Military Life Stress: Does the Past Cloud the Present?

Occasionally, I’ll come across a quote that stops me. This one by Yung Pueblo did just that:

“Ask yourself: Is this how I actually feel or is this my emotional history trying to recreate the past?”

Wow, right? How many times have you told yourself that this time is going to be different? You mentally prepare for the sixth deployment. You get all your checklists lined up for your ninth PCS. A last-minute TDY ain’t got nothing on you cause you are ready. Until…

women stressed You find yourself thrown a curveball. Movers didn’t show up with enough crates. The event you’ve been working on for months gets canceled because of COVID. Your spouse gets passed up on for that “guaranteed” assignment. Nothing feels like it’s going right. And your brain knows this. It knows that you’ve been here a thousand times before. The stress. The chaos. The unhealthy coping strategies. They all begin to bubble up to the surface.

But is this really how you really feel? Or are you just on autopilot, re-creating your past? You see, we like to think that we are conscious, informed decision-makers. But what science shows is that this isn’t actually the case. In fact, 95 percent of our decision-making is made at the unconscious level.

That means that only five percent of our decisions are fueled by our conscious mind. Five percent! So the question is what’s driving your unconscious mind? If you’re curious, you can look at the results in your life because they reflect those unconscious beliefs. The evidence is in your relationships, your jobs, your income, how you respond to PCS orders. Alllll of it is being run by your unconscious mind.

So what’s running the unconscious mind? Your beliefs. Your beliefs about the world, fairness, self-worth, love, etc… When these beliefs are rooted in doubt, fear, and disbelief, that is what is reaped. When you think you are stuck because that’s “how things have always been,” you don’t notice the rescue missions. You don’t see the pile of sticks that can be McGyvered into a sailboat. You miss the goodness all around you.

Most importantly, you don’t realize you can start over. On your terms. At any point. Because it is never, ever too late.

But before you can do that, you have to deal with your past and learn those lessons. So often I see clients trying to fix everything outside of them. “If we get assigned to just the right base and move into this neighborhood, then I won’t have to worry about this.” “If my spouse gets Command, then they’ll be happier and I’ll be happier.” Inner peace has to come from within, regardless of the outcomes. Regardless of where you live or what job title your spouse has.

When you focus on these things, you get sidetracked from learning what was meant to serve you and what needs to be released. Moving and promoting and retiring do not make your issues disappear. In fact, those issues don’t ever go away until you’ve gleaned what you were meant to from them. Sure, they may look a little different, but eventually, it will all come back to the same core lesson.

Well, that’s great, Courtney. So what am I supposed to do then? I’m so glad you asked! You stop. You observe. You ask yourself in the most loving and non-judgmental way (because that is exactly what you are deserving of), “What is coming up for me right now? Why am I being triggered by this? What am I meant to learn from this?” Are you always able to do this when you’re in a peaceful, zen-like state? Um, no. Sometimes, you gotta throw that tantrum. But you don’t stay there.

Military spouse on bridge thinking

You don’t stay re-creating your past. You stop and ask, “Is this how I feel? Is this how I want to feel?” And then you remember the badass that you are. You look within to ask the deep questions. And you listen because you deserve to be heard. Will you always get an answer? Probably not. But the more you practice this-stopping, observing, asking, and listening, your body begins to trust you. And in this space, the answers to this question, “Is this how I actually feel, or is this my emotional history trying to recreate the past?” begin to emerge. 

About this author: Courtney Boyer, M.Ed., M.S., CL, is a Relationship Coach and Sexpert who helps high achievers become as successful in their relationships as they are in their careers. She loves coffee, red wine, and serving her military community. 

Learn more about Courtney at Courtney Boyer Coaching and read another article she wrote for Pride & Grit: Military Marriage Transition: When You’ve Forgotten.  


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