Hoarding Your Past

Yesterday, whilst reading an interview with Adele about her latest album 25, I came across a quote that resonated deeply. The quote is simple yet loaded with meaning as it speaks of past wounds and the impact they have. It is true that our past affects our present but articulating this idea in a way that others can understand is difficult. So in Adele’s words ‘life is much easier when you don’t hoard your past’.

In just a few words Adele summed up what happens when we hang onto negative life experiences, and the limiting beliefs these experiences set up in the deepest part of our personalities. These negative beliefs hold us back from moving forward in positive ways. We don’t just hang onto them, we hoard them possessively. We guard them at all costs as if our lives depend on it.

The loose definition of ‘hoard’ is “a supply or accumulation that is hidden, or carefully guarded for preservation or future use“. That’s right hoarding is something we hide from others, accumulate over time and believe will serve a purpose. If we imagine stepping inside the home of a hoarder we come across a stockpile of unused items and miscellaneous belongings crammed into every nook and cranny that serve no purpose in it’s current context. The same can be said for old negative beliefs we hold inside our psyche – the human soul, mind, or spirit. And it is our psyche that informs much of our decision making.

Try it on yourself. What are you hoarding in your mind that you don’t want others to see yet can’t seem to shake off. What do you say on repeat to yourself? How long has it been there?  How often do you repeat this message?  How many different versions of it do you have? Do these beliefs feel old? Are they taking up precious space in the fabric of your life? Are they useful at the present time?.

At some point in my counselling work I hear a recurrent belief or thought that surfaces for my clients. It’s the belief that tends to wreak havoc on my client’s sense of self and the one that has been there since childhood. Most people are so rigidly attached to their own negative thoughts they can’t even hear it even when it resonates so loudly. In childhood this belief would have served a useful purpose, but in adulthood this false belief only creates the illusion of safety and needs to be set aside if clients are to shift from stuckness to growth.

The first step in dismantling false beliefs is to become aware of them. This negative belief is your default position that can inform every action of your life. So cultivating awareness is key. We do this paying attention to our thoughts, and sensations in the body when we encounter difficult situations. What phrases do you hear; I’m not good enough, I’m a failure, I must be perfect, I’m unlovable, I’m not important, I’m flawed?  Look inside yourself and the message will be there.

Once you have the message, you then work to connect the negative thought to a feeling in your body. You do this by noticing any uncomfortable sensations that arise at the same time – tightness in the chest, flushes in the face, a choking feeling, a tightening inside, a churning of your stomach. It might be that for you the bodily sensation comes first and the thoughts second.  Awareness develops when you become a witness to your own commentary both mental (thoughts) and emotional (feelings).

Next, you can learn to be present and ‘in the moment’ with the discomfort. Instead of reacting immediately, hold still, notice the thoughts and feelings and and just allow them to be. This could be by focusing on your breathing slowly, or by rooting your feet firmly on the ground. This will give your mind a couple of minutes to take stock and understand what is happening. Once there is some ability to tolerate this discomfort you can then begin to learn to relate to these thoughts and sensations differently.

Finding a way to absorb the discomfort instead of pushing it outwards can be useful. Choose responsibility over blame and make the task of transforming the feeling your own. A good way to think about this is to ‘do the opposite’. Knowing your default behaviour in this context helps and then commit to do the opposite. If you get angry and lash out, choose calm. If you feel hurt choose acceptance and vulnerability. If you feel humiliated choose humility. And then step forward into this new space ever so slowly.

Hoarding Your Past, Cultivating the habit of positive self-talk will aid your progress. Make a mental note of those things that make you feel good about yourself and try putting them on repeat. Noticing the positive aspects of what you do, see, hear, experience in your day, no matter how small they seem, will foster wellbeing and positive growth. Seeing the world through a negative lens only promote depression and anxiety.

This process of change is challenging. You are inviting your wounded self and its accompanying beliefs to step aside, yet it’s not clear what will fill this void. At this time old resistances may emerge ever more resolutely as the wounded self feels very comfortable with negative thoughts and outdated protection systems. Yet, it is the very act of clearing out this outdated script from your mind that will act as the catalyst for opening up a new stage of life free from the shackles of your hoarded past.

If you find yourself ruminating over negative thoughts and feel lost at the events in your life, and what to do to break this cycle then talking to a counsellor at the Melbourne Counselling Centre can be very helpful . Click here to book a session.