The other evening, I was watching TV when an ad came on. During whatever they were advertising was a line, “making peace with the past.” It caught my attention. I said to myself, “that might be an interesting topic to write about.” It is common for me to have random thoughts become part of what I write about.
I suppose that to ‘make peace’ one must come to terms with whatever that ‘something’ is. I am guessing that those things must have a certain ‘gravatas’ to rise to the level of needing to make peace with them. Something that we have held onto. Something that we struggle to let go of. The things that stand in our way. It is an individual decision.
There are other things (a poor grade on a test) that are dealt with quickly. They don’t hold the same weight and therefore we don’t need to spend much time making ‘peace’ with them. One of the earliest situations that held some gravatas for me was breaking up with my first love (actually, she broke up with me). I was sixteen. It was quite traumatic and something that I carried with me for many months. It is also one of those things that is part of ‘coming of age’ for many of us. Age and experience give us a perspective that ‘lessens’ the blow over time. Even though the emotional pain may stick with us for a while, we normally come to a place of understanding that allows us to be ‘at peace’ with it.
And then there are those situations that we struggle to get over. Maybe it was being fired from a job. Divorce. Death of a loved one. Being hurt by a friend. Others, that are not easily explained as to why we are unable to make ‘peace.’ And then there are the ways we get in our own way, choosing to blame others for our ‘situation.’ I remember having a good friend who was in his forty’s and struggling. I asked him why he didn’t seek counseling. He paused and then told me, “Because I’m afraid I will see myself as others see me and I won’t like myself.” That was a very poignant moment. Reflecting on his life I recognize that he was unable to make peace with his past. There were places that he became ‘stuck.’
What causes people to get ‘stuck,’ and is it important to get unstuck? Being stuck, for me, means feeling an inability to move – it could be being placed in a position, or place, or way of thinking. We feel we can’t change and can’t get away. When I have been there, I know that I am holding on to something. It may be viewpoint, a hurt, or my ‘story.’ When I look deeper, I may find that there is something that I am getting from being stuck. It’s complicated. When I think back to being fired at 29, for a little while I held on to the notion that I wasn’t worthwhile. Sometimes it is easier to hold onto a negative image than it is to let it go. Fortunately, it didn’t take me exceedingly long to understand that that notion was false. I was able to reflect on my past jobs and know that I had been successful.
What happens when we are stuck? I’m not a psychologist, but I believe over time we lose part of ourselves, our genius. We become more ambivalent and can experience a great deal of anxiety and frustration.
There are many psychological reasons that can be cited for why people get stuck. In my coaching business a common reason stems from a lack of self-awareness. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of how we come to construct our lives. It is from that knowledge that we can build the ‘unique’ us. It allows us to see where we may be unnecessarily involved in others’ drama, or we pay too much attention to what others are telling us we ‘should’ do. When we take time to be ‘awake’ and ‘aware’ to ourselves – slowing down and reflecting on our own personal vision, we can focus more on our ‘path.’ If we don’t, then whatever ‘shiny’ ball gets our attention can take us in another direction, often depleting us and taking us in directions that are not helpful.
A chief observation of people who are stuck is that they often devote a lot of energy to wherever they are in the past. One common one is when someone has ‘hurt’ our feelings. If that person was a good friend, then the hurt we hold onto is magnified. Add to the mix that “I am right” and you have a recipe for being stuck, often for a longer time.
Years back I had a good friend come to work for me. At the beginning we were excited about working together, “This is going to be so cool!” Until it isn’t. Invariably, there came a time when I had to have a difficult conversation about the way he handled a particular prospect. He wasn’t happy about that conversation. It wasn’t too long after that he left the company. It was the right move. I made several attempts thereafter to reconcile and let him know that regardless of how the situation turned out, I still considered him my friend. Although I don’t know for sure, my sense was that he was stuck in his story. It was important for him to be right about how he handled the situation and my presence in his life was too uncomfortable for him. It saddened me.
For some time, I was ‘stuck’ on how to view my brother. I came to understand that I was hurting myself. I had to be able to see the other person, my brother, for who he was and love him just the way he was. It took me an exceptionally long time to be able to do that. Too long. Looking back, I spent too much time trying to motivate him to be something and someone else – as though I knew best. We both would have been better off had I loved him for who he was.
As you can tell, there is some of ‘making peace with the past’ that is personal. I recognize the amount of negative energy that is spent being ‘stuck.’ I also recognize how hard it can be to say I’m sorry, to ask for forgiveness, and to be a person capable of forgiving. Reconciliation is a powerful force in and for our lives. Is there a ‘place’ in your past that you need to let go of? Is there a person that you need to forgive or ask for forgiveness? Being ‘right’ may be important to us, but my experience tells me that being right can also be a lonely place.
To a better you…