Guest Writer Trevor, Why You Need to Examine Your Past to Understand Your Mental Health

This movie plot is so common that it’s almost cliché: The young bully with a troubled past creates adversity for the story’s hero.

This plot illustrates how someone’s past can impact their present. We see it in the bully and in the bullied. And if we look closely, we can also see it in ourselves.

Events from your past have contributed to the person you are today.

How the past molds your character

If you think about who you are today, can you really separate your past? Everything that has happened in your life up until now has helped shape who you are. This includes the good and the bad.

It’s possible to experience negative or even traumatic events without letting them control your life, but it’s not easy. And you may need help working through them.

The practice of letting go of hurt is much easier said than done, and it’s especially difficult for children. Children may be less likely to hold a grudge than adults, but that doesn’t mean they walk away unscathed. In fact, a traumatic childhood experience can send a child down a dark and dangerous path.

Children who experience traumatic events are more likely to experiment with teenage drug use and suffer from mental health disorders later in life.  

Trauma and depression

A 2013 University of Liverpool study found that traumatic life events are the single biggest cause of anxiety and depression. This means you’re more likely to experience depression or anxiety if you’ve experienced a traumatic event than if you have a family history of mental illness.

And if you experience a traumatic event and have a family history of mental illness, your risk of developing depression or anxiety may increase further.

What is a traumatic event?

It’s important to note that an event that’s traumatic for one person may not be so for another. For example, divorce may be traumatic for someone who never saw it as an option. For another person, divorce may seem commonplace.

There are other experiences that are likely to be traumatic for everyone. Rape or witnessing a murder are two extreme examples that are likely to impact anyone.

If you’ve experienced an event that has impacted your emotional wellbeing, don’t waste time worrying about whether it “should” or “shouldn’t” bother you. Instead, talk to a professional about how to work through your feelings.

How to examine your past

The best way to examine your past and its effect on your present is with a professional counselor. This is especially true if you’ve ever experienced a traumatic event, or if you suffer from addiction or depression.

If you don’t fall into any of the above categories, you may start exploring on your own. Begin with a walk down memory lane. Look at old photos and talk about things from your childhood. This may include old pets, relatives or friends that have had an impact on your life.

With memories fresh in your mind, think about the people who were most influential to you. Can you recall any negative events or conversations that may be haunting you to this day? If so, that may be something you need to work through.

You can also approach this from a different angle. Think about your biggest faults. Now, imagine where they could have begun. Was it a learned behavior from your parents? Is it some form of a coping mechanism? Or are you overcompensating for something? If you can find the root cause of these behaviors, you’ll find it easier to overcome them.

Regardless of what you’re experiencing today, it’s likely that your past plays some role. If you’re looking to improve your mental health, be prepared to talk about your past.

Authors Bio: Trevor McDonald is a freelance content writer who has a passion for writing and is currently writing for Sober Nation. He's written a variety of education, travel, health, and lifestyle articles for many different companies. In his free time, you can find him running with his dog, playing his guitar or on Twitter.