How strong a hold does the past have on us?

How strong a hold does the past have on us?

Share to your social

‘The past is a place of reference not a place of residence’, Willie Jolley.

I’ve been mulling this over in relation to my own story but also my children’s. The memories we have of our past can be so strong, they seem to have such a hold on us and often they’re not even real. We’ve just come back from a family holiday that was hot, challenging and troublesome at times – of course there were some good family times too – but now we’re back and I think back on those few weeks I remember the good times much more then the bad. I think of those hot days as a lovely thought were as when we were in them they were awful. The memory is a strange thing – we can be nostalgic for something that we actually hated at the time!

When I think of my children and their past I can see why they would want to not remember, talk or even think about some aspects of it. They might fantasise that it was much better than it actually was, or they may imagine it was much worse, it’s hard to know as we weren’t there and don’t know what is fact and what isn’t. I do know though that whatever our past may have been to live in those memories is not productive. It will not help us to see the present as good or to imagine a brighter future. Living in the past is not an option. What is though is using that past as a reference or something that spurs us onto a different future.

I was listening to a friends podcast as he was interviewing Jeff Goins recently (well worth a listen) and Jeff said something as a bit of a throw away comment to the topic but it caught my attention – “the past doesn’t dictate our future, it prepares us”. How true is that?! We can of course hold on to the past the let it determine our present and influence our future but the better way is to see that what we have experienced in our past can prepare us for the future. Every failure or set back points us towards success. Every stepping stone can lead us onto something new. When I look back over my life I can see that the things that seemed pointless at the time have actually helped me to be where I am today.

As I’ve been thinking about this topic there are three main thoughts formulating in my mind. Especially when thinking about my children and how to make sure their past does not become their residence:

  1. Accept our past as part of our story. My daughter particularly struggles with this – she wants a ‘do over’, another start in life, a way to change what has happened to her. But that’s impossible. We cannot change the past. We need to accept that our story includes those bad parts as well as the good. Whether stuff was done to us or indeed we did things to make it bad – we cannot change it now. Once we can accept that our story includes our past we will not be able to live in the present.
  2. Live in the Present. We may have to make amends for something we did in the past or learn to forgive others for what they may have done (not easy I know) but we must live in the present as much as possible. We actually only reside in the present – the past has gone and the future hasn’t happened yet – the present is in reality where we actually live. Being able to appreciate where we are now is so freeing. I see this with the children too – they can be upset one minute and then be laughing their heads off the next – each moment seems to not be connected to the other. Being able to really live in the moment is a gift, one I try to recognise every day. Something that has helped me with this is One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, a brilliant way of developing living in the moment mentality.
  3. Make choices for the future from the present not the past.  Living in the past means you make decisions based on the past. When you accept that your past is part of your story but it isn’t the end – that means you can change the future. I hope and pray that my children, as they grow will make good choices based on things they are learning now and not on what their life has been like in the past. The same for me, I have to continuously change my perspective to see that all things are possible. I may believe I am stupid as I left school with very few qualifications, but that does not mean I can’t learn. I may believe people will abandon and reject me because of something that happened in the past, but that cannot stop me from connecting with people again. We need to try and make decisions based on who we are now and who we could be, not who we were in the past.

So where are you living? In the past, the present or the future? Our pasts are important – they are a reference and stepping stones to the future BUT they do not dictate our destiny and we do not have to live in the past. Learn from the past, live in the present and make good choices for the future.


Get Our Book:
Attachment & Trauma Issues In Educational Settings

Stay Connected

Get Our Book:
A Teacher's Introduction to Attachment