Making Peace with Your Past

Earlier this year, I wrote a post called Painful Anniversaries where I related how several past events still cause trauma and flashbacks. They are a mild form of PTSD and until we give ourselves time to heal, we will just be stumbling from pain to pain. Recently, I watched an archived short interview with Major Richard “Dick” Winters, he of the Band of Brothers fame, where the interviewer asked him how he dealt with his World War 2 experiences. Major Winters in his gracious honesty said you don’t really get over them. Even the sound of a boy dragging a stick on a chain link fence, as Major Winters related, can trigger a memory of machine gun fire.

Last year, I wrote a series of posts on shame and how it colors our memories. I was surprised how well they were received. Just look at the comments and see how many strangers confess past hurts to me. Thus, it should not be a surprise to anyone how many people are hurting. Furthermore, I have thought about people who are overcome with remorse and regret over things they have inflicted on others years, even decades ago. They too feel a different type of shame, but it is still shame nonetheless.

Recently, I read another book called 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin. In Chapter 7 titled They Don’t Dwell on the Past, Morin offers a few pointers on what is NOT helpful.

  • Trying to pretend the past didn’t happen
  • Trying to prevent yourself from moving forward in life
  • Focusing on what you have lost in life without being able to live in the present
  • Replaying painful events in your mind repeatedly and focusing on how you felt during them
  • Trying to undo the past or make up for your past mistakes

The last one can be tricky. On the one hand, there is some truth in the Roman Catholic doctrine of penance – the idea of punishment (even self-punishment) and denial and even making amends. Penance requires that you confess your sins to the priest and the priest gives you absolution on God’s behalf. On the other hand, this begs the question: how long will you punish yourself?

Or worse, how long will you punish the person who wronged you?

I do know this: Morin is right about those who prevent themselves from moving forward. In fact, I think we have to spend just as much determination and energy to move forward. You can’t truly forget the past, but don’t forget to live in the present and plan for the future.

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