By Heather Cherry—
Your past does not determine your future, but it certainly helps shape it, consciously or unconsciously. This is because we often get caught up in the things that didn’t pan out, happened exactly as intended or missed opportunities.
Brianna Wiest, author of The mountain is you says that what is not good for you will never stay in your life. “There’s no job, person, or city that can force you to be good to you if it isn’t, even if you can pretend for a while,” says Wiest. “You can say you’ll give it a try, and you can make excuses why it’s not going well now. Long.”
And trying to make something work that isn’t quite right won’t benefit you. “If you try to force things that aren’t right, you’ll become divided and breed an internal conflict that you can’t resolve,” says Wiest. “It intensifies – in many cases this is mistaken for passion.”
Here’s how overcoming your past helps shape your future.
For many, making mistakes feels awful – it creates stress. But when you make mistakes, it creates an opportunity for your brain to adapt and learn. A fundamental brain function known as error processing allows you to detect and correct errors based on the error.
Error processing plays a critical role in cognitive and behavioral control. When you perceive a situation as stressful, the hypothalamus area of your brain reacts, triggering other actions throughout your body.
Neurologically, we process stress in three parts of the brain: amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. There are two types of stress that we process.
- eustress: Positive stress like nerves before a big presentation.
- Fear: Experiencing negative stress in the short term (acute) or long term (chronic).
It’s possible to adapt to stress levels over time, but unresolved negative stress takes a toll on your brain and body systems, increasing your chances of developing other health problems. In fact, the stress process theory suggests that chronic stress reduces a person’s sense of mastery, putting them at risk for later outcomes such as depression.
And unresolved emotional trauma can make it harder to process stress. This is because emotional trauma affects the brain’s ability to process memories. In particular, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can leave memory fragments and contribute to feelings of dissociation. “With trauma, we become suffocated and trapped, have difficulty planning for the future, and stop our self-development and actualization,” says Wiest.
Inner Child Work
Overcoming your past can make you feel defeated. You may even get bogged down in over-analysis, hoping it will provide a roadmap for better decision-making. While the past can inform the future, it’s not an end point, especially if you don’t overcome it.
Robert Jackman, psychotherapist and author of Healing your lost inner child, says that healing your past is an important way to shape your future. “Most people don’t realize how much unresolved emotional pain they’re carrying, and they wonder why they keep making the same self-sabotaging impulsive decisions,” says Jackman. “These patterns often stem from their lost inner child, which carries with it a false narrative that has been repeated since childhood.”
To overcome your past, psychologists often use a popular tool in psychotherapy called inner child work: the process of imagining and reconnecting with your younger self. “Inner child work focuses on addressing unmet needs by reparenting ourselves. This self-discovery helps you understand your behavior, triggers wants and needs,” says Jeremy Sutton, Ph.D. “When you begin to heal your inner child, you are tapping into a part of yourself that is vulnerable and impressionable.”
Common symptoms that you may benefit from inner child work.
- Great responses to unmet needs
- Challenges in setting boundaries or expressing needs
- Childish outbursts, such as tantrums or saying things you don’t mean
- Complain that you don’t feel understood or heard
- Difficulty explaining your feelings when you are upset
- Separation anxiety or bonding issues
- Patterns of self-sabotage or a hard inner critic
Experts advise, while this work is very helpful, it can be challenging. “To heal your inner child, you need to take an honest inventory of your resentment and aggression and the sources of desire and fear you’ve been ignoring all along,” says Wiest. “It requires you to be completely honest about that How you feel and actually do feeling It.”
The benefits of inner child work are many, including:
- developing healthy coping mechanisms;
- feeling powerful and in control;
- improving emotional regulation;
- increasing self-esteem, self-compassion and compassion for others;
- reconnecting your passions, dreams and talents; And
- understand how your past affects your present.
This is how you can get started with inner child work.
- Listen: When you are upset, take note of the things that triggered you and connect them to childhood experiences. How does your younger self feel about what is currently happening to you?
- Identify: What caused the experience during your childhood and how do you feel about it now. “You store emotions, energies, and patterns on a cellular level,” says Wiest. “Our bodies are hardened to protect us, and healing trauma is not just a matter of psychoanalysis, but working through it physically. If you overreact to a stimulus, you will find that your body is tense.”
- visualize: Overcome what you fear – in particular, what would your life be like without this fear? “You need to fix the disconnection as if it were broken. If you’ve been traumatized by relationships, you need to build healthy relationships,” says Wiest.
- Think: Stop taking thoughts and feelings at face value. “You can’t predict what will happen or other people’s intentions or what you feel and think is the absolute truth and reality,” says Wiest. “This kind of thinking takes a triggering feeling and turns it into a beating spiral.”
You may think that difficult past experiences are reserved for more damaged people, but that is not true. Everyone has traumatic experiences in one way or another, but how you respond, grow, and develop self-control helps shape your future.
Heather Cherry is a freelance health and wellness writer and content marketing coach. She helps companies create strategic, creative and conversational messages and build effective content teams. She has been published in Sleepopolis, SELF, Insider and author of Market your A$$ discount.