Updated: May 8, 2021
"Because the past is gone and the future has not yet arrived, only the present is significant." Gerald Corey
There is certainly an argument to be made about the influence of your past on your present functioning. It is not uncommon to get guidance to leave the past alone because one cannot meaningfully change those experiences. Then there is the question of whether re-examining your history adds any value to your current functioning.
Some experiences are too difficult to leave behind, not because you are a glutton for punishment but because these unresolved issues are present in your rearview mirror. You may be left feeling helpless or even hopeless because you cannot understand why you keep revisiting these unpleasant experiences.
The feelings associated with these experiences linger far beyond their expiration date and interferes with your present functioning. Sometimes we live in our heads, and our thoughts result in self-destructive coping and/or self-sabotaging behaviors. Consequently, these unresolved feelings create unnecessary emotional and behavioral baggage that affects us personally and in relationships.
In Gestalt psychology, these unresolved feelings are viewed as unfinished business. The unfinished business may be from unexpressed feelings associated with anxiety, anger, pain, resentment, rage, grief, guilt, and shame. The unfinished business result from a lack of closure and the inability to stomach your painful feelings.
An example of unfinished business, you believe your ex-significant other took you for granted. However, you say the person is an ex for a reason. Yet, you continue to express anger toward the person long after the relationship ended. Unfinished business can also be with your friends and loved ones.
The unfinished business may prevent the development of healthy relationships built on trust and authentic communication. Thus, keeping you from living fully in the present. Working through the unfinished business is possible if you can accept being stuck and connect with past frustrations. At this moment, working on acceptance of the past juxtapose to wishing things were different. As focusing on the past may be a means to avoid the present.
Avoidance is not a suitable alternative as this prolongs the struggles associated with the unfinished business. Therefore, the past must be confronted instead of avoiding the opportunity for growth in the present.
Closure to your unfinished business is strengthened by taking responsibility for your functioning. Not avoiding unpleasant feelings, being direct about your experiences, and discussing your functioning in the present. Speak directly about your experiences, not as abstract ideas. The use of depersonalizing language is one way to sidestep responsibility. Grow out of using the general "you" when you should be making "I" statements. For example, "You feel lonely when no one returns your call." Instead of "I feel lonely when no one returns my call."
N. B. The contents of this blog post are not prescriptive. The intent is to provide information.
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Corey, G. (1996). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (5th ed). Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Sharf, S. R. (2004). Theories of psychotherapy and Counseling: Concept and cases (3rd ed).Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.