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Don’t Let Your Past be Your Future-Overcoming Emotionally Dysfunctional Messages

I happened to see this morning an ad for coaching by one of America’s motivational gurus. One of the selling points was that unlike therapy, his coaching focused only on your future, not your past, and was therefore more valuable.

Although I agree that focusing on your future is very important, I disagree that it is more valuable. If you don’t understand what is keeping you from being successful on whatever level, it is unlikely that you can correct it. If you are a survivor of a dysfunctional family or background you  have probably developed limiting ideas and beliefs about yourself. You  may even have developed a long standing dysphoria or depression, anxiety or intrusive anger.

You may have been told repeatedly that you don’t matter, your ideas are silly or that you really can’t think on your own. You may have been emotionally neglected or not taught the skills of resilience.  Your parents may just not have been able to teach you much about life in general if they were also lacking basic knowledge based on their own backgrounds. You may be so consumed with worry, self hatred or overwhelm that you would never dream of signing up for a motivational coaching program that focuses solely on your future.

That is like your car breaking down and you believing you can fix it without knowing what is wrong with it. Working on the tires when the engine is the problem wouldn’t get you far. You also could not correct it by focusing solely on how fast or how far you would like it to go in the future.  Only understanding and correcting the true problem allows it to perform at its best.

So, how much of your focus should be on your past?

Whether you are in therapy or coaching, the answers to the following questions are what help you achieve long lasting results.

What were the overall messages to me in my family? Was I important? Did my ideas matter? Was I encouraged to explore and grow or limited by my parent’s fears? Was I expected to achieve? Was I ridiculed? Was I well liked in the community or did my family not socialize? Was I abused and now feel shame or damaged somehow? These questions are very important as it is likely that you still approach the world based on these answers.

Based on these answers, you now can start to see what is holding you back. It may seem like a lot to overcome as you may have answered “yes” to many of the above. But it is not as much as it seems as those messages are now to be grouped in a file in your brain as “misinformation”.

When you learn that something you have believed or been told is wrong, like there is a Santa, you don’t continue to believe it, you make adjustments and go on. That is exactly what you are now to do with all this misinformation about yourself. Granted it is a learning process, it can be painful and takes a bit of time, but one well worth it. Why spend any more of your days being saddened by feelings of inadequacy and doubt based on messages given with no basis other than fear, cruelty or neglect?

Even well meaning parents can give erroneous information, thinking they are doing the right thing or protecting you. Teaching you the world is a terrible place or that there is no hope to improve yourself so don’t try, believing that if your whole family is depressed you will be also, those are not messages said to you out of cruelty, but they can wreak havoc with your success of any kind.

Now relate these messages to current conditions. Are you not achieving because you are convinced you will fail? Are you not achieving because you fear being ridiculed? Are you in a bad relationship because you believe you can’t do better?  List out all the things you would like to change in your life, what is holding you back and where the limiting idea came from.

Other than what you have been told by your parents or past caregivers, do you have any evidence that these things will happen? If you have experienced any success in school or career it is not a fluke, it is because you earned it, that is your real evidence. Understand all your past accomplishments and take credit for them. Are you good at your job? A good parent? Talented at something? Committed? Do people generally like you?

Eliminating the misinformation leaves some gaps that will need to be filled in. You will need to spend some time redefining yourself and the areas where you have taken in and applied these limiting beliefs. Don’t fear this, it will actually feel very good as you will be learning about your true self and how you need to be in the world. It is the information that comes from this redefining that will propel you into a happier and more fulfilling future.

The only scary part is that you will have to take some steps to prove to yourself that your new definition of self is correct. You may make some mistakes along the way, that is fine. It is a process. We all learn about ourselves constantly. If you decide you want to teach or speak for instance, you will have to go and do it. You may have to learn how, and along with that you may have to learn how to market yourself, but those are just learning processes. If you can learn the information in this blog you can learn how to do things. That is your evidence.

The difference in how you will do things once the past is understood versus not understanding is that now you know where to focus. You can see clearly the areas in which you were held back by the misinformation. You will focus now on how to get things done, how to accomplish what you want, how to meet people and friends. When you are no longer guided by lies your whole world opens up. When you think to yourself, “I can do pretty much anything I want”, versus “I’m too dumb for that”, your world is a much different place.

That is really the critical piece of understanding your past and the past messages you were given. It is not necessary to go over each painful incident in excruciating detail, plot revenge against your parents or caretakers or spend any time in any other life-sucking activity having to do with your  past.

If you are really struggling with this and feel that the emotions brought about by exploring these past messages are too overwhelming, a good cognitive behavioral psychologist or therapist can help. They are trained to explore exactly these issues and getting to know you will be able to tell how much you can handle at a time.

Motivational coaches are not necessarily mental health professionals although some do have some training. If you feel overcome with emotional pain I believe you are better off starting with a few therapy sessions, then move into coaching. Understanding your past is the way to understand your future. It is valuable.