‘U’ means Unpack Your History

sign reminding readers "you are not alone"
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July 14, 2021

‘U’ means Unpack Your History

This is the fourth in a series of seven posts in which I explore how to move forward when our journey is difficult. The series began with an introduction and has covered the first two of six TRUDGE practices for long-term resilience: Tell the Truth and Remember. 

TRUDGE – being resilient as you move through a challenging time in your life. Challenging times bring up difficult emotions and sometimes, unexpected reactions. When you find yourself easily undone or powerfully provoked, it is time to unpack your history.     

Unpacking your history gives you the insights to both understand and better face current difficulties. Your personal journey is a resource for you. You can learn what past events are today triggering an outsized reaction to your circumstances. You can review the coping skills you have used and discern which of these you want to use now. In this post you will be invited to consider your own history, both as a source of triggers and as a source of useful tools.   

sign showing caution

History as Trigger

We bring baggage with us along our journey.  I had a conflict with someone and could not let it go.  It was a minor thing, but I was obsessing about it. After being stuck for a while, I realized I was ruminating over it.  (Ruminating – thinking/talking about something upsetting over and over without getting to any solution or healing.)  I sat with pen and paper to dump all my thoughts and feelings down.  Then I took a break from thinking about it.  Later, while doing a routine task, I realized what the trigger was.  This minor event was a reminder of a very bad relationship in my past.  I wasn’t reacting to the current situation as much as to the past.   

Moving forward is made more difficult when we keep tripping over things from the past.  Stopping to see what has you all tangled up can move you forward.  Are we reacting to now or then?  Pausing to reflect on what we are carrying with us can help us move forward.  Is this reaction useful?  Is it warning us to pay attention?  Or is it slowing us down?  We are different people now, perhaps we can unload that baggage.  What can we learn from our past?  Past traumas gave us coping skills that may, or may not, be helpful now.  Take the time to look at your own history to unpack those things that may be tripping you up.   

History as Resource

Your past contains wisdom.  Have you been through something like this before?  Think about how you got through past difficulties.  Is there something someone said that helped?  Can you write that down as a personal motto?  What people, books, ideas or habits helped you then?  Can any of them be repurposed now? 

If you are in a time of transition and are not sure about what direction to go in, do a timeline of your life.  When were you happy?  Was there a work or living situation that you really liked?  What did you like about it?  Consider multiple aspects of the situation: people, place, activities, pace.  While we cannot go back to the past, we can mine our history for ideas that we might like to find in our future.  What aspects of your history would you like to add back in? 

What about things you used to do that brought you joy?  Have you been so busy being an adult that it has been ages since you………?  What might fill in the blank here?  I forgot how much I like to sit in the woods and read a book. I set up a chair among the trees in my backyard. I found a Spirograph on clearance and enjoyed making patterns with color.  Are there childlike pleasures that you haven’t taken time for lately? 

Is there a person you haven’t talked to in ages that would lift your spirits? Call them. If you are worried about bothering them, text first. If you are not wanting to get bogged down in talking about all your struggles. You get to choose what and how much detail you share. Ask about how they are doing.  Get together for a hand of cards and take a night off from the stress. Trudging, moving forward for the long run, requires taking breaks. 

What about past rough spots?  Look through your personal history and consider other challenging times. What was helpful?  What do you wish you had done differently?  In the end what helped you move on?  Does any of that relate to now?  I recall being overwhelmed in graduate school.  My official advisor told me that if I was not focused on his area of expertise, then he could not help me.  I said, “okay”.  Later, another professor offered to meet with me and I said, “I am fine,” as I bumbled around trying to figure out how to manage the bigger picture.  I had several options that would have better served me!  Now when I am unsure of where to go, I am much more proactive about reaching out and would certainly not turn down a direct invitation!  What helped or didn’t help you in the past?

Taking time to unpack your past can allow you to gain wisdom from your own journey.  Talk it out with a good listener. Daydream about a past time. Reflect through writing. You are the expert on your life journey.  Take time to explore your own lessons learned. 


Laura A. Gaines