There is a belief that in psychotherapy we must return to the past. Is it really always like that?
So how is it with the past?
The influence of the past on the present
Let me start by saying that the past, apart from our character, has impact on who we are today. How? As a result of various experiences, we might have unconsciously developed different behaviors and beliefs. We needed them to survive as a child. However, repeated, they have become out second nature. We started using them in every situation.
The problem is that although these behaviors were necessary then, now they can harm us in some situations.
In therapy, it is important to identify these behaviors and beliefs and make them more flexible. This means: stop applying them in situations when they block us and disturb us, and keep them where they can be useful.
Is awareness enough or do you have to go back to the past?
Sometimes becoming aware of our own behavior or belief and see how it affects our current life, is enough. Something changes within ourselves. A determination and a strong decision “I don’t want that anymore” arise. And that’s enough to change.
In some cases, despite becoming consious:
– we discover emotions that we have hidden somewhere deep, which need to be expressed;
– we are not able to change our behavior, beliefs, because they are deeply rooted in us;
In this case, it is necessary to return to the past. In the office, a person can name and feel all the emotions. She/He can also express them (e.g. by imagining the person she/he wants to address it to) either from the perspective of the child that she/he was or the adult who she/he is. It is also a place to verify beliefs – where did they come from and whether we want to keep them in this version.
Fear of confronting the past
Meeting the past can scary us. We may be afraid to confront various feelings and beliefs that may appear. How is it in reality? Sometimes, it can be difficult, but it may also turn out not to be as scary as we imagined it to be.
I would like to emphasize here that this encounter with the past is not to relive traumatic experiences, but to close what needs closure and to separate here and now from the past.
I also want to mention that everyone can always say, “That’s enough for today.”. And that’s ok. It’s important to do it at own pace.
In conclusion, confronting the past is an individual matter and is not always necessary.
* I am writing this from the perspective of Gestalt psychotherapy. There are trends in psychotherapy where the answer may be different.
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