Living Beyond: Moving Beyond Your Past

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

Moving Beyond Your Past

“It is beyond a doubt that all our knowledge begins with experience.” ~ Immanuel Kant

Have you ever been confronted with your past? Does your past seem to creep up on you like a thief in the night? For so many, when we are reminded of our past, we are reminded of our perceived failures, mistakes, and problems that have occurred within our life. Rarely are we faced with the challenge of living down our successes and positive achievements. When I speak of moving beyond your past, it is not to deny those errors that have occurred within life, rather, it is to move forward and to live life anew. It is to live life beyond our failures and our successes and to begin living as a person of worth and value.

If I were to start a personal list of my past failures and successes; I would need an encyclopedia to list them all. Why then do we keep a running list of our perceived failures and in some cases our successes? Why are you continuing to be defined by historical markers in life? For who you are is much more than those perceived markers that line your virtual roadmap. After all, our failures and mistakes are simply learning curves on our journey of life.

Moreover, we need to begin learning to accept our person beyond our perceived failures and mistakes. Have you ever encountered an individual who is constantly dwelling on the past? How does or how did this individual make you feel? Interestingly enough, I have seldom met an individual whose focus is on their successes, yet when I did, they seem to be living in that moment on a constant basis. Many years ago, I met an individual who had been a success in a professional sport. Over the years, this particular individual was constantly reminding me and others how successful he had been. This individual seemed to rely on his achievements for recognition and personal acceptance. Eventually, this individual would discuss with me that he felt stuck in the past and was unable to move forward with his life.

I have also had the privilege of serving individuals who have overcome major addiction. As a clinician, I have had a number of patients who struggle with letting go of the past. Sadly, I have also witnessed a number of these individuals struggle with defining themselves as an addict, rather than having an addiction. Unlike physiological health issues; those who struggle with mental health challenges are often defined by the diagnosis or the causation of their struggles. Thus, it is vitally important that you begin recognizing that you are not an addict, but rather, you have an addictive habit or disease. Just like a physiological disorder, you are no more a cancer or a broken limb, than you are an addict.

There are also those who refuse personal responsibility. When someone is denying involvement in a perceived failure or wrong; the motivational mechanism to deny such involvement is cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent or inaccurate beliefs, thoughts or attitudes of his or her past. For many, cognitive dissonance occurs when they refuse to accept responsibility of one’s personal past. “Dissonance is most painful when information crashes into our view of ourselves as being competent, kind, smart, and ethical—when we have to face the evidence that we have made a bad mistake.”

Personally, I comprehend the rationalization of separating myself from my past mistakes. I too have felt compelled to be seen in a particular light, but it was not until I realized that accepting my failures and successes, is accepting my humanness and uniqueness in this life. I am neither compelled, nor should I be compelled to be defined by those historical markers in life. For after all, those historical markers are simply pinpoints within our life. Our historical markers should never define our personhood.

For anyone trying to live up to his or her successes or failures, they will always be looking to the past. Our failures and successes are the same; they are merely mile markers on our historical roadmap and are not representative of our real person.

For how many people have you known that have made profound mistakes? Do they allow the mistakes of their past to define them? As a person, you must begin to value and cherish the internal you. For whom you are goes well beyond the historical markers in this life. For you are a person of considerable worth, value, and ability. If you want to truly experience life, you must begin moving beyond the successes and failures of this life. Yet, I want to clarify that living beyond your past does not eliminate the scars left behind, or your personal responsibility in this life. Moreover, I am trying to express that no one should be defined by those markers, rather they should be recognized by their current personhood.

“Live out of your imagination, not your history.” ~Stephen R. Covey

What is it about your past that you are so attached to? Do you find comfort in your past? Do you feel that you can never live down your past therefore you have chosen to embrace it?

Did you know that living and reliving traumatic events can have a dire effect upon your psychological health and well-being? Did you also know that living and reliving your past can literally alter the physiological makeup and networks within your brain? Why then, are you continuing to provide a stage for those historical markers to perform? It is of vital importance that you begin moving beyond your historical self.

“Life is too short to waste any amount of time on wondering what other people think about you. In the first place, if they had better things going on in their lives, they wouldn’t have the time to sit around and talk about you. What’s important to me is not others’ opinions of me, but what’s important to me is my opinion of myself.” ~ C. JoyBell C.

For while our failures and successes help mold us, they should never be allowed to define us. For who we are, is much more than perceived errors; for who we are, are people of value, of substance, worth, dignity, and approval. Our experiences help mold us, guide us, and provide us significant knowledge to maneuver in this life. When you begin thinking upon your past, remember to consider them nothing more than historical markers in this life.