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Completing The Past

The past is over, yet some people obsess about the past, and many more of
us bring conclusions we have made based on past experiences into the
current situations we are in, thereby missing some important aspects of
reality. This insight is not simply an attitude to adopt. It is a fact to
by Robert Fritz


Much of the psychotherapeutic and the human potential world consider past
experiences, especially traumatic ones, the cause of psychological and
personal problems. The notion is that troubling experiences are trapped
within the mind as "repressed areas of consciousness." The mind rejects the
upsetting experiences and denies full recognition of them. Since the mind
tries to pretend these incidents never happened, the events remain

In that the person cannot resolve the

traumatic experience directly, the mind
tries to resolve the experience indirectly
by generating unconscious drives and
If, for example, one of your parents left the family when you were young,
and that was a traumatic experience, the unresolved dynamic of that
experience may lead to future complications in love relationships. And,
according to many psychotherapeutic theories, you cannot manage to have
a healthy love relationship until the past trauma is resolved.

In other words, you must "complete"

your past, given that you feel "incomplete"
about it.
Some forms of psychotherapy "regress" the patient back to the traumatic
experience, and then encourage him or her to relive the event. By directly
facing the experience, the emotional charge that surrounds the event can
be released. The mind is then free.

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This method has worked well for people who had exceedingly painful
experiences. But, too often, new unwanted difficulties emerge, and the
patient is back on the couch, exploring other negative past experiences.

Structural Dynamics
There are more vital structural dynamics in play in your life than past
experiences. For example, the conclusions you may have reached based on
your past experiences.

Let's say that one of your parents left the family when you were a child,
and, based on that experience, you have concluded that you can't trust
people. The concept that you can't trust people becomes one element in
your structural makeup. You have others, such as the desire to have close
relationships. An underlying structure that contains both of these two
elements will produce a predictable pattern of oscillation.

The pattern will begin by meeting someone you want to have a relationship
with. Because of your attraction, the mind now has two contradictory goals.

One goal is to form a relationship with

the person you like. But the other goal
is to protect you from harm from
untrustworthy people.
Therefore, you also want to avoid a relationship that might be risky. You
want a close relationship yet avoid a close relationship.

At first, one of these goals will dominate the other, usually the initial
attraction. The next step in the pattern is to begin a relationship. The
relationship might go very well at first. But as time passes, the idea that
you can't trust people begins to become more and more pronounced.

This isn't necessarily because the person you are with has betrayed you, or
stolen your money, or hit on your best friend. It is because the concept that
you can’t trust people is pitted against the fact of the relationship itself. You
become suspicious. You begin to accuse the person of misdeeds. You
become distant. You begin to pick fights.

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Naturally, the relationship begins to suffer as you seem to drive the person
away, quite contrary to what you actually want. Perhaps, finally, after the
difficulties you've caused, the person does leave you. At that point in the
pattern, you can say, "See, you can't trust people."

A complicating factor in this pattern is

that people with this type of structure
often seem to attract those who, indeed,
are not trustworthy.
There may be legitimate questions of trust at issue.

But the person's friends give this advice, "you need to learn how to trust
people." Yet, it would be foolhardy to trust those who are untrustworthy.
And that's exactly the type of person who fits the pattern. And the pattern
reoccurs over and over as the desire to have a relationship and the desire
to avoid relationships with untrustworthy people are inextricably tied.

In such a pattern, the conclusions you made in the past are reinforced by
current events that seem to continuously play themselves out. It seems like
a vicious circle.

Structure, like physics, has certain laws

that are independent from the individual.
If you are subject to gravity, it is not how you've lived your life, or your
psychology, or your DNA, or your cultural background, or your education. If
we took Mary out of the structure in which she has desire to have a loving
relationship and, simultaneously, can't trust people, and put John in, John
would suddenly have the very same pattern that Mary had.

Naturally, we think of the patterns in our lives as unique, individual,

idiosyncratic, and highly personal. But, they are not. The patterns are
generated by the underlying structures you are in.

To what degree do you need to deal with the past to change the structure
so that it generates a better pattern? Usually, not at all. However, you may
need to rethink the various conclusions you have made throughout your
life. These conclusions become the concepts you hold. "You can’t trust

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people," may be one concept. "I am stupid," may be another. "The world is
dangerous," may be another. There are countless more.

Concepts are generalizations. Here is the definition of generalization:

gen·er·al·i·za·tion (plural gen·er·al·i·za·tions) noun 1. sweeping statement:

a statement presented as a general truth but based on limited or
incomplete evidence. 2. general statement: a statement or conclusion that
is derived from and applies equally to a number of cases not enough data to
permit a generalization. 3. making of generalizations: the making of general
or sweeping statements. 4. logic inference from instance: the application of
the rules of inference that go from an instance to a universal or to an
existential statement. 5. psychology use of learned response: the act of
responding to a new stimulus in the same way as to a conditioned stimulus

From this definition we can understand how a specific experience may have
led to a generalization, a sweeping concept that now is assumed to be true
universally. Certainly some people are untrustworthy. But some people can
be trusted.

If we tar everyone with the same

generalization, we will miss that actual
case in reality.
Some generalizations are useful, such as, look both ways before you cross
the street. Most times that is good advice. Yet some streets are one way,
and while it may be good to check to see if there might be a car driving
down the road the wrong way, there’s a good chance that looking one way
before crossing the street is very sound.

Concepts of all types are used to fill in the unknowns in reality. They can
give us a tangible feeling that we know something we don’t actually know.
And because we think we know, we don’t make a point of finding out. Yet it
is better to be aware of what we know and don’t know about reality. When
we don’t know something we need to know, rather than speculate, we can
ask questions, study the facts, observe, test, verify, and stay open to new

The Past Is Over

That is simply a fact.
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We cannot go back into the past and
change things. Past experiences, good,
bad, or indifferent, are over.
Once we become fluent in reality, this insight becomes profoundly clear.

What that means is that we cannot complete the past, no matter how much
we might like to. We cannot go back in time and remake the decision. We
can't make the point we should have made during the argument. We can't
catch the plane we missed. We can't unsay what we said.

We may regret aspects of the past. But we can't correct them. And if we
learn from the past, we only know we have learned by applying those
lessons to the current situation.

The past is over, yet some people obsess about the past, and many more of
us bring conclusions we have made based on past experiences into the
current situations we are in, thereby missing some important aspects of

This insight is not simply an attitude

to adopt. It is a fact to comprehend.
There is only one place we live, whether we are aware of it or not, and that
place is the present. While we can understand this superficially, our minds
might not understand this at all. So we may need to train the mind to focus
on reality in the very same way an artist needs to focus on the object that
is being painted.

In a way, we could say that to really complete the past once and for all
comes from understanding that the past will never be completed. Ironically,
the past is resolved by knowing it is irresolvable. This resolution is not
finally feeling okay about it, but by the factual truth of reality in which you
might never feel okay about it.

Then you can be able to begin life anew.

© Robert Fritz 2009

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Robert Fritz is a composer, filmmaker and organizational consultant. He is

founder of Technologies For Creating® and author of the international
bestseller The Path of Least Resistance.

During the past twenty-five years, over 80,000 people in 27 countries have
participated in trainings created by Robert Fritz. His insights on the creative
process and structural dynamics serve as the foundation of meaningful and
lasting change for both individuals and organizations.

Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, says that Robert Fritz

"…is without a doubt one of the most original thinkers today on the
creative process in business, the arts, science, and life in general. His
work has deeply impacted my life and the lives of many of my

This influence can be witnessed in the lives of countless individuals

throughout the world— and in the business practices of the many successful
organizations that have embraced Robert’s ideas.

An accomplished composer, producer, filmmaker and writer, it is Robert’s

experience in the arts, which has had the greatest influence on his approach
to human and organizational development. And it is this, which makes the
work of Robert Fritz Inc. both compelling and extraordinary.

To learn more about Robert and his work, visit his website:


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