Burying the Past

Stuck in the Past

Last time we examined the power of a Positive Past. A Negative Past can have an equally powerful effect. When we talk of people being “stuck in the past” – it’s a negative past that we’re thinking about. Incidentally, I think people can also be stuck in the Present and stuck in the Future – but that’s the subject of another blog.

In terms of the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, someone with a negative past will strongly agree with statements like “I think about the bad things that have happened to me in the past” and “It’s hard for me to forget unpleasant images of my youth”. In other words, they ruminate.

Just because someone has a high Past Negative, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be negative. Different people respond in different ways. We often see a high Past Negative linked to a high Future, where the subject is using the past as a motivating force to create a better future.  Sometimes it can be linked to high Present Hedonist behaviour – where perhaps the subject is blotting out the bad memories by having a good time, maybe too much of a good time.

So how do we deal with someone who can’t escape a negative past? Coaching often tends to focus on the present and the future and leaves difficult issues in the past to therapists or psychoanalysis. If indicated, we would refer a client to such a professional. However, there are simple techniques which we can use as interventions.

Using these techniques, it is possible to change our beliefs about the past, the stories we tell ourself about what happened, and the meaning we attribute to those stories. This doesn’t have to be done by reliving the past, it’s about rebalancing and re-framing the past, the present and the future, and not investing so much energy in ruminating on the past.

We use NLP for these kind of re-frame exercises, to write yourself a new story, one with a better ending (or even a better beginning), because our interpretation of events can change over time. Another favourite is the ABCD method. Adversity. Beliefs. Consequences. Disputation. When we meet a bad situation we come at it with a stock set of beliefs, which lead to an outcome. You can learn to reconfigure those beliefs by using Disputation – so you argue against your habitual self-talk. It needs a bit of help, but it’s a great new habit to form, if you want to escape that cycle of self-recrimination and regret, stop ruminating, and get yourself a new outcome.