Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past, how it has shaped me, and what I have become as a person. It’s tempting to say that the past “made” me some way, but it didn’t. I make me … if I make the choice to not conform to the shaping others have laid upon me.
I’m sorry for the disturbing image, but it will serve as an illustration. This passage is taken wholly out of context, but I’m going to repurpose it: Numbers 32:23b says, “be sure your sin will find you out.” I feel like it could just have likely have said, “be sure your past will find you out.” That’s the thing about the past. It doesn’t leave us. For all of us, we have shaping that takes place, that teaches us about ourselves, and no amount of time will change that shaping.
The old adage goes, “Time heals all wounds.” It doesn’t. It’s like every other wound. If left untended, if ignored, if left to its own devices, it will fester and become infected, like in that picture of the eye above. Time heals nothing. Time rots us. It’s medicine, it’s caring, it’s effort to fix a wound, and that doesn’t make it easy, but not dealt with, that wound can and will ruin us.
We take those emotional wounds or teachings or shapings, and we project them onto the world we live in. We have to. It’s what we know. That may look like projections onto others, onto strangers, onto loved ones, but maybe the most insidious is the projection onto oneself.
When people have been shaped to feel some way, taught how to interact with themselves, they internalize it, and they become the greatest abuser, because they carry out whatever dialogue (even nonverbal actions speak loudly) that has shaped them and continue it. The past does not die. It haunts us, it blinds us to the world around us and inside of us.
The sad thing is that we take on these negative emotions about ourselves, we see ourselves through perhaps a disrespectful, even unsympathetic lens. There’s a saying that goes, “People see us as we see ourselves,” and I think it’s true. So, the relationships we carry on in life mirror the relationships we had early on, and it creates a confirmation bias. It ends up feeling like Murphy’s law. We start to say, “Of course, that happened!” “Of course, that didn’t work out!” “Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted!” And the world becomes predictable … it is exactly what we expect: disappointing.
Maybe that’s where it starts: respect. Respect, to me, is the lowest form of love. It’s what the Bible talks about (in my opinion) when it says to “love thy neighbor.” Yet, how hard is it to respect ourselves (much more, love ourselves), to demand better, to treat ourselves as we would expect of ourselves in how we treat others. Seems the Golden Rule must go both ways in that regard.
There’s no outrunning the past, only dealing with it. It’s an ugly thing, and for some of us, many of us, it’s something we’ve let fester too long.