We all move through life with baggage from our past. Childhood wounds, traumatic events, the gap between the internal image we hold of ourselves and the outer one we show to others. To become fully adult, to feel that we are truly our own person, to not be haunted by the past or be stuck inside it requires active steps to put those old demons to rest.
Generally, they arise from 3 interrelated sources.
This is your Achilles heel; everyone has one and this is what likely entangles your relationships. Emotional wounds are what you are most sensitive to. The top contenders are criticism, control, not being heard, not being appreciated, not getting enough attention and feeling abandoned. You can have one or a couple, but it’s not 30.
When these spring up in everyday life – your boss dismisses your request for a raise, your partner doesn’t notice that you cleaned the apartment, your friend doesn’t respond to your text for 6 hours, your mother tells you why your outfit doesn’t look good on you, your colleague is condescending as she tells you how to fill out a work form – these wounds get ignited and you generally respond with withdrawal, accommodation, or anger. However you respond, it leaves you still feeling little and hurt.
Lack of closure
Here we are talking about grudges and guilt and grief; not letting go and mentally getting easily and sometimes constantly drawn back into the past. It’s hard to shake, you relive it all too frequently in the present, it interferes with your ability to see, appreciate, and change what is happening right now.
Shoulds and rules
You are stuck in the past because you live with the rules that were imposed on you rather than defining your own. Again, your little-kid brain is constantly struggling to do the right thing, but the right thing isn’t your thing and you feel constantly guilty… and are constantly striving to get it right.
Putting those childhood demons to rest
Time to upgrade the old software of what you learned to do. Healing these wounds requires that you become more flexible and do what you couldn’t do as a child. Whatever you couldn’t say to your parents you say now to those around you in an adult way. Instead of withdrawing or accommodating, you speak up. Instead of getting angry you use your anger as information to let others know what you need. You move against your grain, do the opposite of what you instinctively tend to do.
The starting point is recognizing your own wounds and your response, then taking deliberate, behavioral steps to change it. Start anywhere, wherever and whenever you can tell you are stepping into that old emotional pothole, but start. It is not about the situation or the other guy, but about you breaking old patterns, not going on autopilot.
You need to separate the past the present. Do this exercise. Whatever the situation or the person from the past that is haunting you, get closure by writing. You need to actually write 3 letters.
The first is addressed to the person you want to get closure with – the bully at school, your deceased dad, that young and bad boyfriend. Say what you would want to them most to hear if you had one hour to see them. Write it on paper, stream-of-consciousness style, don’t worry about grammar. This is about venting, getting things off your chest.
Second letter: what would they say back to you based on them and their personality: I understand; it’s your fault; you never appreciated what I did for you….
Third letter: write what you ideally need to hear most – I’m sorry; I miss you; I’m proud of you; you don’t understand how troubled I was back then with…
The goal here is to say what you could not, to hear what most need to hear, to mentally and emotionally begin to separate your past from your present.
It’s time to decide who you want to be as an adult, and stop trying to be the good copy of what your parents told you you needed to be. This is about giving up the rules and replacing them with values, your values that you as an adult believe in.
Write down 10 (or less) values that you hold dear, that can make you proud of your life, that you can build your life around. Go for the gut, not the head to make sure they represent you and your vision of a life well-lived.
What all of these actions have in common is separating past from present, shedding worn-out rules and ways that no longer fit, stepping back and actively, consciously deciding how you want to live, what is important, who you want to be.
Do it now.