As a new mom, I wrestled with my past. I came from a home I didn’t want to duplicate and worried constantly that I’d rehash what happened back then. I’d watch my children sleep, fretting that I’d ruin them, all the while haunted by voices telling me I’d never be a good mother.
When my past started creeping into my parenting, I panicked. I had a tendency to emotionally abandon my kids when they cried, something I learned in my home growing up. I was a mess! But my husband, Patrick, gave me a perfect illustration that helped me picture how I’d become.
“You’re standing on a high dive,” he told me. “The kids and I are splashing below, asking you to jump in and join us. But you pace and fret. And eventually you walk down the ladder and sit on the pool’s edge, never getting in.”
That scared me. I realized I couldn’t “fake” connection. I couldn’t paste on a smile and pretend that everything was fine when my insides crumbled. So I chose to walk through more healing. Here are four things I learned that may help you as you work to leave your past hurts behind so you can become a better you and live joyfully in the now.
Decide to change (for your kids’ sake). Like me, you may think that you’ve taken care of the past. Sure, you may spew things your parent used to spew, but doesn’t everyone? And that painful relationship from years ago really doesn’t influence how you love your kids, right?
Your first step toward wholeness is to acknowledge that the pain from the past does affect you today. To heal, you need to recognize the injury and make a pointed decision to choose healing. If you feel it’s selfish to tackle your own healing, then let your kids become the motivation for you to work toward a more joyful perspective. Great parenting flows from a healed, settled, freed heart. The more you choose to work on that part of yourself, the better parent you’ll become.
Choose how to change. It’s not that we forget what injured us. But we can heal and grow beyond it.
Remember that healing takes a lifetime. It’s maddeningly gradual and sometimes discouraging. When we let others and God into our vulnerable places, they can care for us and help usher in healthy changes.
Move from pessimism to optimism. We sometimes define ourselves by our past and make statements about our worth based on what happened last year, or in the last decade or in our childhood. Things such as, “I am not worthy of attention,” or “I couldn’t hold my parents’ marriage together” or “I am a sexual abuse victim.”
As a healthy exercise, take some of those messages you’ve believed and turn them around. For example, “My parents may have made mistakes, but that does not change my identity.” See how this statement turns around the first statement?
Settle your mind. Many of us are harassed by angry voices in our head. They tell us that we’re bad mothers, we’ll never amount to much, that nothing we do is significant. They’ll list our failures, never our achievements. These thoughts most likely originated from sometime in our past, and they don’t represent the truth.
Next time you hear those awful voices, reply with this: “No, that is not the truth. I am wildly loved by God. I was created on purpose."
Steps Toward Healing
1. Acknowledge what happened. Hidden secrets never heal.
2. Share your story with a trusted friend.
3. Grieve. It’s OK to say what happened back then hurts. If you don’t grieve now, you’ll have to revisit the grief again.
4. Ask others to talk or help or pray for you if you get stuck.
5. Consider counseling.
6. Journal your journey.
7. Seek a mentor in someone who’s experienced the same kind of pain you’ve been through.
8. Let go of your status as a victim. Staying in that place will forever tether you to the past. You’re no longer a victim. You’re an overcomer.
9. Find reassuring words that relate to your struggle. Write it down. Put it on your mirror, in your car, wherever you frequent. Memorize them.
10. Move beyond your pain to help someone else.
Mary DeMuth is the author of 13 books, including Live UnCaged, a free ebook detailed the process of healing. She teaches around the country and blogs extensively with the goal of helping people live uncaged lives. Find out more at LiveUncaged.com.