Moving On from the Past in a Healthy Way

· August 18, 2016

To progress in life means to grow healthily, to develop potential, and to design and realize personal, professional, and social projects. However, many times we realize that we are unable to produce this healthy progress despite putting great effort into it. We realize that the past is still present, that it slows us down and holds us back. So, what happens?

Usually, the first response is to search for the causes of this stagnation in the external circumstances that surround us in the present. We often assign responsibility to external factors.  Although these factors should not be underestimated, the truth is that on a fundamental level, the ability to move on and progress always depends on the individual.

“We should use the past like a trampoline and not a sofa.”

-Harold MacMillan-

Many times we are unable to healthily progress and advance through life because there is something in the past that is a strong enough force to hinder our personal evolution. It is a mistake to think that the past remains in the past and no longer matters in the present. In fact, it is the opposite. Of all of the different stages of life, the past is the most decisive.

The past is always happening… 

girl and night sky healthily


It’s true: the past is always happening. We may complete our work efficiently in the present, but within us still remains that child that learned how to get gold stars for finishing their homework. Within the person that today falls in love so passionately also resides the young person who was attentive and waiting for the approval or disappointment of their mother.

Essentially, we are the past, although we have to act in the present with the purpose of imagining and shaping the future. From there, the past is really the factor that catapults us forward or becomes an obstacle for our advances in life.

Childhood is the most decisive stage of our existence. It is the original time of our being, the part of life in which we define both ourselves and our place in the world. The other stages of life are adaptations and readjustments of this past.

It can be said that the greatest gift one person can give to another is a happy childhood. In reality, each and every one of us can take our life experiences and turn them either into limiting factors, or enhancers of our lives. Amazing works of art and philosophy have been born from traumatic childhoods. Likewise, completely fortunate and healthy childhoods can produce people who are completely unproductive in society.

The past produces raw material that is, in essence, unchangeable. But that raw material, as its name indicates, is only a kind of base. What is built with it depends on the substance of each individual.

Learn to purify the past  

woman and flowers healthily

No one can escape from difficult, challenging, or unjust situations. But that which is difficult and unjust can either create more potential, or minimize that which already exists, depending on the way in which it is processed. At any rate, the worst outcome is to pretend to put the negative aside with the intention of ignoring the pain and the experience itself.

This denial of a painful past only generates confusion and disorientation that becomes more and more difficult to resolve. If someone has experienced a lack of love and affection, or rejection, from their parents and attempts to ignore all of the pain that this situation creates, that person will probably end up becoming someone who seems to be insensitive. It may be difficult for them to form intimate relationships, but at the same time they may become emotional at the slightest instigation.

That person will feel a great incongruity within themselves and with others around them. They will probably be immeasurably demanding, yet at the same time hypersensitive to criticism. They may have difficulty in evaluating the value of their actions objectively, and will have unregulated feelings in the company of others.

This set of attitudes and emotions affects their entire life, and can bring conflict and dissatisfaction to the forefront. However, it does not all come solely from that rejection and lack of love from childhood. It is also generated from the negativity with which those experiences were processed, and the inability to find a constructive meaning in them. From that negativity, all of that backwardness is experienced through the pain that the situation has created.

Therefore, something from the past can prevent things in the present from working out. If we are experiencing problems and obstacles, we cannot solve them by getting a graduate degree, or finding a “better” partner, or having more obedient children, or buying a nicer house. The answer to this stagnation lies in the past, in the finding the loose ends and tying them down properly and in a healthy way. 

Purifying the past is a task that every person should take on at some point in their life. Especially in those moments when we realize our efforts in the present are not resulting satisfactorily. It is not that we are “bad” at something, or have some kind of deficiency. It is simply that maybe we have not yet discovered how to healthily process our past in order to progress in life.

child in tree

Images courtesy of Anna Dittman