Many Seniors report recurring disturbing thoughts and feelings about their past childhood and/or early adult experiences.
These disturbances may include abuse, neglect, gross mistreatment, a significant loss, victimization or regretful acts experienced personally or directed towards others. The personality and life history of the individual should be considered as a context for addressing and attempting to understand past behaviors that are found now to be disturbing and unforgiving. The impact of these thought processes may reflect ongoing lifetime issues that need to be addressed and hopefully resolved especially at the latter stages of life.
One’s personal development and quality of life may represent how effective an individual is at managing the negative impact of early memories. It is essential to approach this developmental task by acknowledging the powerful effect these memories have upon us. Some at their stage of life have decided that there is little point in confronting our unresolved past experiences. These individuals deny or ignore what our unconscious is trying to tell them. The messages are denied and there is failure to realize a missed opportunity to learn their meaning and how it applies to one’s life. If attention is paid to the messaging, I believe personal suffering and unhealthy grieving can be substantially reduced. One can likely free oneself from what needs to be left behind.
With aging, there is the tendency to review a personal history that includes obsessing on personal failures. For many these thoughts can drain our energy, interfere with our sleep patterns and adversely affect our family and social connectedness. Besides looking for the meaning behind these experiences, one can also discover our deepest fears and our source of hopelessness. So, do we have the courage and the determination to confront these recurring obsessions? Do we believe that we are helplessly doomed? Perhaps one is resigned to one’s fate and believe little can be achieved by forgiving ourselves or others and letting go of the effect these awful past experiences have upon us.
I personally don’t see any point in having a resistant attitude by failing to deal with what most disturbs us. I believe it is important to face life’s challenges as an opportunity for growth, learning and personal development at any age. I know that what I am asking is very difficult, but what is the point of continuing to suffer and feeling impotent in the face of a significant life challenge. What is the point of giving up even at the later stages of our lives? And for those deep in despair over a terrible event, such as the loss of a child or profound unresolved grief, professional help is highly advised.
Journaling is one option in an effort to let go of our painful past. For example, an individual may feel angry about how their father or mother treated them growing up. First, write down your experience of what your family was like from the earliest moments that you can recall. Please include the nature of your relationship with your parent to include what event or events occurred that were particularly upsetting. Also state what the impact of these negative occurrences have been for you as a child and as an adult. Then put down how this event affects you at the present moment.
You may find that you are stuck and unable to resolve the issue and it continues to haunt you. You may want to repeat the exercise a few times to see if you can desensitize yourself to let go and even forgive your parent for what he or she did. In the process, you may discover a new perspective or a new insight on the traumas in question.
One may consider reviewing one’s narrative with a spiritual advisor or therapist. Or consider spending time with a key individual to ask for forgiveness or make amends for your past actions. The goal would be to reduce the negativity and get part of your life back. A new sense of vitality may open up. Resolving these personal issues can bring a sense of peace and calm. New possibilities and new perspectives may emerge. With resolution comes freedom.
Learning important lessons can highlight purpose and meaning in our lives. Efforts to reconcile these disturbing recurrent thoughts will never be easy. But the work can give us a sense of wholeness and will add to our contribution to ourselves, our families and the world around us. Aging at its best is a coming home again and this homecoming will honor us for our efforts to resolve our inner conflicts and woundedness.
One may experience a fresh vitality, and a life less haunted by the past, of a triumph over life’s inevitable adversities and represent a fulfillment of life’s promise. Forgiveness and the capacity to let go of grievances and addressing the shame and guilt for the bad things we have done is at least a starting point that can lead us in the right direction, of getting it right in the last stages of life. Expressions of love and appreciation, optimism and hopefulness all go together and can result from courageous decisions. A greater appreciation for each day can emerge as our journey is not yet over.
Editor’s Note: Stephen Gill is a Sun City West resident, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology. Although currently licensed, he is semi-retired. He conducted a private psychotherapy practice by history in Los Angeles and Sedona/Prescott. He also specialized in psychological and neuropsychological assessment.
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