Excuse me, my past is calling
by Robert S. Vibert
Has this ever happened to you? There you are having a perfectly normal conversation with someone and all of a sudden your past calls you up, grabbing your attention and hijacking your focus! Those uncomfortable feelings from the past surge inside you, maybe prompting your stomach to knot up, your face to flush, your body to feel strange. Or maybe it is an emotional response that pops up, with anger, embarrassment or sadness flooding over you.
You knew that it was your past calling, using it’s speed-dial right to your core, right?
Maybe the feelings were so strong that you missed the connection and thought that these were feelings caused by whatever was happening in the present. This is one of the most common things we humans do – conclude wrongly that our feelings (emotional and bodily) are solely about the present. Hey, popular magazines are always telling you how to “deal with” these feelings, but based entirely on the current situation. This “what to do when this happens” approach ignores the profound impact that our past has on us. There are numerous studies which show how the experiences of our early years have significant effects on us for the rest of our lives (or until we resolve those injuries).
Those who have resolved past issues find that new problematic situations have much less, if any, impact on them as the cumulative effect is now absent. Our past no longer gets to mess with us, throw us off balance or trigger all those feelings that we would prefer to not have.
On the line to the past
Although there is a huge industry of babble-therapy – excuse me, talk therapy, that has people tell their stories over and over, that approach is popular mainly due to some good marketing. Edward Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew and the main developer of public relations, invested a lot of time, money and clever marketing techniques in promoting his uncle’s ideas on human psychology as valid and useful. Psychotherapy became accepted and then preferred. This steamroller of “talk therapy is the best way to solve your problems” continues today to be promoted in films, TV and other media, even though there are numerous other methods which are as or even more effective.
One of the major issues that people have with talk therapy is that clients are often called upon to talk about what is bothering them. There are a few major concerns one should have with this, including
Examining our past in detail is often a futile effort, as many influential events are not stored in our brains as conscious items, especially when they happened during our earliest years – how much can you really recall of your time as a baby? And, even if we do have some conscious memories of a traumatic event, the story is pretty much irrelevant anyway as our brain keeps changing the details. There are many influences on our memories, and the conclusion of those who study this area is that memories are unreliable indicators of what actually happened. In fact, if you take the approach of NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) or hypnotherapy, one can rewrite or overlay an awful story with a better one. (There is a better approach than this application of “good memory” whipped cream on “bad memory” cow patty.)
The other major concern is the PPE (Problem Processing Engine) in our brain which will invent a reason for these feelings so that we can “solve” that problem of where they came from. Someone in a position of authority (“therapist”) asks us to talk about our problem (uncomfortable feelings) and our PPE will kick into high gear trying to “figure out why” we feel that way. The answers it comes up with are often superficial and shallow, along the lines of “I feel this way because Johnny said something nasty to me.” Applying a little emotional detective work to this initial conclusion might reveal that the feeling actually has nothing to do with Johnny or what he said but really arises from some incident that occurred ten, twenty or even fifty years in the past. Our PPE is good for many things, but emotions are not problems per se , so it often reaches the wrong conclusion about what gave rise to the feeling.
Talking about some issue or painful event mainly serves to reinforce those neural circuits so that memory is kept alive, along with all the pain that is associated with it. This is actually counter-productive, as the goal should be to move on from the pain, not keep that fire stoked.
The bottom line is that while talking about something painful does offer some relief (we feel acknowledged and accepted by the listener if they are skillful, and we may learn that others have had similar feelings which means we are not uniquely cursed), this is really only temporary as evidenced by the extensive number of talk therapy sessions “required” to feel better and the reports of those who finally resolved some issue using some other approach after years of “therapy”. Of course, feeling better is what we reach for when we are in pain, but just feeling better for a little while is only a stop-gap measure, not a real and long-lasting solution.
The normal human revulsion to the concept of constantly dredging up the pain of the past in the hope of fixing it and the much better results obtained from methods which aim to liberate the person from the pain instead of teaching someone to “manage it” have combined to lead many people to look for problem resolution approaches that are fast, effective and cost-effective. And, fortunately, they are finding them.
Disconnecting from the past
How does one disconnect from that call from a painful past? The principles are the same no matter what specific technique one uses. These are the principles embodied in the Awareness Expression Resolution process:
- Become fully Aware of the pain. Notice it, as it is, without judging it or wanting it to go away or trying to figure it out.
- Acknowledge the pain. It is there every time you look, so you gain nothing from denying it or avoiding it other than delaying the inevitable encounter.
- Accept the pain as normal and human – we all have pain and it is entirely likely that many, many people have felt exactly the same as you. Accept it as it is, with no attempt to rationalize, explain or understand it.
- Allow the pain to be and allow it to go. Feelings come and go and if we allow them, they will flow through and out of us. Pushing it away will only create more neural connections to it, keeping it firmly in place.
- Express the pain. No need for any big production here – just writing it down or saying it out loud (alone or with a trusted person) is usually enough. No need to tell the story, just report on the pain itself – “I feel sadness” or “I feel anger” are good examples of simple, clear and precise expressions of the pain. If a name or exact description of the pain escapes you, then use something generic, such as “I feel yucky” or “I feel down” or “I feel stuck.”
- Experience the pain, for a few moments. While there is no need to stay in the pain for longer than a few moments, it is necessary to experience it just long enough for the brain circuits where it is stored to become engaged and then release it.
- Consciously Release the pain. Let go of it and let it go on its way. Think of this as being like letting a pebble drop out of your hand. You do not throw the pebble or make it go away – you simply let it fall naturally when you open your hand. Painful feelings can be released just as easily.
- Stay in the process until you reach full release – there is nothing left of the pain and the memory only contains data, not emotional content. You can see the scene but are no longer involved or emotionally engaged in it – it is like a boring movie that has no interest to you anymore. At this point, that pain is resolved and you have reached Resolution with regard to it.
Reaching Resolution on an issue is the key to not having this pain from the past speed-dial you in your present. Once you have released the emotional energy around an event from the past, it can no longer make that call to you in the present. As one releases more and more of the painful episodes from the past, the present becomes more pleasant and balanced – there is little if any interference of the past and its pain and whatever happens today is seen and responded to as just that today. This is much better than responding to a current situation with today’s emotional response compounded by past pain from similar situations.
Free of our past pain, we start to see people as they really are, with our vision and interpretations no longer distorted by past pain and memories.
The main thing getting in the way of more people using this sort of approach is that we’ve been sold two erroneous messages which make it hard for us to accept the simplicity of just letting go of the past:
Life problems take a long time to be solved and require a lot of effort.
We need to understand why we feel a certain way in order to get past it.
Both of these messages are baloney. I know of many people who have released painful memories in minutes. And, they did not need to talk about their past or pay someone thousands of dollars or euros to effect that release or give them some explanation. They just needed to commit to trying a little experiment and allowing themselves to take a walk down Release Lane.
Releasing stored pain from the past is really something that needs to be experienced to be understood – no volume of words can describe how free one feels after releasing some past pain that has been calling us far too often.
Copyright 2011 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved.
AER is a system to enhance the natural human release mechanism. One of the recorded AER sessions is available for FREE at my Facebook public page. Other AER recordings are available for the low cost of $10 each.