When Your Past Doesn’t Leave You Alone

A way of moving forward again.


Tuan Lima

2 years ago | 5 min read

You wake up one day feeling down. It feels like your disposition has been hijacked somewhere during your sleep, it was a troubling night sleep anyway. What happened? The previous evening, and day, had been so ordinary. And yet it feels like you got in a bad mood just for breathing the air that keeps you alive.

One thing seems peculiar though, however you only came to realize it later. This image keeps showing up in your thoughts. It doesn’t go away, and it hurts so much. It’s you doing something awful, that you repent so much having done.

It could be a job offer you didn’t pitch as you should, it could be retreating instead of fighting for the person you wanted to be at your side now. It could be not having said goodbye to a dear someone when you had the opportunity.

So you want to change things. But how? It was so long ago, what could you do?

And there it comes the pain. It hurts when you realize in the most visceral of ways that what is done is done, one can’t move the past out of its paralyzing determinateness. One can’t get rid of its load that keeps hanging there, weighing on you, defining in the most despicable of ways that you are beyond redemption.

How can one be so much drowned by one’s own imagination? It pulls from within without even granting scape by wilful blindness. You become a slave of your own mind, obliged to go over and over that some appalling scene that you dread so much it happened to you, and that it was you in full possession of your senses that allowed it happening as it did.

In spite of your effort, which is huge because this seems the most important thing in your life, it keeps hurting and for some reason, you can’t rationalize out of it. It doesn’t matter how hard you try to convince yourself that you were not the best fit for the job, or that it was just a crush, or that saying goodbye to someone changes nothing, still, it hurts all the same.

Why is it so? You ask. Why what was gone so long ago can have such a grip on us? Why now, when nothing can be fixed anymore?

Your questions pile up unanswered.

Life goes on, eventually. You managed to put it back on track, and even forget that monster in the basement for a week or two. But now it’s back again, only much more gripping and upsetting.

Remembering as a self-correcting mechanism

The process just described, that of spontaneous recurrence of past events that often present themselves mixed with feelings of repent, self-defeat, and apathy, is so common among different strata of people that we can discuss its recurrence in terms of evolutionary psychology.

The essential question here would then be: What is the benefit of revisiting one’s past troubles with no apparent progress when the only consequence of it seems to be detrimental to the continuation of life?

One can barely touch the answer to that question without bringing up Jungian psychology to the table. In Volume IX Part I of his collected works, Carl Jung makes some interesting observations, about the recycling properties of the psyche, that would be handy to us in view of the problem of the recurring past.

For him, the spontaneous products of the psyche that come to us via dreams, art, and other manifestations of unrestrained imagination, work together oftentimes to the effect of counterbalancing the excesses and faults of our character.

To that effect, a dream, instead of useless epiphenomena, would be a sort of psychic bridge to the world of the unconscious, operating often as a mechanism to make reemerge the things in us that need being reintegrated in the whole of our personality or bringing a new side of things to light — one that if not relevant before is relevant now.

This Jungian talk may serve us here as a mind-opener to the possibilities of the psyche and its operation in our day-to-day lives. If we make ourselves open to whatever life is trying to tell us, the phenomena of the recurring past can be used as a guiding mechanism leading us to the parts of our self that need to be worked out but which are often neglected because of its unconscious nature.

Paying attention to the hints of the unconscious is by no means an unsophisticated affair. All the instincts that we possess, including the one to recall, were designed by evolution just as our physical body. They should respond positively to the development and perpetuation of the personality.

With this text, we hope to let you with the modicum of a hint to the potential that lies in the thoughts that come to us unasked, and more specifically to the insightful and deep characteristics of those memories that come hurting and which seem to stay longer than they should.

Take the chance to listen to your subconscious just as medicine has told you to listen to your body. Meditate on it, let your mind sit on it while free to wonder at how it could and couldn’t be different, how are you responsible for it, how are you not responsible for it. Integrate yourself along with the new you that is about to emerge.

Note on the problem of the Recurring Past

I am aware that talking about the recurring past as if it was a known and documented problem, when it is not, may engender distrust on the reader of these lines. I would like to emphasize that the goal here is rather of calling attention to an issue that may be relevant, whether therapeutically or psychologically, to the degree that it arises interest.

The approach is serious at least in so much as it touches the subject with the result of stimulating the discussion on topics related to recollections and its effect upon the human mind, such as recurrent memories of traumatic experiences, unsurmountable repent and psychosis that binds the subject to their past.


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Tuan Lima







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