Every historian knows that the past is what you choose to remember and how you choose to remember it. A history class in the United States will “remember” a very different history than will a history class in China.
The same principle applies at a personal level. Your sense of identity – of who you are – is profoundly shaped by your past, but your “past” is what you choose to remember and how you choose to remember it.
The child of one abusive parent might grow up to be an abusive parent his or herself because they are shaped by what they choose to remember and the way in which they choose to remember it.
The child of another abusive parent might grow up to be an advocate for abused children. They have remembered the same objective “past” in a very different way, which in turn has shaped a very different sense of identity and led to a very different path in life. Unfortunately, that path is too often the road less traveled.
In his book War and the Soul, psychologist Edward Tick wrote that PTSD is not so much a stress disorder as it is an identity disorder. One of the challenges of helping people recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is helping them reframe the past.
Whatever it is that has happened to them will not unhappen. The only thing they can change is the meaning that they impute to what has happened, which in turn will reshape their sense of identity from victim of their past to creator of their future.
This weekend I challenge you to think about something you remember from your past that is causing you pain, something that is holding you back. How can you reframe that memory in such a way as to give you strength, resilience, courage, and determination?
Remember, just because you “remember” something in a certain way does not necessarily mean that it happened that way, and that the past is what you choose to remember and how you choose to remember it. And that what has happened will not unhappen – all you can do is frame what has happened into a new and more empowering personal context.