Tag Archives: working through the past

“Working Through” Instead of Pushing Past the Past

by Kassandra Lamb

row of flagsBelieve it or not, this is a Veterans’ Day post. I’ll get back to that.

As is the case with everything from clothing to baby names to the size of one’s car, mental health is affected by trends in our society. During most of my career as a psychotherapist, the trend was to explore one’s past for explanations of one’s neuroses, so that one could heal whatever trauma lurked back there and then move on. (Key words: Move On!)

This trend was fortunate for me, since I discovered that I had a real talent for trauma recovery. It became my specialty, and I walked the path with hundreds of people, over the twenty years of my career, who’d been abused in a variety of ways as kids. I was honored to be a part of helping them heal and blossom into the people they were meant to be. As hard as it was to face the past, it was what they needed to do in order to truly “work through” that past, rather than ignoring it and have it continue to affect their behavior, moods, parenting, relationships, etc. And most of them came out the other end of the process far, far healthier and happier than they had ever been in their lives.

In my parents’ day, the WW II era, the trend was to “buck up” and push past the past. Best I can tell, this had been the attitude, off and on, for generations, until the more recent trend to go through one’s “recovery process.” As a result of this buck-up attitude, the damage done by trauma in people’s pasts continued to not only affect them but their children.

PTSD existed during WW II—it has always existed—but back then it was called shell shock or battle fatigue, and soldiers who suffered from it were at best pitied and at worst scorned as cowards. It wasn’t until the Vietnam War era that the concept of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder developed and new and better treatments were discovered.

WW II era submarine

My husband’s uncle was a Navy seaman in WW II, on a submarine in the Pacific. For decades, the only impact from that experience he would admit to was ringing in his ears, a residual symptom from all the depth charges that went off in the water around his sub. It wasn’t until his sixties that he started talking about his experiences during the war. It became obvious to my husband and myself that he had suffered from PTSD his entire life. But he’d never dealt with it. He didn’t have permission to deal with it. Instead he drank too much and smoked too much (even after he had emphysema) and took his anger at the world out on his sons.

At the time that I was a practicing therapist, I didn’t realize that the shift away from that buck-up attitude was just a trend. I thought our society had actually turned the corner and was beginning to understand what was involved in obtaining and maintaining good mental health.

In the 1990s, sadly, the pendulum swung back toward the old-fashioned attitudes (not all the way back, but dangerously close for a while). Exploring and working through the harmful mistakes one’s parents may have made so that one could forgive those parents for being human—and then most likely have a better relationship with them thereafter—became “parent bashing” and “whining about the past.” Those going through their recovery process were sometimes viewed as “looking for excuses” for their own behavior and choices. (Nothing could be further from the truth; the process, when done right, is all about taking responsibility for oneself and one’s life.)

The pendulum has now swung more toward the middle ground, but I still see or hear statements on social media, pretty much on a weekly basis, along the lines of “stop whining about the past” or “you are not your past, move on” or “stop blaming your parents” (I repeat, recovery from the past is not and never was about parent-bashing).

inside of submarine

Inside of a submarine (photo by by Eteil CC-BY-SA 4.0 International, Wkimedia Commons)

Once Uncle Pete opened the door to the past, a lot came pouring out. Fifty years later, he was finally talking about how terrified that nineteen-year-old seaman and his buddies were, as those depth charges exploded in the water around their submarine, how they feared that sub would become their coffin and perhaps their bodies would never be recovered from the depths of the sea.

Show me a combat veteran and I’ll show you a man or woman who has at least some psychological scar tissue (whether they admit it or not) due to what they have experienced protecting us and our country. One of the best ways we can honor our veterans is to continue to acknowledge what they have gone through emotionally, continue to give them permission to seek help so they can heal those wounds, and to continue to fight for and support funding for mental health services for them.

service dog

(DoD photo by EJ Hersom, CC-BY 2.0 Wikimedia Commons))

If you see a veteran sweating and shaking in public from an anxiety attack, know that they came by those anxieties while fighting for your freedoms. Having never been in such a veteran’s shoes, I can’t tell you what would be most helpful to them right then, but turning away and denying that their internal wounds are real is definitely not helpful.

And if you see a healthy-looking woman or a big strapping man with no obvious physical disability being accompanied by a service dog, don’t make assumptions. You have no idea what they are dealing with inside.

Speaking of service dogs (and to lighten the mood!), I have a new novella coming out in the Marcia Banks and Buddy series, a Christmas story.

Here’s the cover! Isn’t it awesome?

A Mayfair Christmas Carol book cover

A Mayfair Christmas Carol, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Christmas Novella

A Christmas extravaganza in Mayfair, Florida, complete with an ice skating rink. What could go wrong?

When excavation for the skating rink uncovers a decades-old skeleton, its secrets threaten more than the town’s Christmas plans. Worried about her friends in her adopted town and feeling responsible since the let’s-attract-more-tourists idea was hers initially, dog trainer Marcia Banks is determined to help her police detective boyfriend solve the mystery—whether he wants her help or not. Perhaps she can wheedle more out of the townspeople than he can.

But will she and her Black Lab, Buddy, be able to keep the ghost of Christmas past from destroying what is left of Mayfair’s founding family, or will her meddling make matters worse?

A Mayfair Christmas Carol will be available for preorder on November 27th (Cyber Monday) and will be released on December 2nd. So stay tuned!

Your thoughts on the trends in mental health? Have you or someone you love ever been on the receiving end of the “buck”up” attitude?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological mysteries, set in her native Maryland, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

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