How to Meet Hurt and Pain from the Past

Past hurt and pain can get triggered even when it doesn't have much to do with the present.  A student of mine recently shared a motto she has that helps her remember this, "If it’s hysterical, it's probably historical."  This helps her to slow down when she is having a strong reaction and ask herself questions like:

  • Has something like this happened before?  

  • Does this remind of another time in my life?  

  • What am I telling myself about what just happened?

When you can name reactivity as it comes up, engage your anchor, and then ask the questions above. The answers can help you gain perspective and space about what’s happening. However, it’s important not to get lost here.  Simply name what events from the past are coming up without analysis or story telling. Then engage in the following two steps.

First, address the past pain with empathy. Identify the feelings and needs that were present in the past event as well as what’s up for you in the present as you reflect on the past.  As you name feelings and needs without getting caught in guilt or anger, you will notice a settling feeling that signals self-connection. This means you are ready for the second step.

Mindfully name how things have changed. Gently update your nervous system. Those threats and events of the past are over. You are okay in this moment.

Of course, just because you recognize a situation triggered past pain, it doesn't mean you have to buck up and get over it.  It’s still important to honor your needs in the moment with a request of yourself or someone else.


Take time now to reflect on a situation in which you were recently triggered.  Ask yourself if the situation reminded you of anything you experienced before. Name the old hurt and the feelings and needs associated with it.  Then name any other feelings and needs that were just based on the situation as it was. Come up with a request you might have made in the moment or perhaps still can make.