Can you say it? I am emotionally attached to the negativity in my past. That attachment interferes with my present-day life as an adult.
I remember entering therapy for the first time 30 years ago. I interviewed several therapists and agreed to work with them upon satisfaction of one condition – that we do NOT talk about my past.
Can you imagine?
One therapist asked, “What if your past is affecting your life today?”
“What if it isn’t?” I snapped back. “Then we just wasted time talking about something that doesn’t matter. Either you can help me feel better or not, so can you?”
He declined the opportunity.
I was 23 years old, so that’s understandable. In fact, developmentally speaking, it makes sense for 20-somethings to move away from the past, headstrong into the future.
As we grow older, more experienced and established into adult life, however, it becomes important for most people to stop denying the impact of the past and really let go.
You cannot let go of what you don’t realize you are hanging onto.
So, let’s look at the signs of a past that still haunts the present. Here are my top 10 signs that you are attached to negativity in your past:
1. You won’t talk about it.
If you are ok with the positive and negative in your past, you don’t mind discussing it, when and where appropriate.
Your romantic partner, therapist, good friends and relatives who care about you…these are all people with whom you could be sharing your past and the lessons learned.
2. You get those old, familiar feelings.
Vague feelings of pain and grief, resentment and fear still haunt people who are attached to the past. These unresolved feelings can appear anytime, in response to an outside situation or to your own thoughts.
For me it was a consistent, queasy feeling of dread in my gut, as if something were about to go wrong, continually. Regardless of how successful I was, I still felt uneasy most of the time.
You’re probably very familiar with these feelings, as they have been with you for a long, long time. They won’t go away until you emotionally square yourself with the past.
3. You can’t be yourself around your family of origin.
When you visit family, you hold back who you are by conforming to the old family expectations. This may involve remaining quiet or acting out or avoiding topics that you would normally love to talk about. The point is, you act differently or feel you cannot be who you are in everyday life.
It’s a sign that you are conforming to old expectations, usually out of fear of disapproval, criticism or ridicule.
4. You fear disapproval in general.
Sometimes the family’s disapproval generalizes. When it does, you project your fear of disapproval onto other people; friends, romantic partners and even strangers.
This general fear of disapproval has roots in the original family dynamic.
5. You react to your children like your parents did to you.
All too common, we treat our children in the negative ways we were treated. Amazingly, we can even recognize it when it happens, know it is wrong, and still do it. This is how influential the past can be.
6. You married your parent of the opposite sex.
Not literally. In most cases, people marry someone who acts like the parent of the opposite sex. If dad was emotionally unavailable, a young woman marries an emotionally unavailable man.
If mom was cool and distant, the young man marries a cool and distant young woman.
These are signs that you are still trying to resolve the old family situation through your present life. So often, we justify this choice by telling ourselves, “I can change him/her.”
7. You repress emotions.
Human beings are emotional creatures by nature. When those emotions are uncomfortable, we tend to block them from expression, thinking that we can avoid the pain.
This strategy backfires. When you repress emotions, you hang on to them. When you express them fully, it is easier to let them go. Denying, ignoring, and repressing negative emotions creates an attachment to those emotions.
8. You can’t control your impulses.
Impulses come from emotions. When you have repressed emotions lurking under the surface, you still react to them. It’s like carrying around a reservoir of fuel that is just waiting for a spark to set it off.
Out of control tempers, anxiety and other impulsive reactions stem from unresolved emotions. This leads to poor decisions, addictive behaviors, and regret.
9. You feel limited in some way but can’t explain why.
When the family of origin is emotionally overwhelming, sometimes we set hard rules for ourselves that create limitations.
I am never getting a divorce, no matter what.
I’ll never speak in front of a group.
I’ll never trust anyone.
I’ll always keep a low profile.
I must play it safe in life.
We intend these rules to protect us, but they can end up cutting off the healthiest choices as adults. Interestingly, these rules can determine our choices whether we are consciously aware of them or not.
10. You repeat the same mistakes over and over.
Repeating the same mistakes over and over is a sure sign of a negative attachment. Making the same poor decisions repeatedly is a major red flag that something negative in your history is still influencing you by drawing you toward it.
Do you need to relive the past in order to heal?
No. Although some people do benefit by emotionally experiencing past memories, the key to healing is in making new choices today.
You need to recognize the influence of the past and learn how it is still affecting you. Only then can you make conscious decisions that take you in a new and different direction.
Getting out of denial about the influence of the past is a huge hurdle. Only a small percentage of the population has really connected the dots and become someone that lives beyond old family expectations.
This doesn’t mean the process is complicated. It’s not. Most people’s ego simply gets in the way.
Don’t allow denial to keep you from recognizing the negative influence of the past, or you may never move beyond it.
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