How to change your relationship with it
Good morning. How are we?
I often hear friends say they wouldn’t want to start therapy because to dig up the past would be too painful. Others come to sessions wanting to analyse their past in detail, breaking down individual events or periods of time and dissecting what occurred. Although addressing our histories can be helpful in trying to make sense of it, we can carry shame about things we did or didn't do, or find ourselves stuck ruminating over the same memories.
One of the most useful things I learnt whilst training to be a therapist was that behind all behaviour is a function. We do things, and continue to do them even when the outcomes are harmful because at one point it has given us something useful.
It can be hard to make sense of this when some of our behaviours confuse us or are self-destructive, but even the most seemingly negative things we do are unconsciously fulfilling a need. For example, we may overeat because we associate food with love and we are craving a hug, a difficult colleague at work may be trying to gain a feeling of control because they don’t have it in other areas of their life, someone may purposely search for information that will upset them because it gives them safety and relief if they feel they have more knowledge of a situation, one may ruminate on memories of an ex lover (even if it hurts) because it fills them with the physical sensation of being wanted or desired.
Through this lens we can look at the past differently, with the knowledge that our behaviour was serving a function for us and we were doing the best we could with the resources we had available to us at the time. This is something I share with clients if they are struggling with events that have occurred, by encouraging them to have compassion for their younger selves and to be curious about what needs they were trying to have met through their behaviours. By changing our perspective and re-telling experiences through a different position, we can begin to loosen the grip of the past.
I wanted to show you briefly how this could be done, so I asked my friend Kitty to share her reflections:
This picture was taken in my kitchen last year. At this point in my life I had a tendency to take a situation that was supposed to be nourishing and push it to such an extreme that it ended up the exact opposite.
Take this meal. What started as me wanting to reconnect with friends, became an elaborate three-course meal made using the finest niche ingredients which could only be sourced from a specific shop. I don’t even remember what we talked about, because I was too busy in the kitchen feeling exhausted and frustrated. I knew something wasn't adding up, but I couldn’t understand why I was putting stress and pressure on myself for something that should have been fun.
I can see now that my efforts were actually an attempt to counteract the deep-rooted internalised messages that I had experienced growing up that I wasn't enough. What was once a solution - getting validation and acceptance through people pleasing - had now become the problem. I still have that temptation to go overboard, but I'm able to bring awareness to what it is that I really need in those moments, and find it through direct means.
Another one of Kitty’s creations… McDonald’s charcuterie board
This isn’t a quick fix, especially if you have experienced significant trauma, but it can be the start to developing a different relationship with the past. If you find yourself stuck in the same old patterns that you can’t make sense of, just know that change is possible - it may just take a bit of self-exploration first.
Thinking of you, proud of you, rooting for you……
Kitty is also a therapist and has just started her own newsletter called Life Club dedicated to unpacking co-dependency, check it out here.
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