“I’m like this because my mother didn’t love me enough.” Or, “I was pampered as a child, and as such, I’ve grown up with a lack of hunger.” Or, “I’m an unlucky person — always have been.”
These are all stories we tell ourselves. Stories that keep us rooted in the past, not allowing us to live in the present and not fulfilling our potential.
At age eleven, my innocence was shattered due to a Coup d’ état in Ghana. I had to leave my comfortable, sheltered life, my friends, my school, and my environment. I found myself in a new country, England, with few people like me, and few who liked me.
I quickly learned that to fit into my new environment meant not to share any dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, or disappointment. I had to show that I was tough, cool, and almost perfect.
Simply put, I could not be vulnerable, and I had to close my heart to protect myself. In doing so, I not only closed myself to the dark emotions but also to the lighter ones, and I carried this way of being subconsciously well into my forties.
The facts of my story are true. But I had given it too much significance. At the end it was just a story that I’d told myself. One that hindered my growth, self-expression and relationships.
True, our past affects our present. True, our past conditioning can influence our behavior today.
However, today, I’m suggesting a radical way of thinking. The past itself doesn’t matter. Instead it’s the meaning that we attribute to those past events that affect us.
Let’s look at the traumatic event coldly, empathize with ourselves as to how we were affected in such a way, and then proceed to wipe it out.
Let’s tell ourselves that the past doesn’t matter anymore. Instead let’s focus on what we want and how we will get there.
This way of removing the past was popularised by Alfred Adler, a psychologist born 1870 and part of the ‘Wednesday Society’ created by Sigmond Freud. However, Adler would later break out on his own and become a critic of Freud.
Adler, in denial of the Freud’s trauma argument, states the following: ‘No experience is in itself a cause of our success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences — the so-called trauma — but instead, we make out of them whatever suits our purposes. We are not determined by our experiences, but the meaning we give them is self-determining.’
Adler continues, “People are not driven by past causes, but move toward goals that they themselves set.”
The point is no matter what has happened to us up to this point, it should not affect how we live from now on.
What matters most is that we are living now in the present and we can determine what happens next.