One of the most misunderstood legacies of Freud was the notion that our personalities were “set” by the age of five and that after that our personalities simply did not change. Even Freud admitted to the ability of the human personality to change. That’s why psychoanalysis was invented. However, most of us in the 21rst century have bought into this odd notion that we are the same person that we have always been. Our personalities are set and the forces that were set into motion by our past decisions will determine our future fate. We are so obsessed with the story of our past, that we believe that since this is always the way we have acted in the past, we will always act this way in the future.
But think seriously about this. I am now fifty six years old. I am not the same person I was at the age of five or ten or twenty or thirty or forty or even fifty. Likewise, I will not be the same person at sixty or seventy or eighty. Not only that, but it would be impossible to remain the same person during these personal epochs even if I tried. Yet, that doesn’t stop so many of us from believing that we are trapped in the inevitability of our own histories. The past determines our present. Our present then determines our future.
Such a concrete view of ourselves is a drearily reassuring myth. I might be a miserable bug trapped in the amber of my past, but I am a familiar one, absolved of the responsibility for my present or my future. No quantum leaps or cataclysmic interruptions in my personal history can disturb my glum equilibrium. The archetype of this wretchedness can be found in the Tarot Card of “The Devil”. Adam and Eve are chained to a stone block upon which perches the Devil. But, look carefully at this couple and you see that the chains are loosely draped around their necks. Either of them, at any moment, could easily slip the chain over their heads if they only slightly exerted their will.
Our power is never found in the past or the future. Our personal power is rooted in the immediate present. I often hear my clients counter: “Well, what about the choice I made eighteen years ago to get married? I’m still stuck with that decision.” That may be true. However, I will counter: “You might have made the decision to get married and have kids eighteen years ago. And, for every day, hour and minute for the last eighteen years, you have made the decision to stay married. At any moment in the present or in the future, you could choose otherwise.”
If you want to change, your ability to change lays in the present moment. We can get so obsessed about our past histories that we allow our past to limit our decisions about the present and future. When we wish to change, the question really isn’t: How did I get here?” Instead it should be: “What am I choosing to become?”