“Tell me about your relationship with your parents” is one of the biggest therapy clichés in the world, and yet it’s something I hear myself saying way more often than I’d like… dammit!
That’s not really a surprise is it? After all, anytime you begin talking therapies there’s likely to be a need to dive into and work with your past.
Hell, even when those therapies are very forward-facing and action-driven like coaching, there’s almost always a need to look at the past in some way because that is the foundation to the person we are now, and the roots of whoever and whatever we choose to grow in the future.
But of course, working with our pasts isn’t always easy. As much as we can carry those sweet, nostalgic memories of our lives so far, within that we can also find some bloody difficult things that we have absolutely no desire to remember, never mind dive into so deeply it can feel like we’re reliving them.
You know the things I mean; the embarrassing incidents, moments of criticism, childhood mistakes, teenage shame and all out traumas that left us feeling small at the time or made us believe we could never fully move forwards or become anything more than we were in that moment.
Yet the truth is that it’s often by diving into not just the good parts of our past, but also those tough times we’d far rather avoid that we recover our power, stepping forwards from those moments of stuckness and overcoming those feelings of smallness in order to own our lives and be able to live more fully and freely as a result.
Not only that, but sometimes in revisiting our past – even the incredibly tough times – we start to recognise ourselves for the power we had all along… for the tenacity and the strength it took us to move through those times and just keep going.
It can be empowering and it can be deeply healing, but it can also be bloody difficult. And so the most important thing throughout the whole of that journey is in staying safe so that we don’t become wrapped up in those old patterns and challenges rather than moving forwards like the heroes that we are.
In this week’s blog I wanted to share with you four things that over the years I’ve found super vital for doing that, in the hope they can help you to do the same throughout this journey of yours:
Keeping yourself in the here and now
People will often tell you that the past can’t hurt you. It’s not true of course; as the pain in your gut whenever you think about certain moments, and the trauma responses that occur in relation to particular triggers might just confirm for you.
But the past can only hurt us when a part of us is dragged back there, meaning that bit by bit and moment by moment it will lose its power over us if we can, time after time, bring ourselves wholly back into the present and root in there.
There are stacks of ways to do that of course, and every one of us will have different ways of coming into the present which work best for us. For me though some of my favourites are:
Coming into my body: Sometimes that means putting on my favourite song and dancing like a maniac; closing my eyes and moving until every ounce of my energy and concentration is focussed solely on my body and can’t even begin to think about anything else; at others it’s about stopping whatever I’m doing and stroking my dog – allowing that gesture and the presence of a soul I love so dearly to remind me of what is really and truly important in that moment. (Spoiler, that’s always her, and enjoying our time together!)
Breathing: I know, we’re breathing all the time. But so often we’re breathing because we have to, rather than actually taking the time to breathe in a way that feels good to us. Taking some deep, conscious breaths can be such a simple and effective way to bring us out of our heads and right back into the present moment.
Meditation: Continue with that conscious steady breathing of course, and you have one of the best known forms of meditation. But it’s important to remember that meditation doesn’t always have to mean lying on a yoga mat with your eyes closed for an extended period of time (as wonderful and truly beneficial as that often is). We all know the benefits of meditation of course, but if you’re struggling to slow your mind down enough to sit still and focus on your breath then try a more active meditation – washing the dishes, gardening, walking (or running or swimming) with music on in the background, or anything else that allows you to focus your energies completely on the task at hand and gradually allow your mind to drift off into the ether…
Grounding: One of my most favourite ways to bring myself into the here and now is to step outside and stand – ideally barefoot – on the grass. Where that’s not possible I close my eyes and visualise strong roots growing down from myself into the ground beneath me and eventually stretching into the very centre of the earth to root myself right back into the present time, place and space.
Remembering you can walk away
There’s a scene in Friends where Rachel talks about putting her books into the freezer before something scary or unpleasant happens. It’s about reminding herself that, unlike the characters who are stuck in that difficult part of their reality, she has the choice to get up and walk away.
I’m a firm believer that it’s very much the same when we’re working with our own past…
Because while we didn’t necessarily have the power or ability to walk away from a situation when we lived it, we do have the opportunity to step away and take a break when we’re working back through it.
Sometimes that means simply putting down our journals and deciding that that’s enough deep diving for today.
Or sometimes it means choosing to distract ourselves in some way – be that with one of the suggestions I talked about earlier or simply with your favourite movie, a conversation with a friend or something else you enjoy.
Sometimes it’s even about bringing containers into our personal development work so we know that we can close those containers at any time. Think about this a little like working from home and setting those fierce boundaries that mean your work will never encroach on – for example – your bedroom or other most sacred personal spaces.
If you don’t have a lot of space you can do this by putting a time boundary on your personal journeying or, if you’re inclined towards more witchy ways of thinking like I am, then consider casting a circle to work within, creating an altar to sit in front of, or simply lighting a candle and calling in protection when you start this work, only to say your thanks and blow out the candle when you’re done.
Ritualise this as much or as little as feels right to you, but most important of all is holding tight to the knowledge that you can walk away any time you need to.
Seeking support if you need it
Remember you don't have to do it alone
When I talk about this life of ours as a story and about us as the heroes of those stories, that’s never to say that we have to do it alone… After all, even the best heroes have sidekicks right?!
This journey can be tough, draining and all too easy to get dragged into if we try to do it alone, so make sure you have support where you need it.
Maybe that’s a trusted friend who loves you and who is willing and able to witness you, hold space and give an opinion that lives outside of your own mind where it’s needed; or maybe that’s a professional – a therapist like me (check out my Soul-Led Therapy page if you’d like to know more about that) or someone else, or someone qualified to do one of the other myriad of helping professions who can truly support you through this process in the way that feels right for you.
Remember that no matter what anyone else says there is no right or wrong way of doing any of this; just the way that is best for you.
My dad has a saying that comes out whenever I start something new or big. It’s a saying that’s been used many times on this blog and in client sessions, and one that I’ll no doubt continue to use for many years to come. Ready?
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
Now let me pause here and tell you that I don’t advocate eating elephants, and nor does my dad, but the principle of the statement still stands!
We can do anything we set our minds to, no matter how big and scary, but only if we take it step by step. This journey into your past might be long, tough and at times terrifying, but it doesn’t need to be tackled all at once.
And nor does it need to be done quickly. You’re often working with years of conditioning and experience – that stuff can take just as long, if not longer, to fully dive into.
So know that taking it step by step and breath by breath for as long as it takes is not only fine but totally encouraged… The key is in ensuring that you feel safe, always.
If you’d like to know more about this, and about the more forward-facing steps that go alongside delving into your past to help you create the future that’s right for you, then think about checking out the free online workshop I’ll be running in a few weeks from now.
Of course if you can’t wait that long and want to start diving into your story right away then check out the details of my Soul-Led Therapy sessions here, or get in touch to learn more about Person-Centered Therapy.
And along the way remember, no matter what the past has brought you, you always have the ability to take ownership of your story and become the hero you were born to be.