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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.

Structural Dynamics
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)



  1. sweeping statement: a statement presented as a general truth but based on limited or incomplete evidence
  2. general statement: a statement or conclusion that is derived from and applies equally to a number of cases
    not enough data to permit a generalization
  3. making of generalizations: the making of general or sweeping statements
  4. logic inference from instance: the application of the rules of inference that go from an instance to a universal or to an existential statement
  5. psychology use of learned response: the act of responding to a new stimulus in the same way as to a conditioned stimulus
From this definition we can understand how a specific experience may have led to a generalization, a sweeping concept that now is assumed to be true universally. Certainly some people are untrustworthy. But some people can be trusted. If we tar everyone with the same generalization, we will miss that actual case in reality.

Some generalizations are useful, such as, look both ways before you cross the street. Most times that is good advice. Yet some streets are one way, and while it may be good to check to see if there might be a car driving down the road the wrong way, there’s a good chance that looking one way before crossing the street is very sound.

Concepts of all types are used to fill in the unknowns in reality. They can give us a tangible feeling that we know something we don’t actually know. And because we think we know, we don’t make a point of finding out. Yet it is better to be aware of what we know and don’t know about reality. When we don’t know something we need to know, rather than speculate, we can ask questions, study the facts, observe, test, verify, and stay open to new information.

The Past Is Over
That is simply a fact. We cannot go back into the past and change things. Past experiences, good, bad, or indifferent, are over. Once we become fluent in reality, this insight becomes profoundly clear.

What that means is that we cannot complete the past, no matter how much we might like to. We cannot go back in time and remake the decision. We can't make the point we should have made during the argument. We can't catch the plane we missed. We can't unsay what we said.

We may regret aspects of the past. But we can't correct them. And if we learn from the past, we only know we have learned by applying those lessons to the current situation.

The past is over, yet some people obsess about the past, and many more of us bring conclusions we have made based on past experiences into the current situations we are in, thereby missing some important aspects of reality.

This insight is not simply an attitude to adopt. It is a fact to comprehend.

There is only one place we live, whether we are aware of it or not, and that place is the present. While we can understand this superficially, our minds might not understand this at all. So we may need to train the mind to focus on reality in the very same way an artist needs to focus on the object that is being painted.

In a way, we could say that to really complete the past once and for all comes from understanding that the past will never be completed. Ironically, the past is resolved by knowing it is irresolvable. This resolution is not finally feeling okay about it, but by the factual truth of reality in which you might never feel okay about it. Then you can be able to begin life anew.

© Robert Fritz 2010

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Updated: 10/24/10