July 10, 2023


As I’m watching the news about someone famous and the past traumatic life events he has endured, a light went off in my head. I have often used and have seen the adage “Don’t let your past define you” many times in my work. It is mainly aimed at past trauma survivors and is meant to help these people heal. But maybe we have it backwards! Or maybe we should re-phrase it more accurately! Maybe we should add “Don’t let our past unresolved trauma define us”. I say that because my own past issue, since being resolved, has become a strength and not a weakness. So, my past has come to define me in a positive, not a negative way.

Unresolved past traumatic events wreak havoc in our lives, that I am certain about. I have never experienced nor have I heard unresolved traumatic issues having a positive impact in our current lives. I know unresolved past trauma sometimes drives our creative sides to convey our “inner demons” through expressive outlets (e.g., art, writing, music, dance, etc.). Many artists who have suffered past unresolved trauma go on to become famous in their crafts. However, most have turbulent lives and many of them end in tragedy. Conversely, there are also many examples of artists who have resolved their past traumas and have lost the intensity of their crafts.

When I was in private practice, I would start my initial session assessing my clients and their current professions. I made it clear for those I felt channeled their unresolved issues to their crafts to recognize the impact resolution of the trauma may have on that craft. In other words, you may sacrifice what has become your living for the goal of “inner peace”, or a better mental health life. I can elaborate further on artists, actors, athletes and so on, but that’s for another day. For now, I just wanted to raise our awareness on the topic of our pasts defining our lives.

Let me propose to you a simple exercise. Think about your current lives. If you are struggling with mental health issues and you feel it relates to your past unresolved issues, then you need to first address the impact of those issues before knowing how to define your lives. This is what the adage above refers to. You do not want your unresolved issues and current lives to define who you are today. But once you have addressed the issues and resolved them, then you should want your pasts to define who you are.

So, what does it take for your past to define you in a positive way? Work, work, and more work, on the beliefs you have attached to those memories and events. If you are overwhelmed with anxiety, depression and other symptoms related to your past, then know you need to work on the core of the problem and not just the symptoms. Do not just accept the fact you are an anxious person, or your depression is medically driven. A wise psychiatrist once taught me that no one is born with too much anxiety. It’s a symptom of something deeper and something that needs resolution.

I surely want to always remember how my past traumatic life has impacted my life and my thinking. It has become my “go to” thinking when processing current issues. It has become my strength and makes me who I am today. So, “let your past define you” has become my mantra. It has also helped me remain humble regardless of any success that has come my way. It has also raised my level of empathy and understanding to those who still suffer from unresolved past trauma. Our lives are relative to our beliefs. What “defines” you, is up to you and the work you are willing to do to get there.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance!

Vinnie Strumolo, CEO, CCO, LMFT