Looking back to move forward

The title of this post came from a caption on the front of a magazine I subscribe to. It got me thinking whether or not “looking back to move forward” is something that I have done or would advocate. At specific times, certainly, and usually within a therapeutic context. For example, I found my several times in psychiatric hospital very traumatic, and found it necessary to engage a therapist for a course of trauma therapy. 

Photo by Michael Skok on Unsplash

There were particular traumatic memories that were troubling me in my day-to-day life, years after the events, impairing my ability to function as I wanted to. This therapy involved deliberately and repeatedly re-running those traumatic memories from start to finish (not an easy task) with the aim of reducing the emotional charge the memories elicited. I liken it to turning down the emotional volume knob. 

In the present I call upon a range of coping strategies every day to manage my mental health problems. Engaging in absorbing activities can help. Setting and achieving goals. Socialising. Prayer. Exercise. These are just a few examples. Most of the time I suppose I'm more interested in the “moving forward” part of the title. But as I say, there are times when “looking back to move forward” is necessary. Even after my successful course of trauma therapy, I'm prompted to stop and ask myself now and then, how and why do I occasionally self-sabotage? Is there something still holding me back? 

Photo by Harriet Armstrong

In my experience, taking time to look at distressing memories in a deliberate, therapeutic and guided way by a trained professional, can free you up to pursue forward-looking goals that personally inspire you. You can ask yourself, now that I'm somewhat freer from my trauma, and not expending so much mental and emotional energy on it…what would I truly like to do? You become less hampered by the past, and more able to look to the future. 

A recent example in my life was the fulfilment of a little personal goal that I may not have had the mental space to achieve were it not for taking the time to turn down that emotional volume knob. A selection of my artwork was exhibited alongside others from my life drawing group, as part of the E17 Art Trail. Pleasingly, there was no need to expound on my history of mental illness. It wasn't relevant in this context. It was just an opportunity to express myself creatively. My artwork was simply displayed with my name, as was everyone else's.

My 6 pieces in the exhibition

You may want to reflect on times when you've found it helpful to “look back” in order to “move forward”? 

What forward-looking goals inspire you? 

Bryony Bennett

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