In my practice as a coach, new clients occasionally come to me with what I now consider to be one of the biggest barriers to change— a wish that the past was different. 

Many of these clients have experienced truly difficult childhoods and traumatic events I’d never wish on anyone. And since these events occurred, they’ve retold the same stories over and over in their minds. 

Sometimes, they’ve told these stories so often that they’ve developed a victim consciousness. They now identify as someone who’s been wronged and who therefore isn’t capable of creating change. Other times, they seem to believe that if they can’t change their past, they can’t change their future. 

So, how does it harm you to wish your past was different? 

When people dedicate energy to wishing their past was different, it’s as though a part of them believes that things in the future can’t change until things in the past change. As if they thought that if they told the stories about the past often enough, they’d make what happened go away. But, of course, it is impossible to change the past. 

Any energy you invest in wanting your past to be different is energy you could be investing in creating a new future. So when people tell the same stories about their past over and over, they end up wasting precious energy and time that could be devoted to much more fruitful pursuits. 

Accepting your fate— A new paradigm

For the past four months, I’ve been studying family systems constellations with Francesca Mason Boring, a bicultural teacher of Shoshone and European descent. In her book, Connecting to Our Ancestral Past, Healing through Family Constellations, Ceremony, and Ritual, Francesca teaches a paradigm-shifting perspective about wishing you could change your past—

Our modern paradigms push us to believe that we can, and perhaps should, control or change nearly everything and everyone.  Modernity aside, it is also the mandate of western imperialism and some sad interpretations of religion that we should have ‘dominion’- we are in charge and everything is in need of our modification. 

Conversely, in Family Systems Constellation there is a foundational observation which is not in conflict with many Eastern and Native American philosophies: We cannot change the family we were born into, (the truth of our biological inheritance), we cannot change where we were born, we cannot change when we were born, (those born in the 1700’s were destined to have different circumstances than we do) and we cannot alter the factual past. At times these fixed markers do create a particular fate. If I am born into a land and a country which is engulfed in the throes of war, no amount of reframing will change that this is true. 

In many worldviews, this is called fate.

There are larger forces that have impacted our family that we may eventually learn we cannot change.

Acknowledging what is leads to healing.

Francesca teaches that healing comes from seeing what is. Difficult fates cannot be changed, but they can be honored and fully seen. And when we choose to recognize and acknowledge what is— no matter how difficult that may be, the story we’ve been carrying has the space it needs to come to rest.

When you stop trying to change your father and see him for the imperfect human he is, when you can take the circumstances into which you were born as your reality, when you honor the struggles of your ancestors, you take an essential step to making peace with what is and what has been. And making peace with past and present is the first step to moving toward the future you want.

I want to be clear that moving toward the future you want without wishing that the past was different doesn’t mean ignoring history.

It takes fierce discipline to honor the past and see it fully while investing your energy in creating the life you long for now, especially when the life you long for includes reparations for past wrongs and changed social structures.

So, how exactly do you make peace with a difficult past?

Of course, there are many steps you may need to take to make peace with your fate. That said, two simple guiding questions can help you discern what to let rest and what to invest your attention in. They are—

  • What can I change? 
  • And what can never be changed?

If you’re dwelling on something that can never be changed, I invite you to say, with a sense of respect and dignity— “I recognize what happened.” And then stop yourself if you hear yourself saying “and so… I can’t do this, or I need to do that.” Stop yourself from going into stories about what the circumstances mean for you now. Instead, say, “I see what happened. I honor the fact that that happened.”

And then keep coming back to the guiding questions— What can I change? And what can never be changed?— over and over again. 

When you allow your stories about the past to come to rest, you create space for a new future to emerge. Wishing you so much patience and discipline on your journey ahead.

Much love,

Katherine

X

Forgot Password?

Join Us