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A Healthy View of the Past

A-Healthy-View-of-the-Past

Here are situations you might find all too uncomfortably familiar. My long divorced client Philip is frustrated that he can’t catapult himself back into the past and change it. Filled with regret about things he did and didn’t do in his marriage, he feels a need to atone for his perceived transgressions. A personable and attractive man, Philip could be dating other women. Instead, he cedes the present to the past, immersed in a shoulda, woulda, coulda reverie he’s likely to regret in the future.

Middle-aged Moa has convinced herself she ought to have been able to save her younger brother from going down a self-destructive path which led him to being in hospice care today. She and her three siblings all suffered in various ways in their highly dysfunctional family, but her rebellious brother got the worst of it. Now, she keeps thinking that, though he abused her when they were children, she should have been the bigger person and reached out to him more as an adult. 

Because you have distance from their situations, you might see how futile Philip and Moa’s self-flagellations are. Still, there may be events in your past that remain in the forefront of your mind and you’d give anything to change. Note that there are mentally healthy and unhealthy ways to deal with these circumstances. You could beat yourself up with guilt and shame about your perceived shortcomings and fantasize how you would have acted differently, though this would get you precisely nowhere.

Or you could sincerely wish that you had chosen more wisely and accept that events couldn’t have turned out any other way, you being who you were then and everyone else being who they were. If scenarios could have turned out differently, they would have, but the stage was being set for all of your actions long before you were born. Instead, the ball was set rolling way back in the beginning of your family, paid forward through genetics, circumstance and socialization through the generations.

From this perspective, Philip would be better off accepting that due to his marital missteps and the recognition they were unhealthy, he is a wiser man today. He could wish that he’d acted differently while recognizing his greater knowledge and apply his learning to his next relationship. Moa could value the compassion she feels for her brother that she couldn’t have felt as a suffering girl or young woman. She could be proud of her ability to view herself honestly and forgive others with an open heart. 

If you have unresolved regrets, it’s time to lay them to rest and enjoy the present.

 

 

 

 

Best,

Karen

 

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