One of the most common struggles that people come in to see me for is learning the art of letting go of the past. Many are stuck thinking about the wrongs that have been done to them and they are angry, frustrated, hurt, and sad. The unfortunate part about hanging on to those feelings is they continue to hurt and harm those that we love. That could mean hurting others that weren’t involved in the past misfortunes.
So let’s take a look at those past feelings. Those feelings aren’t really the past, they are the present. You are presently feeling angry, frustrated, hurt and/or sad. And it’s those feelings that are keeping the past alive.
What I first like to do with clients is to fester out all that the person is feeling, such as, anger, frustration, hurt, sadness – or any other feelings that they are experiencing.
Client: “I am angry that my parents worked all day and I was left alone to fend for myself”. Therapist: “You are angry that you were left alone?” Client: “Yes!” Therapist: “Tell me more about that anger.” Client: “They should have been there for me!” Therapist: “Tell me what it was like to be alone.” Client: “I had no one to talk to, I was bored, at times I got scared.” Therapist: “So you were scared to?” Client: “Of course I was scared, I was just a kid!” Therapist: “Let’s talk about you feeling scared.” Client: “I was scared because what if someone tried to come into my home when I was alone?” What if I got injured and no one was there?” “Why didn’t they care enough about me to be home with me?” Therapist: “What I heard you say in the beginning was you were angry because you were left alone but I’m also hearing you were frightened and you felt your parents didn’t care about you.” Client: “Yes, I guess, I feel they must have not cared about me so they left me alone at home.”
So we move from just being angry to actually carrying around a feeling that the client’s parents’ “didn’t care”. The above is just a short snippet of working through feelings and there’s more involved. It’s a process of several sessions to fester everything out. It’s like peeling an onion and working through all the layers by identifying all the feelings that were experiences. As we identify all that had happened, it’s validated.
I hope this gives you an idea of how to pull out all the feelings. I don’t want anything ignored or left out. I want to hear about the experiences that are causing so much pain. But what do we do about them now?
Experiences of the past need to be validated and never brushed off. Events happened and the feelings of the past are real. I spend time with clients letting them “feel” all that they have identified. That could mean they sit in sadness, anger or grief – but just for a limited time. We then move on.
Now we get to the part where we let it all go! Memories are just thoughts and thoughts have no power – unless the person chooses to give it power. Some thoughts stick with us, we react to them, and we keep thinking about them. Ugh! To keep thinking about them serves no purpose.
Some things you shouldn’t do:
• Make yourself forget about the past (you can not forget it)
• Stuff or ignore your feelings
• Wait for an apology or acknowledgment (if you never get an apology you will always sit in pain)
• Wait for time to heal all wounds
• Change the past (you can’t change what happened but you absolutely can change your reaction to what happened)
As a Cognitive Behavior Therapist I talk to my clients about how our feelings control our behavior. If you stay with anger, hurt and sadness, then they will become your reality. As an alternative, be open to moving forward. Prepare yourself to feel differently. Contemplate not defining yourself by thoughts about the past. Keep in mind, what you focus on, will become your present.
Many have been telling themselves their unfortunate life circumstances so many times that they aren’t allowing positive thoughts to come in. These negative thoughts keep you distracted from moving forward.
Some stuck thoughts that people hold on to:
• “I want to stay stuck because I was wronged.”
• “It is someone else’s responsibility to make this better for me.”
• “If I let go, I’m somehow approving another person’s bad behavior.”
• “I need an apology.”
• “Life is unfair.”
Holding on to those thoughts, the constant reminder, will only keep your unfortunate experiences in the present. How you feel is your responsibility, no one else’s. Once you realize all the power that you have, you can begin the process of letting go.
Holding on to the past is like wearing a pair of shoes that are a bit too small for you. You can get your feet into them but they hurt like heck. It’s time to take them off and begin to enjoy comfort again.
Remember, you are in control of how you feel. Begin by thinking more positively. But it might not be so easy at first. You have to reinforce those positive thoughts and behaviors so they will stick. As with any sort of training, the more you practice, the better you get—and, yes, you can practice being positive.
Live for today. Live for and look for the positive in others. Embrace the positive aspects of your parents, spouse, children and friends.
When you start feeling like the idea of being a positive person is daunting, remind yourself that all it takes is one small step in the right direction to move yourself toward a more positive attitude.
Believe in yourself and remember the most important lesson of all: A positive outlook is a choice that you can always make.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides services in her office in Tustin, CA. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, marriage strengthening, stress reduction, depression, trauma, anxiety, anger, personal growth, and ptsd (civilian and military). She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com, email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com, or by calling 714-614-0612.
You had an amazing passionate relationship with your spouse. Sex was beautiful, often, and intense. It was a safe place. It was when you felt the most intimate and close that you can feel with anyone. You both had thoughtful, deep and ultimately the best conversations. You embraced the closeness you both felt in those moments after.… when you are coming down from the highest of highs. Those moments of laying together are etched in your memory.
I hope each military couple out there still has the same intensity as when they first met, were dating, or after their marriage. Don’t we all wish that passion was still there?
I’m guessing for most military couples who have endured multiple deployments that is not the case. The spouse who has been waiting and taking care of the home and children has been anticipating their veteran’s return. The void of sex is almost painful. But she/he knows when their partner finally arrives it will be filled with that passion and intimacy that they have longed for over the past several months. Unfortunately, in most cases that is not the reality.
I work with many veterans and military families and I hear a lot of the same story. Sex is not the same. They want the passion. They want it all to be just as it was before and when it’s not the frustration begins, for both. Each time they try and that fulfillment isn’t there both partners feel a sense of loss. They both work so hard at getting it back. The incentive is there but the same feelings aren’t occurring.
The returning veteran is feeling the effects of war - some of which are probably nightmares, startle responses, paranoia, fear, being on edge, depression and anger. Some veterans have physical effects such as burns, scars and loss of limbs. Each veteran has their own set of emotional and physical changes due to combat. Any one of those can have a profound affect of the sexual relationship.
For the partner who’s been at home waiting for these passionate moments please try to understand what your veteran has been through and the symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and what just plain war creates. For the veteran, please try not to be disappointed in yourself. Let me assure you, you are not the only veteran experiencing this. You may not be sharing your sex life, or lack of it, with your buddies but I know the same frustrations are occurring in most.
Let me offer some suggestions;
Combat takes a toll on all relationships. I hope the above guidelines and suggestions are helpful. Please try to understand you are not alone, either partner, in the struggle to rekindle your sexual relationship.
It is not a sign of weakness to seek out help and support but rather a sign of strength in wanting to work on improving your relationship. I commend you for all you have given and wish you peace.
Liz Birch is a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who provides home-based and online psychotherapy. Her areas of expertise are in communications, relationships, stress reduction, depression, trauma and provides support to the military population and their families. She can be reached via LizBirchTherapist.com and email at LizBirchMFT@gmail.com
I hope you find the above points helpful. Become aware of the way you think and behave and work on it being more productive.
In closing, draw upon your own inner resources to offer love, attention and nurturance not only toward your partner but for yourself.
I'm a licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who works with individuals, couples and families. I hope I inspire you to take risks and step out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised what you discover.