Your post, Meera, reminds me of this woman I recently met. She and I just started talking at Starbuck's last week, so I don't know her that well, but she was embroiled in this drama with a guy she was seeing.
Basically, she was upset that he was traveling alot and not informing her of his schedule, even though she had asked him many times to synch up his calendar with hers so she would at least know when she could see him. When he first went out of town, he had said he wanted to fly up to NYC from where he was to see her every weekend. He never got around to doing that, nor letting her know his schedule, yet kept sending her lovey dovey messages without acknowledging her requests. She said they had an argument when he told her he would still be out of town for another month, which prompted her to tell him she was losing interest. They'd been apart for five weeks at that point, and the relationship was only four months along.
Still, he kept doing what he was doing, being vague about his plans, sending her "love you, miss you" texts and not even letting her know he had to take another trip. She finally called him and asked him to check his calendar right then and there and tell her when she would see him. He told her his calendar was on his Blackberry and he couldn't switch from talking to her on it to viewing his calendar, so he would check it and call her back later the same day. He never did. So, feeling dismissed and unimportant, she broke up with him.
Here is the part that you reminded me of: after breaking it off, all she kept telling me every time I saw her (and to every person she filled in on the latest development) was a lament about how she always picks narcissistic self-involved men, and why does she always ignore the red flags when she sees them, and how come her judgment is still so bad after all these years (she's 65 and been married three times) that she attracts such self-centered men. And so on. I told her that she should pat herself on the back for standing up for herself, and for not letting the relationship drag on any longer when it was so unsatisfying. For a few minutes, she would listen to me raptly and then say, "That's a good way to look at it," but then another acquaintance came in, or a friend called her, and I heard her continue to beat herself up. "What's wrong with me? Why don't I know better? Why do I always ignore the signs?" Oh, how easy and seductive it is to feel sorry for ourselves. That's really what all that beating up we do on ourselves is about
Tangled up in all that is the logic we learned when young, which becomes a habit we adhere to even many years later. When I was in the first grade, I decided I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up. Why? Because I saw an illustration in a book of two nurses walking in their uniforms through a park, and one of them had her sweater over her shoulders, held on with sweater clips. I really wanted sweater clips so I could wear my sweaters like that, so I decided to be a nurse. That was my child-mind logic. We all make decisions like that. We think, Mommy and Daddy were fighting after I got a bad grade, so if I get all A's they will never fight again. We've seen the evidence, so we believe it must be true. So, here you are thinking, this weirdo was bothering me because I went out specifically to flirt, and that was bad, so if I never flirt again, it will keep the weirdos away.
But you asked:
Originally Posted by MeeraReed
Is there an easy way to distinguish between learning from your mistakes (growing wiser from your past experiences) and not moving on from the past (thinking too much about past experiences)?
I think that, perhaps, one way to know if we are stuck in the past is if things feel familiar in a situation and we are starting to think that there is an inevitable outcome. When we hear the same old self-defeating, self-limiting crap in our heads that we have always told ourselves. Versus those moments when you respond to the here and now and you feel more alive and maybe even completely out of your element (sometimes a very good place to be).
Look, you already have this awareness about the pattern of thinking you have learned, all you need do is keep on examining and asking yourself questions about whether you are acting based on what's happening in the present or on belief systems you established in the past. And when you find yourself going back to join that pity party, like my new friend who keeps getting upset with herself about the men she picks rather than acknowledging herself for taking a stance, don't go there. When we pay attention to the bullshit we lay on ourselves, the remedies for it are usually very simple.