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Inflicting Our Past on Others; Trying to Change Others; Changing Ourselves

Years ago I read a fantastic book entitled “The Drama of the Gifted Child”, by Alice Miller, who deals with many issues including how children cope with and survive child abuse.

The lesson I learned from this book, I carry with me each day.  You cannot change the past.   You can forget it, ignore it, or come to terms with it, and then move forward.

Inflicting our Past on Others; Trying to Change Others

There is, however, one disturbing way in which some people attempt to change the past.  Alice Miller explains that the most damaging and extreme form of “inflicting of the past on others by trying to change it” is when a person who has experienced abuse and mistreatment in their childhood transposes a group of people into “helpless, victimized him/herself” and makes him/herself into the “powerful abuser”.

Thus, an adult who was abused as a child, abuses her/his own child, other people, employees or friends.  This person has the illusion of changing the past, as s/he is now the abuser, not the abused.  This individual has a jaded sense that s/he has “resolved the past”, when in actuality, the past is being redirected, inflicted on the abused.

This is obviously dysfunctional.  When involved with a person in this behavior pattern, one can only convince the person to get help, or move away from them.

It is easy to spot people with this behavior.  Much of their life, they relate as being victims, outsiders, feeling poorly treated, and discriminated against.

They embody such emotions as resentment, anger, self-hate, self-deprecation, grudges, guilt, blame, envy and jealousy.  They tend to turn every challenging situation into a personal one.

When they perceive their children have been treated unfairly in school, they take it personally, in remembering how they were mistreated in school.  They often see the world in terms of themselves, in a narcissistic way.

They have trouble apologizing and forgiving, or owning their behavior and growing from their mistakes.  They prefer excuses to reasons, arguments to conversation.  They often have a list of people that they “are not talking to” or “are not talking to them”.

Now let’s change the “they” to “we”.   While likely in more minor ways, We all have participated in the above behaviors, knowingly or unknowingly.

As a matter of fact, when we are participating in them, it is next to impossible to realize that that is what we are doing.  And so, in fact, it renders us incapable of growth or change.  When in this place, we are stuck.   We won’t listen to the advice of others, and although we are obsessed with our “selves”, we cannot see “ourselves”.

We also tend to see faults in others, and believe that we can change them.  This is just as dysfunctional as trying to change ones past.  You cannot change people. You can influence, inspire, impact, and encourage people, but you cannot change them.

A person can only change him/herself.  When we respond to a behavior that we do not appreciate in another person, we can alienate them, lose them, or in the best of scenarios, make them “uncomfortable”.

As an example, if we have a friend who swears all the time and that bothers us, we can mention that it bothers us, ask them not to swear as much, or even say, “I can no longer be your friend if this continues”.   The person can decide the relationship is “not worth the change” and refuse to change, risking ending the relationship.

The person can become uncomfortable about the impact of their behavior and the potential loss of the friend, and choose to modify or change the behavior.  Just remember that it is the person changing, and not “you changing them”.

Changing Ourselves


You cannot change the past.  You cannot change people.  You can only change yourself.

The beauty of if is that when you change, by virtue of the essence of change, others have to change to keep up with you, or again, choose to disassociate themselves from you or naturally grow apart from you..

It is through compassionate self-awareness (recognizing our patterns and triggers), listening to the feedback of others, not taking it personally, self-love (as opposed to Narcissism) and the desire for a healthier, more calm and peaceful life that we can come to terms with, resolve and move forward from the past.

Our friends, loved ones, employers, colleagues, mentors and in many cases, beloved therapists and coaches can help us to heal and grow, and, alas, change ourselves!

c. 2011 Rick Concoff MA


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