Making Peace with Your Past

One of the most difficult and necessary things that we can do in our lives is to come to terms with the emotional and/or physical traumas from our childhood.

When clients enter therapy they seldom start by looking back. They are often faced with a more immediate crisis such as a marriage in freefall, a job loss or acting out kids.

After working on the “presenting problem” it is time to look at the deeper issues from childhood that have created the struggles in their adult life.

In the therapy room we explore their family history and allow the grief, sadness and anger to surface. It takes courage to confront the hurt and losses they have experienced and feel the pain it has created in them. It becomes evident that their unmet child needs and traumas have influenced them to often choose unwisely and encounter difficulties in many arenas of their lives.

man reflecting

To get to the underlying truths about what happened in childhood they need to confront the rationalizations minimizing they have been placed in the way of embracing that really happened.

I will often hear things like, “It wasn’t that bad.” or “Other kids had it worse,” as they tell me about beatings or other abuse. Or “I didn’t know that it was normal to have a mom who made dinners and tucked you into bed,” when they are talking about neglect.

As they become more connected to feelings and start making sense of their childhoods clients begin to feel the pain of those losses and hurts.

Parents or family members who were once adored now become the subject of scorn and anger. 

The client begins their therapy with a child’s view of the world with black and white thinking: They used to see their parents as “wonderful” and “the best” and now sees the ways they were hurtful, mean, etc. and wants them to be all bad.

Even after a client has done work to heal their inner child, become better as parents themselves and be accountable in their interactions with others there is still lingering anger and resentments with parents. Often in therapy I encourage clients to write angry letters to their parents and read them out loud to me or to their therapy group. They can also do “anger work” and “grief work” to move and release the energy that is getting in their way.

In time they can move towards seeing their parents as human beings who suffered in their own childhoods. Realizing that their parents underwent similar traumas can be a way to begin having compassion and empathy. In time clients realize they can hold both truths: They can love their parents and feel angry and hurt by the actions as well. 

Also having the client work on self- forgiveness for all their own mistakes and poor choices is a good way to move towards the forgiveness of others.

The goal of all this work is to help them come to a place of peace: Accepting their parents for the flawed and unconscious human beings they were and not to see them as monsters. Also to see the commonalities of how they themselves have responded in less than healthy ways in their own histories humanizes the parents as well. This acceptance helps the client to move ahead without the bile and resentments that get in the way of truly enjoying a peaceful and prosperous life. 

And a life well lived is the best revenge. 

As Mark Twain once said, “Holding a resentment is like you taking poison and expecting the other person to fall over dead.”

You can find out more on men's counseling here.