Are you stuck in the past? Obsessing over the things I wish I had turned out differently has long been tendency of mine. While it can feel like a weakness, I want you to remember that “living in the past” also points to a strength. Because truthfully, everything in our earlier lives has shaped us profoundly. We introspective types intuitively sense the importance of finding an effective way to process it all. We look to the past because we are passionate about creating a better future.
As an amateur coach, one of the systems I trained in that taught me a lot about healing from the past is called Clear Beliefs. Created by Lion Goodman, the ICF-accredited processes I learned do not concern themselves with past events directly, but with beliefs we formed that no longer serve us. I’ll give you an example.
One of my practice clients realized she had the belief “I don’t deserve to be happy.” How did she wind up feeling that way? She had seen her parents struggle as a child. She had formed a sense of loyalty to Mom’s and Dad’s pain. She could never be too happy, because it would feel like leaving her family behind.
To find relief, we used a guided visualization called “The Belief Closet.” By imagining her belief as an outfit of clothing that she was free to take off, my practice client managed to “dis-create” it. From there, she replaced the old belief with a new one that made more sense to her, and that produced a sense of vitality. She walked away from the session feeling free to live her life to the fullest.
Can people really release something like that in a single conversation? In my experience, we most certainly can—especially when we are in a safe environment and have effective techniques (Clear Beliefs being just one option) at our disposal. However, we will probably always carry around some pain from the past, no matter how much we work on ourselves. It is important to find healthy ways of relating to that pain. Even if we can feel 50% healed, that inner progress can make an enormous difference.
That being said, let my share with you 3 basic ideas that have helped me, and my Clear Beliefs friends, heal from the past.
Savor your feelings
I’ve always hated feeling bad. However, I have learned that too much resistance towards my negative emotions can get in the way of healing. If I ignore how I feel, intellectualize it, or self-medicate, that can cause my problems to persist. Things often start to change the moment I become willing to experience what I previously pushed away.
But what does it mean to “fully experience” something? How do you get yourself to do that?
Let me show you a body awareness technique that helped me a lot. You can try this when you have time to be alone. The next time you are going through something difficult that makes you want to fly away from your body, tune in to yourself and slowly explore these questions:
- Where do you feel the sensation in your body?
- What are the borders of the sensation where it begins and ends?
- Does the sensation have a temperature?
- A weight?
- Is it still or moving?
- If it had a color, what color would it be?
- If it had a taste, what would it taste like?
Even when I am going through something unpleasant, feeling my feelings this way makes it into a more pleasurable experience. It turns my pain—including pain that pops up from the past—into an interesting and satisfying exploration. After I’ve taken my time with it, the sensation tends to either go away or get lighter. Almost as if it were a crying child, or an irate customer, who had been dying to get my full attention. Now that it has been heard, it feels better. It goes on its merry way.
For those who want guidance with this process, Clear Beliefs coaches are available, including myself. Many other types of counselors as well as therapists are trained in body-based work you might like. If it is comfortable for you to do so, you can also practice feeling your feelings on your own, until you even start to savor them!
Know that every part of you is on your side
Another technique I learned from Clear Beliefs training is called Parts Work, or Voice Dialogue. This is where you isolate different aspects of your psyche or personality that appear to be in conflict. You give those parts of yourself a chance to speak their mind, to be understood, and to talk out their differences. That way, rather than being at war with yourself, you can proceed confidently in your life, feeling like a unified person.
In doing Voice Dialogue, I have met so many “parts” of people who seemed obnoxious at first, but who actually had the best of intentions.
For example, I had a part of myself whom I named “Ms. Cozy.” Ms. Cozy was the part of me who just wanted to be lazy and at ease all the time. She was holding me back from my ambitions, but it was because she wanted to help me rest, relax, and enjoy life’s simple pleasures. She was looking out for me like a momma tucking their kid into bed.
Meanwhile, my inner “Ms. Productivity” was the opposite. Ms. Productivity was always stressing me out with her nagging and demands. But it was because she deeply cared about me surviving, being socially successful, and making a difference in the world.
By the end of my Parts Work, Ms. Cozy and Ms. Productivity had ceased throwing china at each other. Instead, they were happily sipping tea together. They conspired to help their friend Phoenix (that’s me) live a balanced life.
When people feel frustrated with themselves, I wish I could tell them that every part of them is on their side. Just knowing this doesn’t immediately resolve our issues, but maybe we can all have a little more trust that we are doing our best. Be gentle with the different sides of yourself. Even the ones that scare you. Maybe with Clear Beliefs, therapy, journaling, art, or by some other means, you will have a chance to explore your complexities and feel more integrated.
Appreciate yourself, and others, like a god would
Many of us get wrapped up worrying about our present-moment problems. I know I do. It’s helpful to be able to step back, and find some separation and lightness.
We are more than just today’s problems. We are the full story of our lives.
We are more than just victims of the past. We are living potential of what happens next.
I know it’s annoying to be told such platitudes when you’ve having a hard day. However, what helps me get these concepts at an intuitive level is when I practice what Lion Goodman called The Appreciation Drill.
As a Clear Beliefs Coach, I was trained to have unconditional positive regard for each client. I practiced looking upon each person with patient understanding, quiet amazement, and appreciation for the mystery and miracle of who they were as a human being—even while they were complaining about their problems and feeling quite down. Lion taught us that the very quality of our warmth and admiration can help calm another person, so they get to a more clearheaded place from which to tackle their challenges.
Through doing this practice, I got better at regarding myself with appreciation, too.
Whether I am feeling excellent today, or terrible, I can appreciate myself from above, like a God or a deceased loved one might (depending on your beliefs).
Doing meditation on a regular basis is another way I’ve exercised my “dual awareness.” I am the me who is having a tough time right now, yes, but I am also something much greater, which I can tap into at any time. I might not love every moment in life, but I can always love myself.
I hope these ideas I’ve shared will assist you on your journey. When you’ve been through hardship, learning to appreciate yourself unconditionally is something you so deserve. Giving voice to the different “parts” of ourselves, and savoring even our hard emotions, can take us a long way on the road to healing. Good luck!
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Photo: Nati Melnychuk via Unsplash