5 Ways to Know When Your Past is in Your Present

“Not all things from our earlier years are negative, but the harmful things we want to keep out of our present are our unresolved hurts and losses.”

-Karla Hardin, M.S., LPC

By Karla Hardin, M.S., LPC

What is so bad about your past being in your present, you ask? 

Not all things from our earlier years are negative, but the harmful things we want to keep out of our present are our unresolved hurts and losses.

People too often minimize those painful relationships, consistent disappointments and wounds inflicted by family and friends:

“Hey, we were just a normal family and that was years ago.” OR “It wasn’t that bad! It happens to a lot of people…”  OR “People had it worse than me. Life is what you make of it now.”

But what people don’t understand is that minimizing those hurts, trying to forget them, or just determining to “overcome” the losses actually doesn’t work.

Another reason to look at the past is acknowledging that God himself is outside of time and space and sees our past, present and future as a whole.

“The Bible isn’t concerned about when something happened, whether today or ten years ago. The Bible is interested only in whether we have denied the problem and pushed it into the darkness, or whether we have exposed it to the light and dealt with it in God’s way.” -Cloud & Townsend

Therefore, ALL of our history is relevant to our growth in the here and now. In other words, to be committed to growth and the sanctification process, we need to actively be looking at all aspects of our lives with a determination to see them brought to wholeness. (Col.1:28)

The illustration I often use is that of an open grave. I paint the picture of a person going through their everyday activities and then they happen upon something that triggers an unconscious wound or loss, and it is like a hand reaches up from that open grave and pulls them down into the abyss of sadness, anger, fear and aloneness. We can stay stuck down there for a day, a week or sadly –even a lifetime.

What the ideal picture would be is that we would have consciously “resolved” all of our past pains and losses to the point that we would be able to fill that open grave in with dirt, place the tombstone, plant some flowers  and appropriately recognize the loss for what it was. Then, we could walk on by it without being pulled down into that powerless place of being controlled by the past.

Let me say upfront that I believe most people have not done this.

Why? Because often, many of our deepest hurts and losses occurred in our childhood, and we blocked it out as we were ill-equipped to deal with them. …An alcoholic father, an emotionally absent mother, a critical taunting sibling —the list can go on and on.

To survive things they can’t change, children minimize their feelings and just try to protect themselves in whatever way works best at that time.

i.e. Making all A’s, being the “helper”, escaping to friends houses to avoid conflict, putting headphones on, and so on.

Sadly, a lot of people only recognize the build up of these unresolved losses when it shows up in their estranged relationships, on-going addictions, health issues and feeling empty and down more times than not.

So here are 5 WAYS that you can check if you are carrying unresolved hurts into your present:

1.  REACTIVITY

Some people unconsciously use anger to keep themselves from being vulnerable to hurt. The dog that barks loudly and shows teeth is usually effective in keeping any possibility of harm at an arm’s distance.

The problem is that reactivity also scares the nice people away that would love to care and pet the dog. This form of self-protection is more common than you think and the families of these individuals have learned to avoid conflict by walking on eggshells or appeasing them in day-to-day living. But needless to say these “pit bulls” are not getting the love and belonging they long for because they scare most kind people away.

2.  ADDICTION 

Addictions of all shapes and sizes are remnant of the child who couldn’t stop the hurt and did all they could to simply numb the pain of it. If I can just get a little “relief” from the pain then I can face another day is the motto of those who gravitate to this style of coping.

Now let me state the obvious: most people who have an addiction don’t think they do! So, you have to really get honest with yourself or ask those who know you well, to see if this in fact may be true of you. Also, don’t forget that addiction is much more than alcohol and drugs. Try Facebook, exercise, food, work, gaming etc.

It takes courage to “get honest” but we must start here.

3.  SLEEP ISSUES

Believe it or not – sleep issues usually tie back to unresolved issues in our lives. As our mind is trying to sort and classify our lives on a daily basis, sleep is a main time it “sorts”. Pain, hurt and fear don’t go away until resolved so it will continue to disrupt sleep until it is faced and brought to closure.

I also believe the other main health indicator of unresolved issues is IBS. Irritable Bowel Syndrome has been linked to emotional pain and needs to be considered as a possible indicator of a deeper issue.

4.  RELATIONSHIP ISSUES

Needless to say our relationships are always going to reveal our deepest fears and hurts because most of our unresolved pain occurred in our relationships. Therefore, unconsciously we are trying to avoid the kind of hurt that came from those closest to us.

If we had emotionally dangerous people in our lives, we likely developed a tough shell to protect ourselves.

If we have uninvolved and negligent caregivers who rarely seemed to notice us we probably doubt our worth and practically “give ourselves away” in order to be wanted by others. 

I can give many different examples of how our wounded-ness from our primary relationships in childhood are living in our present day relationships but hopefully you can see how directly our past impacts our present in this area. 

5.  DISTORTED REALITY

When we have unresolved pain from our past we basically are living in our present not feeling a deep sense of safety.

When you unconsciously see the world as an “unsafe” place, it will distort your view of everything around you. You will typically see the world as “dangerous,” “against you,” or “withholding.” With this skewed view, life becomes un-enjoyable. 

This can be easily seen in the extreme examples of paranoia or obsessive behaviors but actually it is more commonly seen in just isolation and creating a smaller world to live in. I’m sad when I see people trying to create a world they can feel safe in by reducing it to something extremely small and manageable.

Are any of these hitting home for you or someone you love?

Well, let me encourage you by saying it doesn’t have to stay this way!

Wonderfully, that is where counselors and therapists can make a difference. They can teach you how to resolve the hurts and start to shovel that dirt in that open grave and bring closure to long-standing pain. You can plant those final flowers and be able to “move on”.

When you can leave the past in the past then you are free to embrace your relationships, enjoy freedom and adventure and not find a need to numb yourself from the old haunting pains. 

So where to begin?

Commit to buying a shovel! …Happy digging!