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Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee


Do you feel alone, and unhappy living in the past? Letting go is tough, but happiness is now.

“Somewhere, somehow somebody
Must have kicked you around some
Tell me why you wanna lay there
And revel in your abandon”
~Tom Petty “Refugee”

Most of us get into moods where we are unhappy. Feelings of discontent, anxiety and frustration are universal. What happens if those moods don’t go away and we are referred to as “unhappy people?” Many of my patients suffer from this. They aren’t clinically depressed and medications won’t make them happier. They come in telling me they are unhappy and haven’t felt happy for many, many years. Many times they changed partners in hopes of becoming happier. When you are unhappy, you usually look outward and project the blame on someone else other than yourself.

There is a common factor among unhappy people—they do not live in the present. They live and hear tapes from the past that continue to make them unhappy. If you tell them, “You are an adult now, you can make different choices,” or if you remind them, “That is all in the past, let go,” they look at you like you haven’t heard them. They suspect and many times will say, “You don’t get it, this is my life.” It is true…you don’t get it. You cannot hear the same tapes they hear. You cannot imagine living under the constant barrage of thoughts they live under. You cannot understand it because you are living in the present and their situation looks simple. If they just let go, it would be okay.

The difficult part of letting go is to trust that you don’t need the old tapes, excuses, pain and misery anymore. It may sound odd that anyone would want to keep that stuff around to remind them. Many people not only need it, they cannot live without remembering the past. It gives them an excuse not to attempt something new that may frighten them or that they may fail at. It becomes their “badge of honor;” their pain from the past becomes part of their identity.

Living in the past not only makes you a sad person, but it contributes to your loneliness. The only people that understand are those who were part of your past. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and childhood friends become your circle of supporters. New friends and family cannot relate. They don’t want to be dragged back to your past, so they usually let go once they realize you need to stay there. You become isolated by new births, deaths, marriages, divorces, and life. One morning you wake up, look in the mirror and wonder what has happened to you. How did you get to this stage in life and manage to be all alone and blue? There are steps you can take to turn things around, but it’s going to be scary. Small steps you take today will make a great change for you tomorrow.

1. Begin getting those old tapes out of your head and onto paper. Once you have them all out and on paper, burn them. This is a symbolic way for you to help let them go. You can take several days to write them out…make sure you get them all.
2. Many of my clients have felt better changing their name or adopting a nickname. This helps them see themselves as different from their past.
3. Begin reading the world news. This will help you get out of yourself and catch up with what was happening while you were living in the past.
4. Take up a new activity. Try something you have never done before. If you grew up with baseball, try yoga.
5. Make a peace with your past. Tell whoever hurt you how you feel about what happened. If the people who hurt you are dead, write a letter telling them what their action did to you. Forgive yourself, too. Sometimes when adults hurt children they tell them that they were asking for it or something else which incriminates them. If you were a child, you thought like a child, and if a parent or relative did something hurtful to you, it wasn’t your fault.
6. Keep a gratitude journal. Before you go to bed at night write down at least one person or thing you are grateful for. By doing this, you are instilling hope into your thoughts. If you can generalize this one thing to five a night, you will begin thinking in a way that will draw people to you, rather than repel them.

Living in the present is the surest way to be happy. So many things happen to all of us within each hour of our life that have the power to make us joyful if we stay open and aware. However, if you were raised in a home where each hour only brought pain and misery, then you begin to look for and anticipate more unhappiness. Knowing what to expect helps the abused survive. When you leave that situation, it is important to leave that pain behind. To carry it with you becomes a heavy burden not only for you, but for anyone who wants to love you. –Mary Jo Rapini

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