When something from the past is impacting the present, do you even know it? Maybe you left the toxic work environment or escaped the bullying boss. It seems logical to think that you’ve left that all in the past. What tends to be more true is that your past experiences shape how you show up today.
Here are some indicators that might be happening:
You feel worried every time your boss, colleague or employee wants to have a conversation. Unless you’re covering up some nefarious behavior, chances are there’s something from the past showing up in the present.
You find yourself waiting to be told what to do instead of taking action. Maybe you were penalized for making mistakes or chastised for past decisions. That kind of experience makes anyone shy about taking action.
You start each question with an apology for not already knowing the answer. Vulnerability may have been weaponized in the past. Of course asking a question feels challenging if you’ve experienced that sort of environment.
Feedback from your leadership is great, yet you still worry that you’re not doing a good job. There are probably multiple reasons for this one, but one of those reasons may be lingering impact from a negative previous environment.
You hesitate to make a decision. Overthinking, over-analyzing or asking everyone else their opinion before you make a decision that you have full authority to make might be leftover from a bullying boss.
These are just a few specific examples that are common indicators of something from the past being unresolved and impacting the present. You might have your own ways of knowing.
So what do you do?
First, slow down. Notice what’s happening – especially if you find yourself in one of the common scenarios above. Take a beat and breathe so that you can get some distance from whatever is happening.
Get curious. Ask yourself if how you’re feeling makes sense given the situation right now.
Bounce the situation around with a trusted advisor. Run the scenario past that person and get their take. Do your thoughts/feelings/actions seem to make sense to them, or is there some discrepancy between the current situation and your thoughts/feelings/actions?
Untangle the past and the present. Make a list of data points: What has your current leadership said about you? How are people treated when they ask questions? Have you been given the autonomy to make decisions? Write down the answers so you can see what’s true right now, and untangle yourself from the past.
Finally, be gentle. This takes time. Recognizing that the past is showing up in the present doesn’t magically make it stop. What it does do is give you a way forward – a way out of the fear and worry that caused you to leave the past situation. Understand that it is totally normal for these old ways of being to be showing up in your new environment. Give yourself grace as you untangle the present from the past.