I love the phrase ‘If it’s hysterical, it’s historical’. I’ve heard it a few times over the years but I heard it again recently and it was very timely. The idea behind it is that if our reaction to an event – say a relationship difficulty, the news of somebody’s sickness or death or a moment of confrontation – is disproportionate to what’s actually going on then it’s likely our past is interfering with our present. If our reaction is exaggerated, over-the-top or bordering on hysteria, then it’s probable that the present event has triggered a past memory and we’re reliving that, or at least dealing with some residual feelings about it.
For me, this is really useful to know. I might not realise that I’m reacting to my past as well as my present in the exact moment it’s happening but, these days, if the tears seem to be flowing too fast or my heart seems overly heavy, it doesn’t take me too long to notice that my past has invaded my present. Then, once I’m aware of it, I can gain some perspective. And nor do I think it’s a bad thing to have these extreme reactions. Perhaps they’re an opportunity to do some more grieving or heal some things from the past that have been simmering under the surface and need to be dealt with.
In my case, it seems it’s my father’s death four years ago and my feelings of loss and regret associated with it that often invade my present. If someone else close to me gets sick, which happened recently, the old wounds open up and I find there’s still more grieving to be done.
This might all seem a little deep but it’s on my heart so I thought I’d share it. You never know, it might even help someone who’s going through something similar right now.
On the other hand, I know I’ve been guilty of allowing my past to control my present in a detrimental way, and that’s definitely something I’m working on changing. A lot of my fears and insecurities are rooted in my past – I guess the same applies to all of us. Some of these roots go pretty deep and take some pulling out but if I don’t pull them out, I’ll continue to sabotage my present. Once again, this comes down to trusting, trusting that if I do things differently to how I’ve always done them, if I challenge my unhelpful patterns, then I’ll get different and better results. It’s scary but exciting at the same time.
On a similar note, I’ve been reading and reviewing a book called Tell to Win by American film producer Peter Guber as part of my freelance work. As I might have mentioned before, I often find the books I’m asked to review turn out to be particularly relevant to what’s going on in my life. So this book is all about the power of storytelling, which I guess is what my career is all about and what I want this website to be about. Something I read in the book a few days ago seemed particularly relevant to today’s post. It was about taking control of your own story rather than letting your story control you or letting others take control of it. Guber illustrated his point with this Salmon Rushdie quote: “Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives – the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change – truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” It’s nice to know we can rewrite our stories, shake off our past, change our patterns and think new thoughts, as so many people have done over the years.
To finish, I’ve been pondering turning 40, now that I’m two months in, and I’ve been discussing it with a few friends around my age. There is something significant about turning 40, particularly – as I wrote on the About page of this site – if you’re female, without children, single or at a career crossroads, and especially if all four apply. It seems to be a time to take stock, take a good look at how things have gone and are going and to make changes. I’m starting to hear about people who have made quite dramatic changes at this stage in their lives or who are planning to, so I hope to share some of those stories in the future. Maybe turning 40 is a time, for those of us who haven’t already done so, to start rewriting our stories. But then you don’t have to wait until you’re 40 to rewrite your story. Many do so earlier, triggered by something in their personal or professional lives that prompts them to change. Some wait until they’re older. And nor does it have to be a dramatic event. We don’t have to tear up the old manuscript and start afresh. Maybe we can just write new chapters every day, no matter our age. I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. I haven’t made any particularly momentous changes since turning 40, although I am writing some new chapters – both literally on this site and metaphorically in other areas of my life. And it’s nice to think and hope these new chapters, combined with some old ones I don’t want to throw away, will turn into a wonderful new manuscript at some stage in the future.