Dwelling On The Past

intrusive thoughts brightonMany people coming to counselling or psychotherapy for the first time describe how they cannot stop themselves from dwelling on old hurts or mistakes from the past. The memories are, without exception, negative and often evoke feelings of frustration and shame. How can counselling or psychotherapy help?
The Stuck Record
Rationally, we probably know that repeatedly thinking about the times we have failed in some way or have felt misunderstood and let down by others does us no good. Also, we might be encouraged by friends and family to ‘stop dwelling on the past’ when we try and talk about it (especially if we do this a lot!). Unfortunately, willpower alone doesn’t seem to help us shake off the record playing the same tune over and over again in our heads.
Excessive preoccupation with the past can take up huge amounts of our time and energy and can distance us from living in, and enjoying, the present. In my mind, dwelling on our own past mistakes or old hurts often comes about when we are unable to make sense of what has happened to us or why we (or other people) might have acted in the way we did. If we cannot find meaning in important areas or times in our lives, we can become stuck repeatedly trying to work out what has gone wrong. We might also be left with unexpressed anger, sadness or fear that leaks out into our current relationships, hurting ourselves and potentially causing irritation, distress and confusion in others.
The Healing Power of Finding New Meaning – An Example
A common preoccupation for parents is to dwell on the times they have let their children down, made the wrong choices, not listened or not acted. Here, I am not referring to abuse or neglect but the normal, everyday mistakes that parents make as they muddle their way through the difficult and bewildering challenge of raising the next generation. It can come as a great comfort, therefore, to learn that as parents we only need to be what the paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott described as ‘good enough’; and that being ‘perfect’, perhaps by being always available as opposed to most of the time, might even be detrimental to our child’s development since as a result they may struggle to acquire resilience and the ability to rely on themselves in certain situations and at an appropriate age.
How Counselling and Psychotherapy Can Help
One of the aims of counselling and psychotherapy is to provide a safe and supportive space in which to explore troubling thoughts and feelings. Our attempts to make sense of what has happened to us (the stories we have told ourselves) will be based on our own unique set of assumptions about what people and the world are like. These assumptions might never have been explored or questioned before. A good therapist will help uncover what lies behind these stories and bring new perspective to the memories preoccupying us. Not all difficulties can be completely resolved or explained, however by finding meaning where previously there was none we can relax the need to search for answers and get on with the business of living.
If you live or work within reach of Brighton and Hove and my approach to psychotherapy and counselling interests you, please contact me via email or telephone 07585 910742 for more information and to arrange an initial consultation. Emailing in the first instance seems to work best.
Copyright Caroline Clarke, Counselling and Psychotherapy in Brighton and Hove, Sussex.
Image courtesy of of andongob at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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