Four Tips for When You are Caught up in the Past

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. This article is in regards to more typical struggles of getting stuck in the past and having it cause anxiety, pain, or hurt in your current life. This article is not about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Maybe it can help you with some things, but this is just a general article about being caught up in the past, nothing diagnosable.

I never really know how I feel about the past. Some people say let the past be just that, the past. It is over and done and just move the f**k forward. Others say the past made you who you are today so be grateful for it. I wish I could just erase it. You know that movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”? Yeah – I wish I was able to do that. I’m not sure I am a fan of what my past turned me into. Maybe I’m stronger than who I was – but I also have to be on my toes about my mental health constantly. I always have to catch myself when I see the past dictate who I am currently. Say things to me like “Sylvia it’s okay to speak up- no one will tell you to shut up anymore” or “Sylvia you are allowed to feel – that does not make you crazy.” Having to remind me of those things that should just be god given is frustrating. Yeah – it’s my past which created this. Okay- maybe I had a predisposition to anxiety and depression that this time in my life triggered- but that doesn’t mean I have to be okay with it either. It gets complicated when I realize that I like where I am in my life now. Would I have made it here without all the bullshit in the past? Would I be happy? Is it even worth thinking about?

For the most part, I wish my past would go away. I wish I could go back and change pieces of it. I would make myself smarter and stronger, but I can’t do any of that. Yeah – I can talk to my younger self in therapy and address it that way to move along, but it is what it is. Same with others. Everyone has a past. Everyone has pieces of their life that they wished never happened or they wished they could do differently. It’s normal. It makes sense. I just wish it was a little easier for me to accept.

Then I find someone, and somehow things work out. I am glad I made it to that point in my life because I would not have met this person otherwise. But guess what— they come with a past too. They come with all the memories, moments, and people they had before they met me. And I like this person. I care about this person with who they are today. And who gives me the right anyway to give a shit about their past? It’s not my place. I know that. Oh my gosh – but a piece of me really cares. The curse of comparison. Are they happier now or then? What don’t I know? Do they wish they were there now or with that person now and not here? It’s awful, unhealthy, and not okay. For the most part, I can hold back that piece. The rational part of me knows that the past is the past, I can’t change it, and I should care about the present and the time they spent with me.

Here are some tips that help me stay in the present and not worry about the past (the future is a different story):

1.  Don’t go internet and social media stalking.
This tip includes you and people in your life. If a piece of your past or a loved one’s past causes you grief or anxiety – don’t look it up. You already know it happened. You don’t need to try to cause yourself more pain because that’s all it’s going to do. You’re just going to cause more hurt and keep yourself living in the past. Look at your good memories. Look at pictures from your recent life. See what is happening in your life currently and move from there. Looking at pieces of a person’s life that you know will hurt you or trigger a bad mental health spiral – isn’t worth it. Trust me. I’ve been there. It’s the worst. Just don’t do it. If notice yourself doing, just exit the page and bring yourself back to the present.

2. Don’t get angry at yourself or loved ones for what happened in your or their past.
As I mentioned many times, the past is the past. It shapes you. It helps you become the person you are today. Try to care about where you presently. Focus on that. Don’t focus on things you can’t change. Same with loved ones. It’s easy to get caught up with their past life before you. All the places they have been, the people they have met, and experiences they had. Just do your best to see them for the person they are today, with you. Do you like who they are now? Do you like your relationship so far? Have you liked what they have done since they met you? Can you see a future? That’s all that matters. They can’t change the past, no more than you can. Be happy the past made them into the person they are today that you are with. (Granted, I’m sure some things they could have done in the past that would be a deal-breaker for you presently, that is a different story)

3. Learn from the past, but keep yourself in the present.
When my anxiety brain gets going, I’m gone. It feels like I’m living in the past and reliving the pain. When I see this happening, I try to stop myself and bring myself to the present. Find an exercise that works for you. There are a ton of resources for this online. Personally, I do breathing exercises, puzzles, running, or even holding ice. It just brings me back. You can remember the past, and the lessons they taught you, but you shouldn’t live in it.

4. Find a someone to pull you out when you get stuck.
Having someone you know you can turn to when you find yourself spiraling into the past, is important. Find someone who understands you and your past. When you find yourself falling, reach out and help them bring you back. Have more than one person. Knowing that you have people in your current life

Honestly, these are just four ideas. Maybe you have something better that works for you (tell me in the comments!). Maybe, hearing me say “be grateful for your past” may sound twisted to you. Maybe hearing “be at peace with it” or simply “not living in it” is better. Find a mantra that works for you. Connect with it and remember it. Easier said than done, trust me, I know. Just do your best and be self-aware. It’s a process. Moving forward.

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