Thursday, February 21, 2013

Holding onto the past

“Happiness is a choice. Choose to be happy.”

“Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.”

“People who are depressed are living in the past. People who are anxious are living in the future. People who are happy are living in the present.”

“Don’t hold onto the past, the future holds more promise.”

These things irritate me. They strike me as such minimalistic platitudes that they actually make me angry. To some extent I do definitely agree. I would never have been able to experience the extended periods of happiness that I have experienced lately if I didn’t try really damn hard to make the effort to work on myself and take control of my life to be happy. That being said…

When you’re dealing with a personality disorder, it just isn’t that easy. When you’re dealing with clinical depression or an anxiety disorder, or any other of the myriad mental health issues, it’s really not that easy.
I mean, I completely understand that these things aren’t aimed at us, or meant to make those of us that can’t just “buck up” feel bad… but they do. They’re actually pretty invalidating. They’re invalidating for anyone really, in the guise of being motivational.

I’m often asked why people with Borderline Personality Disorder hold on to past pain so much. On the one hand I understand the reasoning behind letting the past go, but the simple fact of the matter is it’s just not that easy. And it’s not just a problem of holding onto the past.

First, people tend to act as if it’s a conscious effort. Okay, it can be. If you keep those things in mind, it makes it less likely that they’ll be able to sneak up on you again and create the same pain they did last time. When you continuously analyze what’s went on, or what lead up to the problem, you can potentially stop it in the future. That’s the hope anyways.

It’s not all a purposeful effort though. It’s often a matter of being so grievously wounded, and having those accompanying emotions and feelings triggered, that it’s never left alone enough to completely heal. It’s not that we don’t want to let go of things, it’s just that things continuously happen that keep them at the forefront of our minds. When a gaping wound continuously has the scab ripped off, you’re often left with a permanent scar. Hopefully it fades in time, but the evidence that it occurred remains.

I’m not sure why people assume that we want to hold onto all of that pain and misery. If it was so easy to let it go, I guarantee most of us would. But when you feel things on such an intense level, and are affected by so much actually hurtful and painful experiences and abuse, it’s just not something you can forget.

Part of the problem may be, that the people that think we’re just holding onto it, don’t actually know the extent of the issues. When you’ve experienced so much trauma in your life, you keep a lot in. Even if you have a lot of trust in someone, there are some subjects that aren’t easy to talk about, and some subjects that you simply don’t want to share. Everyone has a right to their privacy of emotion, memories, and experiences if they’re not comfortable talking about it. There is a lot I don’t talk about to anyone… believe it or not, there are even things I don’t talk about here (crazy, I know)… and if there is any shadow of a doubt, those things are not going to come out. So in place of those deepest darkest places, we tell as much as we feel we can, or something that’s a lesser issue… which may technically be a lie… and the other person thinks the problem is not such a big deal that is something that shouldn’t be easily let go of.

If you don’t understand a person’s entire history, you can’t really understand why it’s so hard for that person. I think this applies to everyone, not just people with BPD. And like most things, we experience to the power of 10 so they affect us and stay with us, even more. Not to diminish the pain, suffering, or experience of anyone else!!! 

And frankly, asking why someone can’t just get over something already… is really invalidating.

Then there are people that really just don’t understand. They don’t have enough similar life experiences to give them the understanding, the empathy, necessary for them to really understand that they’re missing something.

These last two things are part of why I think it often takes our loved ones by complete surprise when we explode “over nothing” or leave abruptly. The situation that is occurring seems to have nothing to do with the magnitude of the emotional expression being received… it’s pretty safe to assume that those feelings are really rooted in something else that has been triggered in us. Unfortunately they just don’t know the trigger, and the origin of the trigger, or can’t themselves understand the depth of feeling that this other person is experiencing. Of course this isn’t true for everyone, everyone’s history and relationship is different, but those are often big factors that can be helpful to keep in mind.

Letting go of the past isn't easy. It's also different for everyone. Some people think forgiveness is key (I have opinions on this), some people think acceptance is, some people need years and years of different therapies to come to grips with it. Learning to accept your past, learning to cope with it appropriately (not maladaptively) is a big part of healing. Sometimes you do have to re-experience that pain, in a safe, therapeutic environment, go over it with purpose and intent to heal, in order to actually be able to put it more in the past, and less in the present.  Then again, that kind of immersion or experience therapy isn’t right for everyone. It’s interesting to look into though… 


  1. Thank you! for your very beautiful words!

  2. I don't have BPD but I understand not being able to let go of the past. I cry when I think about things that happened and I remember everything that everyone said to be that was hurtful. And I have forgiven a total of 1 person in my entire life. I've held a grudge against my father for 11 years... because he yelled at me about homework in the third grade... When I think about it, it hurts so so so so bad. It doesn't make sense to be hurt. I don't know how to forgive. I've been angry for so many years. Finally, I realized I DO love him and I do want a closer relationship with him. I can't believe I'm so sensitive. No wonder nobody understands my pain. Because every time I describe a painful situation from the past, it doesn't sound like much. My childhood was SO painful ... for no reason. IN pre-school a teacher made fun of my name to another teacher and that hurt sooo much. I was 3. It wasn't a big deal but the pain I felt was so intense. When I was 5, a random stranger laughed at a comment I said while I was on the bus and that was the most shame I had ever felt in my entire life. It consumed me and I thought about it for days. Someone yelling at me will leave me hurt and down for weeks. My oversensitive temperament has been really hard to deal with. I see a therapist for depression and I just lie my way through therapy because it's too shameful to reveal who I really am. My therapist has hurt my feelings SOOO bad I can never like her again or open up. Every single therapist has hurt me way too much. I resent all of them. Holding onto past hurts is my entire life story. Even if I FORGOT what you did, I still hate you and I won't know why until I look back and remember. I feel like my sensitivity is a gift and a curse at the same time. Lately, for whatever reason, I feel like I know who I am more and I have better self esteem. Hopefully, it gets even better because if it does, maybe I will be able to handle everyday life without feeling hurt all the time even though the other person didn't do anything wrong.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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