Examining Your Past Effectively Can Lead to a Better Present

I am currently reading The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz. It is a captivating book that looks at the interactions between a psychoanalyst and his patients. While this is nothing new, the theme of the book looks at how ‘ the art of insight’ can help us come to terms with our human experience. The subtitle is very apt, How We Lose and Find Ourselves, which perfectly describes most people’s development.

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One of the chapters deals with the change in parenting styles seen from the end of the Second World War to the present day. While it focused on the UK, one can imagine it is not much different in other parts of the world. It documented how early parenting styles relied on strict discipline with mild or strong criticism at the heart of interaction, leading to many of the issues people suffer today like codependency. The author contrasted this with the core of approaches to parenting today where he believes there is a tendency for children to be over praised and protected from activities that can build resilience and responsibility. If true, this will bring issues in future generations just as it has today in a different way.

It is often seen as negative that we spend time ruminating about events in the past and of course, as a general rule, this is true. The only true moment to change and influence is the present one and I firmly believe that. However, the influence and triggers from the past can badly affect how we see and process the moment we are in. Even though I am a qualified CBT therapist, I see the limitations of this approach when it comes more critical issues. I see the value of mixing this method with psychoanalytic therapy and other deep methods of tackling the problem. I feel this is essential if progress in therapy is to be made.

Why is the past and our development so important, you may ask. Where we come from and who we were there with often answers the big questions concerning our what and why scenario. That is what happened to us and why. This is a question that we constantly strive to answer and some never find the true reasons why they see the world the way they do. In our constant quest to seek this, we involve ourselves in situations and relationships that might bring that insight, usually mirroring the dysfunctional early experiences.

No parent is perfect but due to that fact, we all bring a core wound into adulthood. A core wound carries all the trauma and dysfunction we experienced to greater or lesser degree and is the basis for how we behave as an adult. Understanding our core wound can be a painful, sometimes tiring process but analyzing how it was formed and maintained can bring valuable insight that we can work with.

I like to look at it in terms of thinking parts which come about through fragmenting of the Self when we experience dysfunction as children. The Self can ( a process called splitting) fragment into critical, angry, guilty, shameful, sad or avoidance parts formed in conjunction with protection measures employed as a child. While these parts will also have a positive side, it is the negative we often listen to and act upon. Some of these parts are exiled or repressed as we desperately attempt to please our parents. It is interesting analyzing repressed parts with clients. They were often told they were not allowed to cry, get angry or show emotion.

I do an inner child meditation with clients and we meet their inner child in a forest by a river. Once we have worked through meeting the younger self, we can then start to meet other parts in the forest. Often this reveals the main repressed part that is not in awareness but lurks in the shadows, hidden but still having an influence. Some of the quietest, laid-back people have an angry ogre inside them that is repressed and exiled. Some of the most confident people you can imagine have a monster inner critic at their thinking and some of the most outgoing, happy people have a guilt and shame devil at their core.

Revealing these parts and healing them can give major insight into who we are and where we come from. Without this insight, we are destined to be driven by impulsive triggers.

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