How to Make Peace With the Past

You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it. You can either face it or bury it in your subconscious where it will slowly eat away at you over time. Everyone has painful memories of their past. Some more scarring than others, but every person has done or experienced something in their past that if they were able to make peace with, would drastically improve the quality of their life and relationships. What most people don’t realize, is that an event or decision doesn’t necessarily need to be traumatic in order for it to make a lasting impression on their mental health. Something as small as a singular white lie can cause subtle ripple effects which will alter a person’s thinking over time. With this in mind, it is important to understand that your mind is the only thing that you cannot run or hide from. Most people try to bury their personal history in their mind by metaphorically sealing it in a casket and hiding it 6 feet under, following the “out of sight out of mind” philosophy. Unfortunately, the mind does not work like that. The subconscious works to ensure it doesn’t. The subconscious is an automatic “back up drive” system of thinking which holds on to critical information and beliefs because it is too much work for the deliberate mind to be processing everything it knows all at once. This system is the process which will dig up your darkest secrets and place them back into in your working memory at a later time when it is not distracted. With that said, the only way to clear up the past is to endure the pain, face it and make peace with it. There are two basic categories of harmful memories that I will discuss how to make amends with. 

Extrinsically caused bad memories

The meaning of extrinsic is an influence that came from an external source. So an extrinsically caused bad memory is when someone or something was the reason for a painful experience in your life. Examples might be physical or mental abuse from a spouse/relative or witnessing a tragedy. This form of psychological scar can feel insurmountable because the default mode of belief is that it is absolutely out of your control to not be effected by the event since it was not caused by you. However, there is a method to “heal” these scars. The catch is that it will be extremely painful to begin with, but it will lead to healing. So how do you heal from an extrinsically caused psychological scar?

Although it was not your fault, you must take responsibility for what happened. As hard as it is, this is the only road to healing. If you continue to force the blame and responsibility outward on the event/person, you are giving that entity control over you. When you forfeit control of something, you become its slave. Taking responsibility means bearing your burden and owning up to what you can fix. If a person caused harm to you, forgive them. No matter how hard it is, this must be done if you want the healing process to begin. That’s not to say they are innocent, it simply puts you in control of the memory. If you witnessed a tragedy, take a fatal car accident for example. Instead of replaying the scene in your head torturing yourself, take responsibility for how you can raise awareness of the dangers of texting and driving. Take it upon yourself to help other people choose to drive safely. By taking positive action in the opposite direction of the harmful memory which haunts you, you are subconsciously telling yourself that you are in control of the situation and are making a difference in the world. Pretty soon, your positive actions and thoughts will replace the negative ones and the healing process will be in full effect. Take responsibility and get to work on what you can fix about the event.    

Intrinsically caused bad memories

An intrinsically caused bad memory is just the opposite of an extrinsic one. It is a harmful situation or decision which you yourself made or were the sole cause of. This could mean someone you caused physical or mental harm to, or a bad decision which had repercussions later. The way to make peace with these memories is to view each occurrence as a snapshot in time and to not judge yourself based on what you know now. Remember, hindsight is 20/20. What you did in your past was a result of a lack of knowledge that you have now. If you are able to look back on a memory and realize the mistakes, it means you have improved since then. Do not let any single memory define who you are, because it doesn’t. No matter how significant you think the event is, your past does not define you. Think of your life as a book, the beginning chapters were written into existence, but you are still writing the rest of the book and have the power to change the story in any way you see fit. So grasp your pen tight, and take control of the story. Accept fault for your past, but do not let it control you. Take the steps to correct what happened. Apologize to those who you hurt, make amends with everyone (even your enemies). Most importantly, forgive yourself. Do not berate yourself for anything you did in the past. Forgiveness is the key to peace. Do these things and you will be able to overcome even your darkest memories.

In conclusion…

No matter how big or small, everyone if entirely honest with themselves has done things in their past that they regret. The common mistake is to force the event out of mind in attempts to quash or hide it. Unfortunately this will only delay the effects and cause even more problems in the future. The solution is a painful up-front approach, but it will not lead to more suffering later (in a similar vein to procrastination). If you choose to face your past, no matter how scary and painful, you can overcome it. Whether it be intrinsically caused or extrinsically caused, the solution is always to take responsibility and to forgive. This is the only way to making peace and live your best life, free from tremors of the past.

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