Re-write the story of who you are
"The most authentic thing about us is our capacity to create, to overcome, to endure, to transform, to love and to be greater than our suffering." — Ben Okri
A palimpsest is a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been erased to make room for later writing but of which traces remain. It's something that has changed over time and shows evidence of that change.
If applied to your life story, erase the old story of your life and write a new, better one on top of it. Sure, the scars of the past remain on your psyche, but doing this exercise changes how you see your past and allows you to begin creating a future built upon a new image of yourself.
Everyone has several defining moments that lead to making critical choices which result in a life path. Life is a game of cause and effect, of choices made based upon events. For example, a child who witnesses a parent die of a heart attack may grow up to become a heart surgeon. Or a child abused or bullied — or whose parent was abused or bullied — may become exceptionally protective of others.
What are the defining moments that shaped who you've become?
The first step is to write down the 5-10 defining moments in your life. They might be positive or negative. Traumatic events might include, for example, your father being assaulted by your cousin or the moment your mother gave up protecting you from another family member. Positive defining moments might include the first time you won an award or achieved a dream.
Next to each defining moment write the choice that you made as a result or the decision you made about who you are. Sticking with the examples above, you might have vowed to never again let anyone hurt your family and to stop crying out for help because you learned no one will come to your aid anyway. Achieving a dream might have given you affirmation that you can do what you set out to do, which boosted your sense of agency and self-reliance.
After you've listed the 5-10 defining moments, put them on a timeline in chronological order. Next, color each event either red for negative or green for positive.
For all the events marked red, search for two or more blessings in disguise. What did each event teach you? For example, did the person who knocked you down and kept punching you show you what a small person looks like? Did they teach you to endure through hardship and to get out of harm's way as soon as you could? Did they teach you that your spirit cannot be broken unless you let them break you? Did this experience pull out an inner strength that you didn't know you possessed or deepen your compassion for others in a similar situation? Did it make you protective of others?
Go through the list of each event and write down the blessings.
Next, write down the pivotal people who played either a positive or negative role in your life. Your family members are part of this group. Others might include teachers, clergy, and coaches.
Write down what each person gave you. For example, the art teacher who told you that you're a born leader even though you couldn't see it at the time, the sibling who tore you down and tested your inner strength, and the ballet teacher who created a safe space for you to confide in her when you wanted to end your life.
Write the names of the positive and negative pivotal people on your timeline and mark when they were active in your life. How did they affect you? What did you learn from each of them? (The answer might be what NOT to become.)
Once you look at your defining moments, critical choices, and pivotal people on a timeline, it will become obvious that your life had to run the way it has.
You did your best. If you had known better, you would have done better.
Accept the past for what it is. Thank it for teaching you and let it go.
Then decide how you want the next part of your life to look.
What became clear to me when I did this exercise is how the negative experiences actually were blessings in disguise. They are the painful events that motivated me to take action and to become stronger. They also taught me to create healthy boundaries so I began no longer tolerating or accepting abuse of any kind — emotional, psychological, or physical.
Once I found the blessing within each curse, I could finally reach forgiveness for both the other person and myself.
"Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding." — Kahlil Gibran
The saying "forgive and forget" does not necessarily mean to literally forget everything. The idea is to forgive both the other person and yourself so you can transform your experiences. Because hey, the last thing you need is something to haunt you, handicap you, or kill you, and that includes the traumatic experiences of your life.
It boils down to blasting some light into dark corners to get the insights needed for positive change.
The artwork above is titled "Unchained". It's about going within to collect the pieces of yourself (Read that post here) so you can let go of limitations. I've done a lot of release-work over the decades, including some big emotional traumas (Read about that here.)
When your world falls apart, you know it's time for another amazing transformation. It's time to collect the scattered pieces of yourself, to find your inner strength, and to step into your personal power. Cry if you must, but then pick yourself up and make the necessary changes. Trust yourself. Because you CAN do it.
While forced growth hurts in the short term, in the long run you'll get a lot out of it. The trick is to find the blessing inside the curse, and maybe that lesson is to love your imperfections and yourself.
Some things take time to process. Avoid the temptation to obsess over something or to fall into an emotion and stay in it for forever. There comes a point when you must say to yourself, "Enough crying already. It's time to just let go."
Then let go. And if you want or need someone to help you reach that place, contact me for a private session.
What comes after letting go of emotional baggage is freedom and reinvention.