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Forget the Past? Bad Idea!

Person on swingset, trying to forget the pastAs a therapist, I sit with many people who’d like to forget the past, along with its most piercing injuries and disappointments, but they can’t. The past won’t let go of them.

Others have already forgotten huge chunks of their personal history, but they still feel stuck in it somehow, as if the past were so much invisible waist-high goo, keeping them from striding forward with confidence.

The Past Under Attack

There’s an almost angry insistence in our culture that the past is dead; it’s supposedly over and done with, and we should just get over it, no matter what horrible injustices we suffered, or what random awfulness took place.

We’re encouraged to believe there’s something wrong with us for “wallowing” in the past instead of “putting it behind us” (Quick question: How exactly is that done?) and focusing on the present and/or the future.

I don’t understand this attitude. I agree with William Faulkner, who said in Requiem for a Nun, “The past is never past. It’s not even dead.” It seems Mr. F and I agree that the exercise of “forgetting” or ignoring the past is futile.

I also heartily agree with William Shakespeare’s assessment that “what’s past is prologue.” Who we are, and how we see the world, is largely a product of what’s happened so far in our lives. Our past has set the stage for our present.

We can no more escape the past than we can escape our own DNA. But why would we want to, when we’d lose so much that way?

You can read my recent post on this subject here: Why Your Past Matters | Psychology Today

What about you? Do you believe it’s better to focus your attention on the future instead of the past? Or do you find it valuable to reflect on your life story?

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

4 Responses to "Forget the Past? Bad Idea!"

  • mom2max0812
    May 15, 2016 - 7:22 pm Reply

    Oh my, you have said it perfectly! Thank you.

  • Snowburst
    July 13, 2016 - 12:55 pm Reply

    I heartily agree. It has come to a place for me, though, where my limited coverage from SSI will not provide any kind of specialized trauma treatment that I need. I have met now with numerous county MH providers enough to be able to see a broad overall perspective of that level of therapy. Which I have found to be limited for my needs. However, it is blatantly obvious to me that I am also at a standstill as far as “having a life” goes.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      July 13, 2016 - 6:58 pm Reply

      I hear you, Snowburst. It can be difficult to find good counseling that’s affordable, and without that support, trauma can be stubborn.

      Depending on where you live, there may be low-cost options provided by non-governmental organizations like universities, community centers and various non-profits. There may also be independent therapists in your area who offer deep discounts related to your income.

      If you’re in the U.S., you might be able to access local resources simply by dialing 2-1-1, the social services information line.

      You’re by no means alone in this predicament. I know that doesn’t make it any easier. Try to hang in there and never stop striving for the healing you deserve.

      Thanks very much for stopping by and sharing your experience.

      • Snowburst
        July 14, 2016 - 1:39 pm Reply

        Thank you, Tina, I’ll check around!

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