The way that we remember our past influences what we believe to be true about ourselves. What we remember, and how we remember it, colours our self-image and forms the foundation upon what we conceive to be possible. Our past experiences highlighted our strengths and weaknesses, our likes and dislikes, and our successes and failures. More importantly, the positive or negative emotions we associate with these past experiences can influence our ability to make choices that will allow us to grow.
As we grow up, we measure our capabilities, and thereby build and shape our identity, by our successes and failures as we experience life. But how do we determine what is a success or failure? Often, especially in childhood, it comes from the reactions, opinions and judgments of those around us. We define ourselves by the feedback we receive from others regarding our success or failure. So our own beliefs about our capabilities of what we can or cannot accomplish become influenced by the opinions and reactions of others. And when we believe we have reached our potential it becomes very difficult to push any further.
In retrospect, there are many instances that could have gone another way if we had made another decision. We know that our life would have been altered if only we had said or done something differently. But how do you remember your choices and how do you internalize that knowing? Do you choose to learn from your past choices so you can make better decisions in future, or do you dwell on the “if only” or “I can’t because once…”? Sometimes we get caught up in imagining how our present would have been a certain way if only something else had or had not happened. We may feel longing, regret or resentment for what we believe our present could have been, if only a different choice had been made. We may even erode our own sense of identity and power by believing we were unequal to the challenge or were at fault. Or we may distance ourselves from the hurt by casting blame on others. But how does dwelling on “if only” really serve us? Doesn’t it in fact distract and disempower us? The truth is that we don’t know how our life would have been if something had or had not happened. What’s more important is to realize what lens you use when you consider your past. Because our memories — how we focus on and remember our past — form the basis of what we believe we are capable of.
The greatest injustice you can do to yourself is to allow past failures to limit your possibility for future successes. We have all made mistakes, but those mistakes don’t have to define us. Life may even have dealt you an unfair hand, but you are more than what happened to you. Often, we take our most undesirable experiences and then form life rules and create boundaries in an attempt to protect ourselves from ever experiencing a similar kind of hurt. But if you want to grow in strength and vitality, you cannot isolate one part of your life and make it mean everything about you. Do not let what happened to you become your identity.
Your past doesn’t define you. It only shows you the path you have already walked. You get to choose how you move forward. Yes, the past carries with it memories, both good and bad. And some have been so ingrained into us that they shape the person that we are and how we see the world. When you consider the worst experiences of your life, you can choose to define yourself by focusing on the hurt, the pain, and the “if only”. Or, you can choose to focus on the strength and determination it took to persist despite harsh and unfair circumstances.
You can choose to see the depth of past challenges as preparation to reach new levels of opportunities in your future.
“You can allow all that’s happened to you to make you bitter or use it as fuel to make you better.” – Dr. Julie Doobay
Copyright Dr. Julie Doobay 2018