Changing the Past from the FutureChanging the Past from the Future

Changing the Past from the Future. The past never lasts”. Such was the slogan posted on a colleague’s bulletin

board, when I worked in a treatment center for traumatized adolescents. My colleague used it to remind her young

clients that things might seem bad for now, but that any memory that brings pain is but a fleeting experience. Here

today, gone tomorrow. The past, in other words, is always a viewpoint from the present.

However, there is another reason why the past never lasts, and that is that the past has not been written yet.

One of the hallmarks of being human is that events in time are not just something that happens to us. Their meaning

has always yet to be determined, and that means that they are malleable.

If I look back at events in my life with regrets, wishing that they would never have happened, I do so from the

perspective of today. However, something might happen tomorrow, or a year from now that will change the

significance of those events or how I look at them.

Working with the Past in Therapy!Can changing the past change the future?

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, noticed this phenomenon in his work with therapy clients and referred

to it as “nachtraeglichkeit”: Something that happens now changes what happened in the past. In English this is often

referred to as “retroactive determination”.

To Freud this temporal phenomenon by which something that will happen changes what has happened is one of the

key curative factors in therapy.

Therapy is not about rehashing old events. It is about encountering something new that you have not yet thought

about or felt before. As your present awareness is enlarged or changed, new futures become possible. And with

these different futures, the meaning of our past will change.

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Existential philosopher, Martin Heidegger, believed that our future is defined by a “for the sake of which”, or a why

Why do I get up in the morning? Why do I go to this particular job? To do what? To accomplish what?

When pursued to its end, this line of questioning will lead us through a series of “to’s” to an ultimate “for the

sake of which” gives us the final meaning to our existence: the reason why we do things.

Hence, I go to work to make a paycheck. Changing the Past from the Future, I make a paycheck so I can pay my bills. I want to pay my bills so I can eat and have a roof over.

I make more money than what I need to pay my bills. My work is also a status symbol, a testimony to

my worth as a person. It is important to me to be a good provider, not just for me but for my wife or my children. It matters to me that they respect me and that they are proud of me. Without that admiration, I might not have anything .





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