We all handle trauma and abuse differently. We may even have different definitions of what abuse is, depending on our culture and context. As men, we have a tendency to bury our feelings and hold on to trauma. This behavior can be harmful to our emotional development and well-being. It can also affect our ability to develop meaningful relationships with others. At some point, we have to deal with our painful past and do whatever it takes to move forward.
Here are a few steps that can help you begin to let go of the past.
Your Memories May Betray You
We tend to think that memories are stored in our brains like data on a computer hard drive. Neuroscientists have shown that each time we remember something, we reconstruct the event, reassembling it from bits and pieces of data throughout the brain. “Psychologists have pointed out that we also suppress memories that are painful or damaging to self-esteem…, as a result, memory is unreliable.” Memory reshapes itself to accommodate new situations, it is an incomplete portrait of the past.
You Can’t Undo the Past
Life does not have an eraser. You can only shape your future. No matter how much anger you carry or regret you have, you cannot undo what was.
You Don’t Have to Become What You Fear
I was determined to be a better man than my father, who by today’s standards would be considered abusive. I still have some anger and insecurity inside of me that was developed at an early age. Yet I resist those urges every day because I want to write my own story. I want my son and daughter to respect me, not out of fear, but out of love. There are no head slaps or profanity-laced tirades in my discipline story with them. I am an integral part of my adult children’s lives. They still call me for advice and guidance. They still enjoy doing things with dad.
Take Responsibility for Your Suffering
Too often we blame others or our circumstances for our failure and our fear. Clearly, there are times when life just happens. You may be involved in an accident, or be a victim of a crime. Those situations are out of your control, but you control response moving forward.
“Holding on is believing that there’s only a past; letting go is knowing that there’s a future,” writes noted author, Daphne Rose Kingma. We need to give ourselves permission to release the past. Have you ever started down the wrong road in your car? Do you keep going in the wrong direction and say, “Well I spent so much time driving north I can’t turn east now?” That would be pretty dumb wouldn’t it? You would never wind up at your preferred destination. You would correct the error at the first opportunity you had.
Learn from Your Pain
The lessons of your past pain can give you wisdom and insight, enabling you to walk a better path. When I around 13 years old, I decided to do an experiment in my garage involving matches, firecrackers, and gasoline. What could possibly go wrong? I combined these elements on top of a 45lb metal plate weight and lit them. Boom! Flames quickly exploded all over. I put the fire out just as quickly as it ignited and went into the house to answer a phone call from a friend. As I joked with my friend about my experiment, something caught my attention. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that the black tar paper that lined my garage wall being engulfed in flames. I hung up the phone and ran outside to tackle the flames. With a blanket, I beat the flames into submission. My heart was pounding. I was numb, but then the pain slowly drove its way to the surface. I look down at my inner bicep and noticed the blisters beginning to form. I had been touched by the fire. The scar on my arm would be my only reminder of a tragedy averted. It remains a permanent whisper to make better choices.
Time Can Heal Old Wounds
Time is a great healer. But, you can’t pick at the scab. Our adaptive memories were designed the way they are so that we can cope and move on with life. Imagine what would happen if a football player or a tennis player quit every time they made a mistake. Serena Williams would collapse every time she had an unforced error. Tom Brady would cry every time he threw an interception. We all make mistakes, but those mistakes can’t be our anchor.
Develop Healthy Relationships
There is a biblical proverb that says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Not many of us can go it alone in life. We need people to walk with us as we journey along our chosen path.
Decide to Move Forward
There is an old saying, “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” I often see addicts who were never successful in their recovery because they kept the same circle of friends. They kept going to places that reminded them of their addiction. While you may not be addicted to drugs, you may be addicted to the “drama” of life. Leave that drama behind and move forward.
Create a New Definition of You
Henry David Thoreau said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way.” People will try to bring up your past, but continue to construct your own narrative. If this means shutting down your social media accounts, do it. If it means changing your cell number, do it. If it means moving to find better opportunities, do it. I am not talking about running away from responsibility, I am talking about running towards a better you.