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Accepting the Past

Accepting the past and co-existing with our memories are different things. Co-existing with our memories is just learning to get okay with the memory so that when our memories upset us we don’t end up down a rabbit hole of emotion we have trouble getting out of.

Accepting the past takes that process one step further. Now we have to get okay with the whole thing, not just the memories but also the people involved and the experiences we’ve had. We have to learn to co-exist with our own previous life experience.

Sometimes when we talk about accepting the past it turns into inner child work, but the truth is that the past is not limited to everything that happened before you were 13. Accepting the past includes your teenage years, your young adult years, maybe your thirties, forties, and fifties as well. Accepting the past includes accepting what happened yesterday and 5 minutes ago. Accepting the past includes everything right up until the very present moment of our experience. That means it’s not just inner child work, it’s inner adult work and inner teenager work too.

So, how do we get okay with those things back there in the recesses of our minds?

First, let’s point out the obvious. Accepting what happened back there is not about condoning what happened. We’re not giving permission for the experience to happen again. We’re not making it okay in that sense. It’s not even about forgiveness.

What accepting the past means to me is very simply ending the argument with our past by dropping our idea of how it should have been instead. The minute we decide something shouldn’t have happened, we have a problem because it creates an argument we can’t win.

We can’t change the past. When we decide that it should have been different than it was, to get out of the argument we have to change the past. Well, that’s impossible. Now what? The past isn’t going to change, so that means we have to change our argument because that’s the thing we can do something about.

There’s a meme that often floats around on social media that says something to the effect of, “Our biggest problem in life is our idea of how it should be.”

When we look back at our childhoods specifically, we have a Brady Bunch idealistic vision of how it should be. We want our parents to be Ward and June Cleaver. We want healthy relationships with our parents or caregivers. We want the perfect childhood and most of us just simply don’t have that. We all have varying degrees of dysfunction and chaos.

It’s time to just make that okay.

The dysfunction and chaos exist because our parents and caregivers were carrying pain around. They hadn’t healed their own wounds and they kindly shared that with us. The more abusive or awful your childhood was, the more pain your parents carried around. They probably spent much of their time doing everything they could to avoid feeling that pain. For some of you, that meant they took the pain out on you in various ways.

These are what I call the extremes of the human experience. Abuse and addiction are outside of what is considered “typical”, even though many children experience one or more of these things daily. While I generally don’t directly talk about or deal with the extremes of the human experience because they aren’t my experience, it doesn’t mean that what I’m offering doesn’t apply. What I often say is that it’s not that it can’t be done in more extreme circumstances, it’s just harder. The difficulty level increases, however the concepts and processes are the same.

No matter what your childhood and teenage years looked like, you can accept the past and the memories that came with it. The biggest hurdle that we have to get over to do this, is the idea of how it was supposed to be instead.

“Children don’t deserve that. I didn’t deserve that.”

Experience is not about what is deserved. It is about what happens. Human experience is not a punishment. No matter how tragic or awful our childhood experience may be, we are not being punished for anything. We are simply having experiences that we don’t like. The problem gets created when we use our judgment of those experiences to decide that they shouldn’t exist and then make ourselves a victim of our own judgment by arguing about what should have been instead.

Past experience exists only in your imagination. It doesn’t exist out there in the world because it’s not happening right now. The only experience that is not in your imagination is whatever you’re doing in this exact second. The last word you read is in your imagination right now unless you go back and read it again, and then once you’ve re-read the word, it goes right back into your imagination. Every single second that passes ends up in your imagination immediately. You can’t ever re-live those seconds. To accept the past means accepting every second as it was.

To be honest, we do this most of the time. We can accept the last 5 seconds of our lives because we were reading this or sitting on the couch or we were at work. We have no problem accepting most of our mundane experience and therefore we have no need to hold onto it, so we simply forget it. If we’re really honest about it, we’ll admit to actually forgetting the vast majority of our experience because it was that boring and mundane. It wasn’t worth remembering which made it very simple to accept. The experiences we struggle to accept are the ones we can’t forget and more specifically the ones we judge as painful.

Is the problem in the experience? No. The problem is in our judgment of it and our feelings around it because those are the things that ultimately determine what we do with the experience within ourselves. To forget the experience it has to be quite limited in nature. It has to be quite finite in some ways.

Do you have vague past posts on social media that make no sense now and you have no idea why you were upset at the time? You accepted the experience and then forgot it happened. Why were you able to let that experience go? It was obviously emotionally charged. So, what’s the difference between that and the things you’ve held onto?

My theory is that it’s about scope. It’s about whether we think the experience will or should have long lasting effects on us. When we judge an experience as something that has a big impact on us, we hold onto it. When we judge an experience as something very narrow in focus that isn’t going to matter down the road, we can forget about it.

Is our ability to accept past experience determined largely by our perception of the impact that the experience had on us? Yes, it seems quite likely that this is the case. If that is the case, then what’s the process for managing that with experiences that have already happened and are still impacting us currently?

Awareness is our solution to the problem. Become aware of how the experience impacted you in ways you perceive to be negative – heal those. Figure out how your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors were affected by that experience and heal all of that. Once we’ve healed the vast majority of the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors we’ve held onto in relation to a given experience, we can let go of and accept the experience more easily.

Are we going to forget it? Probably not. That experience is all but ingrained our minds. But what we can do is get to acceptance so that we can end the fight with our memories and our experience in our minds.

Accepting the past has a lot to do with our judgment of it and our perception of what releasing our judgment of it does for us or to us.

We want to hold onto our judgment of an experience because our judgment is what we think protects us. We use our judgment as a boundary to protect ourselves with. While it’s okay to make choices about our experience, using judgment as a means of protection causes pain. The minute we judge something as bad or wrong, we try to get rid of it or repel it from us.

What does that look like? The Universe is offering you an experience, but you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out. You think it might be painful. Your judgment of it as painful makes you want to avoid the experience. That is judgment as protection. If you simply made the choice to go on the path of the experience and left the judgment behind, you would see there was something to be gained from the experience – there was a reason for the experience.

All experience – whether past, present, or future – has a purpose. Nothing happens for no reason. Even when we can’t see a reason for something, there is purpose in the experience. There is purpose in those memories you have that you argue with and refuse accept. Ironically, the more we refuse to accept those memories the more painful they become.

Acceptance is step one in a lifetime of healing. We have to get okay with those memories, then we have to get okay with the experiences themselves. After that we can begin to figure out how those things affected us. All of that leads us to a place where we can be fully okay within ourselves.

Acceptance offers internal peace with the past, the present, and the unknown future. That internal peace is what most people are after, whether they realize it or not.

Love to all.



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