The past is yet to be determined.
It was a comment made by one of my professors in grad school during a discussion on how to help clients get unstuck from their past stories.
It was the kind of line that didn’t make sense to me at the time, so I tucked it away in my unconscious puzzling it out until it finally made sense. Eventually I got it big time. Both professionally and personally.
It is not a literal comment. Events and facts about the past are still facts. You have an older sister. Your father was abusive. You were married and then divorced. You have two children. You were fired from your job last month. Etc. But what those facts mean to you, how these facts effect you, is determined not by the past but by where you are in the present.
Suppose you got fired from your job last week. You are devastated, blind-sided, feel hopeless and afraid and spend the week half stunned, half depressed. At some point you get back out there and stay at the job game long enough to land a new job. A year later you are telling your friends how much you love your current job and that same firing is the luckiest break you ever got.
Of course it can go the other way too. A month after moving to a big city you are having a fabulous time enjoying the sights and sounds and bragging about the fact that you made the move. 3 years later, cramped in a small apartment because that’s all you can afford, you are cursing yourself for that impulsive decision.
I’ve seen this kind of remorse, regret or even resentment spin on the past at the break up of a long term relationship. The points of the past that get elevated are the ones that correspond to current feelings. He was always a selfish person. She was never please-able. Did we ever love each other?
When the past has a negative spin, when it diminishes joy or success or positive regard, it can be wise to be particularly wary. It helps to remember that this spin is much more of a statement on how you are feeling right now than what really happened back then.
Getting to the root of why you are spinning your story a certain way can serve you. What need are you seeking to fulfill? Are you looking for support? Empathy? Validation of the struggles you’ve had to endure? Permission to feel helpless or hopeless or angry?
There is nothing wrong with these reasons. But be careful of the price you may pay to contort the past this way: Being depressed... Holding on to anger... Living life as a victim...
Throwing yesterday completely under the bus may serve your mood now but at the cost of dismissing the benefits of that same past. Can you find balance with those negative highlights? Can you find gratitude for your past or shift your story to notice how far you’ve come? Can you work to acknowledge the strengths you now possess exactly because of those past challenges you’ve had?
I invite you to be determined to determine your past in such a way that you feel stronger, lighter and more at peace. Find the value in those past facts and I guarantee it will serve you right now. Today. In the present. (And because of that, your past and your present will surely determine a nicer future as well!)