Social media has given us a form of connection that we didn’t have before. We’re privileged with a little window into the lives of others, and the distance between us is bridged by that connection.
I’m grateful for social media. As a person who relocated frequently throughout my childhood, I love that I have renewed connections with friends that otherwise might have been lost to me.
On the other hand, social media can offer bridges to the places in our past that we don’t relish visiting. These are the kinds of bridges we would burn if we could, but social media also extends a lifeline to all of the people we once were and all the people we once knew along the way.
Facebook’s “On This Day” memories are an excellent example of this. One part of me loves it as I peruse past pictures of my children and memories of fun events that I experienced in my life. The other side of me has to revisit the ghosts of relationships past, the difficult transitions I endured, and all of the gut-wrenching turning points that brought me to where I am now. This is the part of the Facebook memories that can be challenging.
How do we reconcile who we were then and who we are now? How do we accept the past for all of its beautiful beginnings as well as its painful endings? How do we remember those moments of love or loss or anger and find peace with them in this moment that we’re experiencing now?
Maybe other people don’t find this difficult. But I’m an empath. A highly sensitive person (HSP). I have a box of letters dating all the way back to my childhood that I’ve moved from place to place in my life. I have packed up my memories of people and places and carefully tucked them into my mind, preserved for the times when something new triggers them into being again. I’m a person who has always held on, and I’m also the person who has been practicing the art of letting go. Of surrendering to who I am and how I feel. Of leaning into my struggle as much as I do my blessings. And so I do find it difficult at times to see a reminder of a past that was filled with any strong emotion. Suddenly, I am met with the ghost of then and all of the people who populated my life at that moment in time.
It can be haunting. But we don’t have to let it stay that way. Sure, it can disturb us to get glimpses of a past that’s a far cry from the lives we’re living now. I look at my “On This Day” memories and notice how little I ever mentioned my ex-husband, and I can see the line I walked then—the one where I was struggling in my marriage but not ever able to openly discuss it. I can see all of the lies of omission stacked up, and I can remember vividly what it felt like to be a person disappearing inside of that marriage. The pain of that circumstance revisits me in the memory. Or there’s the time that I fell in love so quickly and then was hurt so much, and I can see that path reforming in the past and feel what it was like to experience love and loss as such extremes. I remember it, and sometimes that remembering hurts.
But we don’t have to stay haunted.
So, what can we do instead when the past visits? Maybe it comes to us in the tune of a song that resurrects our past, or maybe it visits when we catch a particular scent or we see a face that looks strangely like someone from our past. However it comes to us, here are a few things we can remember when we start to feel haunted by the past:
We can give ourselves credit for how much we’ve overcome. We’ve faced challenges, and yet here we are. Maybe we’re doing great right now or maybe we’re struggling more than we ever have before. No matter where we are, we need to acknowledge the strides we’ve made getting here.
We can remember the lessons. So many people walk through this life and never learn, no matter how many times the situation repeats itself. When we’re given an opportunity to look back, we need to remember what we’ve learned and how it’s made us better. And if we didn’t learn and didn’t get better, then now’s the time to figure out what we need to change and to begin to put in the hard work of making that happen.
We can use this opportunity to forgive ourselves for not knowing then what we know now. We can forgive ourselves for needing those lessons and for having to learn them the hard way. We can practice forgiveness for all those moments in our past where we made what looked like a wrong choice but still brought us to where we are now. And we can also learn to recognize the hard places in our memories where forgiveness for others is still needed. When we brush up against bitterness or anger, we can learn to find a way to forgive enough so that it no longer hurts when we are reminded of that time.
We can remember to practice gratitude. Our lives are filled with people and places and fleeting moments. All of them shaped us into who we are, and therefore all of them have value. If we don’t like what we see in our past, we can choose to change how we behave going forward. We can make sure that we align our actions with our values rather than the other way around, and we can actively practice gratitude for the obstacles as well as the rewards along the way.
None of this is easy, but we don’t have to be haunted by who we were and what we felt and how different it may be from who we are now. Memories provide us an opportunity to revisit our past selves and the people we once cared about deeply. Even the difficult memories that feel like pain are often teachers that are visiting so that we can find yet another lesson in the experience. To let go. To forgive. To change. To grow.
The ghosts of the past will visit, and we can choose now if we’ll welcome them and learn or if we’ll deny them and resent them for reminding us of what was—or so often, what might have been.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: PiX Fav/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran