity and uniqueness. And, it is what allows us to discover and fulfill our unique purpose on the planet. Learned Distress has overwhelmed our natural well-being, but as layers of it peel away, our natural well-being expands to take its rightful place as the automatic, generating force in our lives. Just as we’ve never had to work for bad days to happen, the good moments and situations begin to happen effortlessly.
One of my clients has experienced a lot of this effortless good in his preparation to move his family to Hawaii from the mainland US. In the past, much smaller moves have been difficult and traumatic for the family. But, as he has unlearned the Learned Distress that generated those painful situations, he has found that this move has gone more smoothly than he even could have wished for or expected. Every step of the way, from finding land and resources to build the house and farm they dream of, to selling their current house, to arranging to ship their belongings, they have found things to work out better than they even hoped could happen.
In what way does your past keep speaking up in your life? Even if it’s an event that happened long after childhood, it has its roots in how you felt very early in your life. Do you feel like you can still keep hanging up on that voice, or is it getting so loud that you can’t ignore it any longer? The good news is that your natural well-being and uniqueness is lurking just under all of that negative feeling, just waiting for you to discover it. Here’s to your well-being emerging!
Sara Avery helps people get unstuck in their relationships, health, career, and self-expression. Learn how she can help you tackle your biggest challenges.