The past, the present, the future: Where we choose to focus our attention has a profound effect on the choices we make, these determine the quality of our lives.
Learning From The Past
When we choose to apply what we have learned in the past and apply it to the here and now, we have the opportunity to develop new ways of behaving. Making the right choices in the present allows us to look forward to a future free of limiting beliefs and negative patterns of behaviours.
When we fail to learn from the past, life has a habit of presenting the same lesson over and over again, until we actually learn and make a change for the better.
The Relationship Challenge: Some people choose the same sort of partners time and time again with disastrous consequences… I see this pattern time and time again with clients.
A couple of years ago I was working with a client who had been through a string of terrible relationships. When we analysed what was going on we found a pattern. Her choice of partner had always been based purely on their looks, their income and on what she had initially interpreted as success and confidence.
The relationships appeared to start well but very quickly deteriorated. She found her partners had been self-absorbed, controlling and unkind. Her pattern was to try to appease her partner, to loose herself in trying to please them.
I asked her to think the values she thought were important and likely to sustain a long term, loving relationship and what lesson she had learned from the historical pattern of failed relationships. In that process she realised that if she wanted a different outcome she would need to make different choices:
Her ideal partner would need to be from a very different mould.
She would need to make different choices about finding a partner whose values matched her own
Her choice of what to accept or reject would be based on having a good sense of self-worth; she deserved to be treated lovingly, with kindness and respect
A few weeks later she met such a man and they are now enjoying life together.
Letting go of the damage
Negative emotions are extremely expensive in energy terms and are corrosive to a sense of self worth and wellbeing. Holding on to anger, frustration, hate or a sense of rejection does nothing to get back at the person who has caused the initial hurt.
Understanding that you CAN choose for things to be different, giving yourself permission to express your feelings and then to forgive absolutely, gives you a sense of freedom, control and serenity.
By letting go of baggage many years after experiencing abuse or unhappiness, the clients I have worked with have created a different and very positive present, and an exciting future for themselves.
Forgiving and letting go does not mean forgetting all about the issue or condoning the action. It is about giving yourself permission to let go of the negative emotions surrounding the problem. Absolute forgiveness leaves the path clear for you to experience freedom, peace and space for growth.
When negative emotions build up over time there is a danger that everything will become coloured by the past. It becomes our default setting. When that happens it is easy for us to interpret everything in a negative way. We assume the worst, look for the slight or the hurt in what people say or do or fail to say and do. It puts us into victim mode.
If you assume the worst it then affects the way you interact with others and the world becomes a very black and scary place. It becomes a self – fulfilling prophecy.
I’m working with a couple at the moment they were the perfect example of this. Each were feeling hurt and let down by the other. They found it difficult to let go of all the things which had upset them in the past yet they still professed to love one another. Every day interaction had deteriorated to the point where they were about to part for ever. Both had experienced a difficult childhood and their partner’s words and actions brought up baggage from their upbringing.
The pattern had the potential to destroy the relationship.
Unpicking what was really about their relationship with each other and not with their parents was important. Helping them to consider the words they each used and clarifying what they actually meant by them has enabled them to create a shared language which has hugely reduced the opportunity for misinterpretation and hurt.
Letting go of the past has given them the opportunity to create a new loving inter-dependent relationship. They can now take the best of their past relationship and create a new far more positive way of being with one another. The early indications are great. They are both determined to work together to succeed and are feeling positive and so much happier.
Understanding your past does not have to dictate your future
We can actively choose to do things very differently. We can choose to create a set of empowering beliefs that support the very best future.
- This is not about giving in or thinking about who is in the right and who is in the wrong.
- It is about choosing whether you want your present and your future to be better.
Those who have suffered abuse as a child, been bullied or who have lived in unhappy circumstances have the choice to let their awful circumstances blight not only their childhood but their adult life too.
They can bring with them the sense of lack and a belief that they deserve no better, or they can let go of the past and the negative emotions created by their past.
They can make a conscious decision to make adult life count for something else and if they have children, to ensure that their children’s childhood is very different.
You have that same choice. A useful place to start is to look at the way you interpret another person’s motive.
Step 1 – Identify your emotions.
Identify all the negative emotions you feel on a regular basis. Make a list.
Step 2 - What makes you feel this way?
Look at your list and identify what specifically makes you feel that way.
- How much of the way you feel is actually based on something from your past?
- Does it remind you of the way you were treated by a parent or a previous partner?
- It is not uncommon for a tone of voice or specific actions to trigger powerful emotions from past situations. Have the two situations become confused?
- Do you need to deal with your baggage from this past relationship rather than let it spoil this one?
Step 3 – Change your physiology.
The way you stand, how you breathe, and your facial expressions all impact on the way you feel. If you are feeling sad, or angry or rejected, change your physiology before you attempt to change your thinking.
You can do this by giving yourself a physical shake, by dancing round the room, gurning in the mirror, hopping on one leg or doing a silly walk, even getting up to make a cup of coffee with help. The more dramatically you change your physiology the greater the change your mood and emotional state.
This is a temporary fix but it helps you manage the here and now.
Step 4 – Consider a different possibility.
Consider the possibility that the motive you have attached to the person and/ or the situation could be different in reality to the one you have assumed.
Is your partner doing and saying (or not doing or saying) something specifically to hurt or annoy you or could there be a different reason? Could it be that their behaviour is more about them?
Step 5 – Interpret the motive differently.
It has been my experience that more often than not there is no negative motive. The other person is simply focussing on their own stuff. Consider how your quality of life would be if you choose to interpret their motive differently.
Step 6 – Change the trigger to the negative emotion.
People have a tendency to make it more difficult for themselves. They make a long list of what needs to be in place to feel good.
I will only feel happy when… I have the perfect partner, a top notch job, a huge house, children who never argue and always keep their room tidy, a holiday home on a desert island and.. and.. you get the picture. Even when they achieve all the conditions for achieving happiness the likelihood is that they will simply add more conditions.
On the other hand they make it very easy to feel negative about life.
I feel rejected… every time my partner is late home from work, or when they don’t have time to talk to me when I phone them at work, or when they respond to a phone call from work, or when they bring work home or when they don’t hear what I say or when they disagree with me or.. or …
You can choose to do it differently. Our emotional state is actually a choice we make!
Make it easy to feel positive emotions:
It is a new day, I choose to be happy. Every time I see someone smile, or I give or receive a hug or a kiss, or I see the beauty of nature or I focus on helping others or I ask for or accept help I will feel happy.
Make a decision to make it more difficult to feel negative emotions:
I will feel rejection only when they kick me in the shin, spit in my eye and tell me they reject me. Rejection only comes if I were to consistently believe in the illusion that it is all about me and when I consistently focus on what I don’t have rather than what I do. Instead I choose to take the opportunity to make the first smile, ask about them, lighten up and enjoy.
Create your own list of conditions for achieving positive and negative emotions.
Step 6 – Breaking the pattern.
Most partnerships have a pattern of behaviour and response. Eventually the responses within the relationship become automatic. 95% of our behaviours are habitual.
This is particularly true of relationships where there is negative behaviour going on (including that of parent and child). Each person takes on a role and the initial trigger and response become automatic and an ongoing cycle of negativity. There is little room for interpretation – it is as if each person is programmed to behave in that specific way and indeed that is exactly what is happening. Until someone breaks the pattern, the cycle of hurt and unhappiness will continue.
Think about how you have responded to your partner in the past.
Now think about how you might do things differently.
Step 7 – Identifying different responses
Think about how it feels to take an active choice to do things differently, to take control of the situation and to know that you have so many more options.
- Identify the three situations in your relationship that currently give you the most pain.
- Change your perception of the motive behind the actions that are the problem.
- Think about how you might do things differently in each situation and create a list of as many possibilities as you can.
It is important that this comes from a positive place within you. This is about changing your responses to the situation not about trying to change them.
Rehearsing your new alternative in your head can be very helpful. Have several alternatives ready for the right circumstance when they happen so you feel prepared.
A simple example would be to give someone a hug rather than to respond with a negative comment. You’ll be amazed at how powerful that can be in changing a pattern of behaviour.
Step 8 - Trying out the non-judgmental response
Be curious about how things are going to work and remember you are just trying things out You may need to try the same thing several times or try several alternatives before finding ones which work for you. Remember too that trying something once is unlikely to be a magic bullet.
A small change consistently applied can make an enormous difference over time.
Remember step 3… the tone of voice, your body language and facial expression are all incredibly important. Simply saying words is not enough. See yourself as others see you, watch what is really going on.
Step 9 – Evaluate what is going on
If things work well – celebrate. If it doesn’t appear to work as well as you would like ask yourself “what can I learn from this?”. Think about whether you simply need to persevere with the same thing or whether things need to be done differently in the future.
Make yourself the focus, you are the only thing you can truly control you. This is not about failure, it is about experimenting until you find which way works.
Step 10 – Get some support and help
Dealing with your sense of self worth and identity makes an enormous difference to how you feel about life and relationships. Dealing with your own emotional baggage and learning to forgive others and yourself will give you the very best foundation to enjoy a wonderful present and an empowering future. Working with someone you trust and who can help you manage the process can be incredibly helpful.
You cannot change the past. What you can do is make sure it doesn’t spoil your present and your future.