Completing The Past
By Robert Fritz
Much of the psychotherapeutic and the human potential world consider past experiences, especially traumatic ones, the cause of psychological and personal problems. The notion is that troubling experiences are trapped within the mind as "repressed areas of consciousness." The mind rejects the upsetting experiences and denies full recognition of them. Since the mind tries to pretend these incidents never happened, the events remain unresolved.
In that the person cannot resolve the traumatic experience directly, the mind tries to resolve the experience indirectly by generating unconscious drives and impulses.
If, for example, one of your parents left the family when you were young, and that was a traumatic experience, the unresolved dynamic of that experience may lead to future complications in love relationships. And, according to many psychotherapeutic theories, you cannot manage to have a healthy love relationship until the past trauma is resolved. In other words, you must "complete" your past, given that you feel "incomplete" about it.
Some forms of psychotherapy "regress" the patient back to the traumatic experience, and then encourage him or her to relive the event. By directly facing the experience, the emotional charge that surrounds the event can be released. The mind is then free.
This method has worked well for people who had exceedingly painful experiences. But, too often, new unwanted difficulties emerge, and the patient is back on the couch, exploring other negative past experiences.
There are more vital structural dynamics in play in your life than past experiences. For example, the conclusions you may have reached based on your past experiences.
Let's say that one of your parents left the family when you were a child, and, based on that experience, you have concluded that you can't trust people. The concept that you can't trust people becomes one element in your structural makeup. You have others, such as the desire to have close relationships. An underlying structure that contains both of these two elements will produce a predictable pattern of oscillation.
The pattern will begin by meeting someone you want to have a relationship with. Because of your attraction, the mind now has two contradictory goals.
One goal is to form a relationship with the person you like. But the other goal is to protect you from harm from untrustworthy people. Therefore, you also want to avoid a relationship that might be risky. You want a close relationship yet avoid a close relationship.
At first, one of these goals will dominate the other, usually the initial attraction. The next step in the pattern is to begin a relationship. The relationship might go very well at first. But as time passes, the idea that you can't trust people begins to become more and more pronounced.
This isn't necessarily because the person you are with has betrayed you, or stolen your money, or hit on your best friend. It is because the concept that you can’t trust people is pitted against the fact of the relationship itself. You become suspicious. You begin to accuse the person of misdeeds. You become distant. You begin to pick fights.
Naturally, the relationship begins to suffer as you seem to drive the person away, quite contrary to what you actually want. Perhaps, finally, after the difficulties you've caused, the person does leave you. At that point in the pattern, you can say, "See, you can't trust people."
A complicating factor in this pattern is that people with this type of structure often seem to attract those who, indeed, are not trustworthy. There may be legitimate questions of trust at issue.
But the person's friends give this advice, "you need to learn how to trust people." Yet, it would be foolhardy to trust those who are untrustworthy. And that's exactly the type of person who fits the pattern. And the pattern reoccurs over and over as the desire to have a relationship and the desire to avoid relationships with untrustworthy people are inextricably tied.
In such a pattern, the conclusions you made in the past are reinforced by current events that seem to continuously play themselves out. It seems like a vicious circle.
Structure, like physics, has certain laws that are independent from the individual. If you are subject to gravity, it is not how you've lived your life, or your psychology, or your DNA, or your cultural background, or your education. If we took Mary out of the structure in which she has desire to have a loving relationship and, simultaneously, can't trust people, and put John in, John would suddenly have the very same pattern that Mary had.
Naturally, we think of the patterns in our lives as unique, individual, idiosyncratic, and highly personal. But, they are not. The patterns are generated by the underlying structures you are in. To what degree do you need to deal with the past to change the structure so that it generates a better pattern? Usually, not at all. However, you may need to rethink the various conclusions you have made throughout your life. These conclusions become the concepts you hold. “You can’t trust people,” may be one concept. "I am stupid," may be another. "The world is dangerous," may be another. There are countless more.
Concepts are generalizations. Here is the definition of generalization:
gen·er·al·i·za·tion [ jčnÉ™rÉ™li záysh'n ] (plural gen·er·al·i·za·tions)
© Robert Fritz 2010