Trapped by past wounds
As a teacher, sometimes you have not so great encounters with parents. My first year of teaching I had a parent corner me and lay into me about the poor grade her son was getting. I still vividly remember her red face and spicy words. Regardless of who was right or wrong, I internalized every last painful bit of it.
Years later, I would randomly catch myself reliving that argument in my head except in these fantasy scenarios, I made all these profound points to justify my position… very unlike how it was in real life where I mostly just stuttered from utter humiliation.
One time when I was in the middle of one of these little mental re-enactments, my husband asked me what I wanted for dinner and I just snapped at him. My heart had started beating harder. I felt irritated, on guard, and attacked.. all over again… for no reason. This parent was gone. The memory was well in the past. And yet it was like it was happening all over again.. Sound familiar at all?
We want to move on from past hurts. We want to be released from our wounds. But for some reason, for so many of us, these moments somehow get put on replay in our heads and we find ourselves reliving these hurts and re-opening the wounds.
When these memories resurface, we feel an obligation to comb through every detail all over again. Maybe we’re trying to make sense of it? Maybe we’re wishing we can force a new ending? But this kind of thinking ends up opening our wounds and making them fresh, like picking at a scab.
How we try to move on
Many of the great psychologists explain that we deal with past hurts in one or more of these four ways- suppression, repression, escapism, and expression. They’re pretty self-explanatory...
Sometimes we ignore it and pretend it never happened. I usually accompany suppression by telling myself, “It wasn’t a big deal.”
When we repress we unconsciously push the thoughts, emotions, and traumas down so deep that we actually forget that they happened.
Sometimes we try to escape it by filling our life with distractions. That way, we never even give ourselves the chance to think about it.
Sometimes we express it by venting, journaling, dancing- however we are able to process through emotions.
None of these are bad in and of themselves. These are all ways our body chooses to sort through things. If your body is really stressed out and has other things to concern itself with, it might opt for suppressing or repressing a bad memory because it knows now is not the time to process it.
Eventually, though... your body will bring it up.
Your body won't hesitate to speak up for you and demand healing.
Usually an undealt with past hurt can show up as physical symptoms. We just need to make sure we are listening. Too much or too little of any of these four options can be damaging and none will get us to a place of lasting freedom.
They’re like putting band-aids onto wounds after we’ve scratched through the scab.
Achieving lasting freedom from past hurts
So the question is then: How do we achieve lasting freedom from past hurts?
If you notice with our Church Fathers, with the saints, with great spiritual gurus… they all come to the same conclusion. It’s about detachment and letting go.
This doesn’t mean we should be totally disengaged in life.
It means not being attached to ideas, opinions, beliefs or people too tightly so that your happiness relies on them.
Think of a duck.
Ducks have this cool ability to shake off water so it doesn’t stick to them. Their entire life revolves around water and yet they never let it penetrate them or inhibit their ability to fly.
We need to internalize this same practice.
The truth is God is enough. God is all love, truth, beauty, goodness and He resides in us. Consequently, we have all we need.
All the great saints speak about this overwhelming, profound love they share with God. It’s so abundant that a lot of them gave up basic necessities like eating and sleeping and people would describe them as being the most joyful people they ever knew. They had tapped into their true identity and the ultimate source of life.
How to detach and let go
So what does detachment and letting go mean? Ultimately, we want to witness the memories of our past hurts, not re-live them. We want to be able to see them without partaking. Witness without falling victim again.
A famous psychologist and spiritual guru, Dr. David Hawkins, says if a past hurt resurfaces in our mind, we should act as if we are watching a movie or show. Witness it. Acknowledge it. Let it play out naturally but do not participate.
You’ll find that if you don’t interject your own thoughts and words, you don’t spiral into the feelings of anger, resentment, insecurity, and fear. We don’t do ourselves any favors by adding to the energy of the memory.
Using Saint Teresa’s analogy, soon enough the memory will pass by like a cloud passing in the sky and you’re left unchanged, unaffected, and peaceful.
I found this method to be impossible for me without using some sort of imagery. My husband often gives these images to his patients to help them practice letting go:
1. When a painful memory comes up, imagine swimming in an ocean carrying a heavy weight that is pulling you down deeper and deeper into the dark water. When you feel ready, let go of the weight. Imagine you are letting go of this memory and are no longer allowing it to affect you and attach itself to you. Feel yourself float freely back up, unencumbered and light, toward the Father and your true self.
2. Imagine holding a hand full of sand. Feel the weight in your palm. Then, imagine a small wave comes and washes over your hand. When the wave recedes, your hand is free of sand. Imagine that the wave, God’s mercy and love, washed away the memory and it is no longer any concern of yours. He has it and has taken care of it.
The more you practice letting go and detachment, the more you will see you are leading the life the Lord always intended for you... a life of freedom, love, and joy.
If you sit in quiet, what memories pop in my head? When these memories pop up, do you interact with it? Do I try to "make it right"? Do I try to control these memories and change their outcomes in my head? Can I take the time to sit and practice letting go of these memories?
Abba Father, I know it is your will for me to be at ease and peaceful. I know you don't desire for me to be chained by past memories and wounds. You intend for me to be unconditionally free and relentlessly whole. You overcome all obstacles through me. I am a being of complete joy.