How to Find Freedom from the Past

If we are shaped by anything in life, it is surely by the pang of painful past experiences. You know this pain all too well. The ones in life who were supposed to protect, provide, and nurture instead inflicted deep and sorrowful hurt, abandonment, and abuse. Expectations were dashed, self-expression wasn’t allowed, eggshells were everywhere.

In therapy, I hear the broken, brutal stories of courageous people who have somehow made it through.  They look for greater freedom and joy. They refuse to let their past define there present and future. I often find myself angry as I hold space for these stories to live and breathe, sometimes for the very first time. It’s never fair.

And this is the truth.  Injustice isn’t fair.  Yet I am learning it’s part of life.  How we deal with that injustice is truly our making.  The trauma of our past breaks us in a way that often feels irreparable-futile. Last week, I was driving to a meeting in Germantown and passed a street where I’d had an extremely difficult experience almost ten years prior. I felt my body cringe as it remembered how sad and dark that felt. My mind didn’t need to remind my body and heart; it was the other way around, and totally out of the blue.

Have you ever experienced this?

That voluntary and visceral reaction to a past experience that was so significant it was branded in your body? Trauma is stored in our bodies and is the reason so many literally block it out, having no memory of it until physically exposed to stimuli. We’ve learned to detach, shut down, and numb. Bessel van der Kolk, brilliant psychiatrist and author of The Body Keeps the Score, explains:

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies; The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.”

This insight fascinates me as it’s helped me understand that we can’t talk our way out of healing from this “gnawing interior discomfort.” We must learn two things: how to feel safe in our bodies and how to forgive. I love using Brainspotting with clients to begin unlocking the process of re-attachment and develop a sense of safety in our bodies. It has been a game changer for me and many.

I’ve noticed the more difficult of the two is often the forgiveness piece, which isn’t a surprise to me. We think of forgiveness much like we do vulnerability: as weakness. Thus we choose to carry the perpetrators of our pain around, heaping tons of power on them. Oftentimes the one we need to forgive is ourselves, which can be the hardest of them all.

When we choose unforgiveness, we not only stay connected to the pain and its source, we allow our past to define us. Isn’t it time we put down that heavy burden? Isn’t it time we take back our power and re-focus that wasted energy on giving and receiving new, hopeful opportunities and love?

This week, I encourage you to do some inventory and see if there might be any lingering unforgiveness that weighs you down and holds you back from your highest self. Support throughout this process is key, so know that I am here if you need a safe place to process and land along the way.

Remember, you are not the crumbs of your past. You’re invited to a grand, exquisite table of the present moment to feast on freedom and be satisfied by love.  It’s a wide open space to explore and move around in.  You are always welcome here.

Love & Gratitude,

Katie GustafsonComment