2 Unhealthy Perspectives About Your Past

Engaging your past in a healthy way can be a very powerful tool in experiencing personal growth. At the same time, talking about or addressing the past can be incredibly difficult for many. Ask a handful of Christians about how to look at the past and you will get a variety of answers and perspectives–many are good, but some outlooks can be really unhealthy.

The fact is that very few have had effective training on how to process life. I often find myself spending a lot of time helping people to see their story with eyes of kindness. When we can view our life with compassion, it helps us to embrace powerful healing, but also the learning that is available at each stage of our life. If we look at our history with great fear and shame, then any investigation is futile.

Your past is actually a part of your testimony. What God has done with your life, what He is doing now and where He is leading you are all a part of the story He is weaving. We often avoid our life story, with eyes ahead, yet unaware of the continual ditches of thinking, believing and acting that get in the way.

The Rear View Mirror

The rear view mirror in your car is small, while your front windshield much larger. The majority of our time does need to be spent on looking forward. But we do have a rear view mirror for a reason. At key points, we need to be able to use it for certain strategic moves and overall awareness.

Reflecting on the past can be an incredibly healthy experience. If done well, it can stir up a lot of gratitude for where you have come from and give some hints as to what could use some adjusting.

Becoming Kind About Your Past

I am not advocating that we should obsess about the past or live life stuck in the past. The only way that observing past patterns can be helpful is when we do them with the eyes of grace and kindness. To look with any other perspective can only invite shame and guilt’s accusation.

There is so much we can learn from our journey, if we can view life without condemnation, guilt and shame. Too often those three enemies keep us from being able to address the experiences in our life safely. Therefore, we end up shoving the past down as far as we can; which can distance our hearts from the learning that is available.

I find when it comes to dealing with our past, people can often fall into two extreme ditches that both need to be recognized

1. Obsessing About the Past

There are those who endlessly analyze their past, seeking to uncover every moment and put a rhyme, reason and purpose to everything that occurred. The intention is honest. They are trying to look for answers. Yet, in their tireless investigation, they crawl into a deep ditch of obsession regarding past pain, often manifesting in the present what their past was. They become victims who live with a “rear view mirror only” approach to life. Anyone who drives a car staring at the rear view mirror indefinitely is going to have continual car accidents.

They often become constant “navel-gazers,” where their search for understanding has actually become introspection. When we become aware of an experience from our past that is infecting our present, it’s important to start gathering healthy tools to process and develop new habits.

Many can end up staring at those past disappointments. They often repeat the same stories to friends and loved ones over and over again. Their sorrow becomes ungodly, as their fixation on broken issues is holding them to the history, not allowing them to embrace a healed future.

This pattern keeps us living a victims, rather than overcomers. For someone in this trap, I often encourage a productive and safe processing of the experiences, with healthy steps on moving forward. Many of those who obsess about the past have never been given tools to do that.

2. Denial

On the other hand, seas of people are afraid of becoming navel gazers or victims to their past. So they don’t bother addressing their history at all. They find any way they can to avoid discussing issues that are not only affecting their life, but also the lives of people around them.

It’s the dad who won’t answer his grown children’s questions about his previous marriage. The sons and daughters are simply curious about their dad’s journey, and can learn so much about the decisions and choices he made. If he can respond with humility, the sharing can be very empowering to the life of his current family.

Yet he responds with anger, using a Christian phraseology, “it under the blood!” even though no one was accusing him. His reaction actually shows his unresolved pain that has been suppressed.

When I was pastoring, I use to say, “It’s not under the blood if it’s hidden under the carpet.”

Bring it out into the light of God’s love and allow Him to heal.

It’s the mom who won’t talk about a specific decision she made, even though it affected the family in significant ways. Talking about it makes her feel like a failure, so she doesn’t ever allow herself to go there.

The Damage of Denial Communities

I run into so many people who are struggling with deep mental health issues that are exacerbated by families who lived in denial about the sins and dysfunctional patterns that dominated the family life. Any time someone just wants to have a healthy conversation about something in the past, there is immediate kickback.

“The past is the past!”

If that statement is true, then it should be easy to talk about it. The fact is, the past is not simply the past, it’s an healed heart that is being ignored.

The reality is that most people have not experienced safe places to process their past. They rarely had communities where they could share what they are feeling without judgment and move towards powerful resolution.

Those who live in denial patterns can frustrate loved ones, who want to have productive conversations about past experiences. Maybe it so that forgiveness can be exchanged or nurturing conversations can be embraced. There is so much power to “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Denial will limit any relationship from growing and moving into greater strength. Entire communities can be frustrated and limited by an inability to address the issues of life.

Breaking Through the Fear

Fear empowers the shame, guilt and condemnation. Meanwhile, the pain of certain areas can be really painful and uncomfortable. Even though the unaddressed past is clearly repeating in day to day life, too many shove it all down into an emotional lock box.

If you get squirmy in looking at your past, there is probably an accuser on your trail with added fear. But there’s no need to fear, because every believer has to face the voice of accusation that seeks to push us down. Accusation is satan’s number one tool. He will use anything he can to keep you from looking at yourself as God sees you.

If we can kick out the accusing thought patterns that the enemy produces, there is no need to be defensive about the past. God is not accusing you. Imagine if you can look at your past with zero accusing thoughts and see it through eye of nothing but love. What can the enemy do to you? Nothing! That to me is true freedom.

Breaking Out of Denial

But like it or not, past experiences have an influence on present thoughts, beliefs and actions. The quicker we can stop beating ourselves up (and quite frankly each other), the better we can deal with what is holding us back from greater freedom.

Many people I work with have chronic patterns they fall into that produce self-destructive outcomes, but they haven’t been able to notice them because they are too busy suppressing their history.

Through decades of ministry, I have found that if we are given the appropriate tools to put our past into proper perspective, we can recognize the effect that past experiences, pain and disempowering agreements have had on our lives. In many ways, we can gain the empowerment to break through barriers and shut the door to future bondage.

But the journey first starts with kindness–being kind to yourself and others. We must work aggressively at creating safe places for people to process heartache and struggle in a way that is productive. Once the atmosphere of love and grace is set in our hearts, there is no issue that God cannot deal with and heal.