As 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?