You Can’t Escape Your Future or Your Past, PopMatters (2023)

It’s said that age breeds wisdom. If we had this wisdom when we were growing up, would it help us? If we knew what we know now when we were younger, would we make the same mistakes? Probably not, but then again, if we didn’t make those mistakes, our younger selves would not become our older selves. It’s a slightly confusing time travel paradox, one that has perplexed all forms of narrative storytelling. More often than not, it seems that characters that seek to change the past are inevitably fated to end up on the same track. Any attempt to change their fate only makes things worse and brings them closer to the inevitable.

The conflict of fate is a tried and true storytelling method that goes back to Greek tragedies. Aristotle, in his storytelling-bible, Poetics, stated that plot is used to elicit an emotional response from an audience. Tragedies occur because heroes unknowingly sabotage themselves. They either seek their destiny only to the detriment of those around them, or take extreme measures to prevent what they see may be their future, ultimately playing into what has been foretold. The tales of Oedipus Rex, Theseus and Ariadne, Jason and Medea, Perseus, Achilles, Heracles, Odysseus and Agamemnon are fated to tragedy and glory at their outset. Yet thousand of years later, their narrative and thematic structures are as a popular as the deeds of their heroes.

Narrative storytelling refuses to let these characters escape. Hubris must be defeated, the will of the gods fulfilled. Man is flawed, and our stories remind us that, no matter how far we reach, no matter how sure our footing, we can always fall. There are lessons to be learned. Stories, in the inevitably of their conclusions, impart us with knowledge. As readers and viewers, we see characters set upon these paths, knowing the mechanics of storytelling but following all the just same. And hopefully, we learn something from the mistakes of our fictional counterparts.

The emotional fatalism perpetuated by myths is the foundation of contemporary storytelling, specifically with regards to science fiction and time travel. In the unofficial Bruce Willis time-travel trilogy of 12 Monkeys, The Kid, and Looper, Willis’ characters are both inhibited and assisted by their past selves. The lingering memory of a man dying in an airport terminal in 12 Monkeys haunts Willis’ Cole every time he closes his eyes. When Cole is sent to the past, it is inevitable that his past, present and future will tie together in that fatal moment. In The Kid, Willis’ Russ comes face to face with his eight-year old self. Reinvigorated by his younger self, Old Russ learns to enjoy what he has now, even if he can’t change what he has lost in the past.

The concept of fatalism is even more striking in Looper. Willis’ Old Joe is sent to the past to be terminated by a younger version of his self, played by Joseph-Gordon Levitt. Old Joe has survived his reckless youth. He knows what he has lost, and his goal in traveling back in time is to escape his imminent death and save the woman he loves. Not having the experience of loss like his older, balder self, Young Joe has his own youthful dreams and desires that he wishes to fulfill. It’s his life, not his future self’s. Their battle over self can either set off a never-ending loop of selfishness, or end in the inevitable destruction of self.

The heart of all of this is that characters who know their future cannot escape it. The past may haunt us, with regret, but we are capable of learning from it, and moving on. But there is something even more frightening: a predestined future, an oracle foretelling that certain events will transpire, a time loop in which we see the calamity we will be subject to. Imagine that there is nothing you can do, no ejector seat, no escape hatch. Despite what they may think, these characters have no control.

Time travel offers the hope that you may have a chance to right a past wrong and change the future. However, time seems to be resistant to change; one small fix can just as quickly lead to a worse future. Back to the Future has become the contemporary benchmark for this type of time travel fatalism. A simple mistake by Marty could eliminate him from existence. What’s worse, trying to fix things in the past continuously causes a butterfly effect that will benefit the future of some and ruin it for others. Throughout the film there is an attempt to maintain a state of normalcy, to return to what we know, as if there is only one correct, predetermined path. Time is fated. It is resistant to change and anything that disrupts its flow will only result in tragedy or chaos.

Characters who are aware of their fate inevitably try to escape it. Like a theme park ride, there’s a predetermined course that can’t be escaped. Their attempts to set a seemingly more beneficial course may muddle things even worse. In Greek tragedy, characters’ vain attempts to surmount the laws of fate only exacerbate their problem and bring about that which they so heartily tried avoid. In any case, there is no escape—characters understand the inevitability of fate, and either must accept it or destroy the world around them trying to avoid it.

Any attempt to control fate by doing the logical thing is disrupted by emotion. The lasting effects of personal decisions have impacts on both the future and the past. Logic sets a planned straight and narrow, a set of rules that is disrupted by emotional experiences: love, anger, regret, responsibility, grief, desire, and despair. These intimate designs put us on and remove us from our chosen path.

Free will and fate are intertwined to raise questions of control in Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel The Sandman. Despite the fact that we may we think we are following our own path, are we truly just on the road to some inevitable conclusion? The main characters incorporate the forces that control our lives, Dream and his siblings Desire, Despair, Delight/Delirium, Destruction, Destiny and the ultimate inevitability of Death. While Dream and Destiny may seem at times competing for control of a character’s life, they eventually tie together due to a path laid with desire, delight, delirium, despair and destruction that can only end in a feeling apropos to the final stage. Emotion and catharsis both dictate and hinder the pursuit of dreams.

Dreams give us hope, that something will change, that perhaps we have control. That is what our tragic heroes want to believe—that they can, with the help of dreams, escape their destiny.

Again, it is the nature of storytelling that they cannot escape. Those affronts to the gods must be punished, order must be maintained, dreams are only a diversion from destiny, and human emotion is the cause of tragedy. The lesson here is clear: we are fallible, we are not divine, and we cannot disrupt the laws of nature. Yet it is a parable we are willing to hear time and time again.

As audience members removed from the situation, we are able to take a step back and see how the pieces fit together. We cringe when an obviously logical decision is foiled by an emotional response. Love keeps Cole from ignoring the warning that lives in his dreams. Arrogance hinders both Old and Young Joe from realizing the future they have set in motion. Things would be fine if Joe or Marty or Oedipus just took a step back, realized what they were doing, and listened to reason.

Our own understanding of the situation, our ability to see beyond a character’s limited point of view, our affect for the story and characters creates an emotional connection. It’s same reason we yell at characters that run upstairs in a horror movie (instead of running outside to safety). Affect is the principle that makes stories successful. It overcomes our own logic as viewers and ties us to the characters’ fates. We get frustrated with their illogical choices, but we still hope they can escape. Why would we get frustrated if we too weren’t emotionally involved?

We see what is coming and there is no escape for us, either. Heroes fall to the same traps again and again. Our brain tells us to act one way, our heart another. What logic dictates, emotion disrupts. And sometimes what we think is right, what we think will make everything better will only make things worse. Knowing the future only leads to the inevitable. Escaping the past only dooms one to repeat it.


What does you can't escape your fate mean? ›

Fate is inevitable and no matter how hard you try to escape it, you will not succeed.

Can someone escape their destiny? ›

One cannot escape their fate, but their path may be altered, potentially resulting in a different outcome. Some consider it divine intervention, or a miracle. Others consider it to be coincidence or happenstance. In some cases both are true, but there are always exceptions.

How do you escape from your past? ›

That's why it's important that you let it go and leave the past behind with these eight tactics.
  1. Learn from the past but don't dwell there. ...
  2. Express yourself. ...
  3. Stop pointing fingers. ...
  4. Focus on the present. ...
  5. Disconnect for a while. ...
  6. Think about the people around you. ...
  7. Forgive those who wronged you -- including yourself.
Mar 11, 2016

How do you accept your fate and move on? ›

How to control your destiny
  1. Accept reality. To control your destiny, you must first accept who you are and where you are, right now. ...
  2. Question your beliefs. ...
  3. Let go of the past. ...
  4. Explore your relationships. ...
  5. Reveal your driving force. ...
  6. Face your fears. ...
  7. Design your life. ...
  8. Reset your focus.

Does fate or free will control our lives? ›

Life is a delicate balance between the two. Fate brings you opportunities, and free will determines whether or not you take them. Fate is the destiny that is pre-planned for you, but it's up to you to do something with it. Put another way, fate is the potential possibilities of your life.

Do humans control their own destiny? ›

We create our own destinies. Don't let anyone tell you anything different. Sure, there are things in life we can't control, but that doesn't mean we need to let those things affect who we are and what we become. You can't control the people or the things around you, but you can control how you react to them.

What determines a person's destiny? ›

“It is your decisions, and not your circumstance, that determine your destiny.” Billy Graham said, "The strongest principle of life and blessings lies in our choice. Our life is the sum result of all the choices we make, both consciously and unconsciously.

How do I let go of the past and live life? ›

How to let go of the past
  1. Make a commitment to let go. The first step toward letting go is realizing that it is necessary and feeling ready to do so. ...
  2. Feel the feelings. Memories of past events can bring up complex or strong emotions. ...
  3. Take responsibility. ...
  4. Practice mindfulness. ...
  5. Practice self-compassion.
Mar 4, 2021

How do I forget my past and start a new life? ›

15 tips to forget the past and move on with your life
  1. Keep your distance from people or locations that might trigger adverse reactions.
  2. Incorporate self-care into your daily routine.
  3. Spend time with positive people with whom you have healthy relationships. ...
  4. Swap out negative thoughts for positive self-talk.
Feb 21, 2023

Can you heal from the past? ›

Healing from past pain or traumatic experiences is not something that happens overnight. It is a process that requires patience, dedication and a commitment to change. Humans are wired for wanting to feel good and to minimize feeling bad, which often triggers self-sabotaging behavior in an attempt to avoid pain.

Why do I have a hard time accepting reality? ›

If you're feeling stressed or are pushing against the reality of your situation, there's a good chance your body is tense. This is often associated with resistance and keeps your mind on high alert. Physically relaxing your body can help you feel more ready to accept what is reality.

How do you accept things you Cannot control? ›

Here are a few tips to living with greater acceptance so you can have more joy and peace of mind.
  1. Let Go of the Past. ...
  2. Learn Coping Skills. ...
  3. Make It Meaningful. ...
  4. Expect Less. ...
  5. Set New Goals. ...
  6. Embracing a Spiritual Outlook. ...
  7. Stop Worrying Unnecessarily. ...
  8. Focus on What You Can Control.
Jul 20, 2020

How do you know your destiny in love? ›

10 Signs You're Destined to Be Together
  1. You share many of the same interests. ...
  2. But you don't love all the same things. ...
  3. You tell each other deep, dark secrets. ...
  4. You can't keep your hands off each other. ...
  5. You're great at exploring together. ...
  6. You fight well. ...
  7. You love each other's families. ...
  8. You love each other's friends.
Sep 24, 2014

Who controls our fate? ›

Followers of Christianity consider God to be the only force with control over one's fate and that He has a plan for every person. Many believe that humans all have free will, which is contrasted with predestination, although naturally inclined to act according to God's desire.

Is everything in life predestined? ›

Our future is not set in stone, not everything is predestined. You can rewrite your script and work towards any desirable outcome, provided you understand that the goal you aim for may not be the outcome you actually seek at all. Or that the result you desire may not give you the fulfillment you anticipate.

Is our future beyond our control? ›

"Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny.

Does God write our destiny? ›

God is someone unknown and controls our actions and decisions. He writes our destiny. He's not in a specific idol or form. God is an invisible power in the form of belief.

Is destiny karma? ›

Let's understand what exactly these two terms signify. In simple words 'destiny' is the outcome of our own thoughts and actions or as per common proverb, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Karma simply means to perform actions, but it is the motive or intent of the actions that determines one's destiny.

How much control do we have over our thoughts? ›

We are aware of a tiny fraction of the thinking that goes on in our minds, and we can control only a tiny part of our conscious thoughts. The vast majority of our thinking efforts goes on subconsciously. Only one or two of these thoughts are likely to breach into consciousness at a time.

What does God say about our destiny? ›

The Believer's Destiny In Christ

He wrote that the destiny of every Christian is in Christ. First, he argues that every believer's destiny is to be like Christ. In Romans 8:28-29, he says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Who holds your destiny? ›

God Holds the Key to Our Destiny but we need to use it!

When we understand that all things work out for our good, courage can be released to go through all the doors of destiny the Lord is setting before us no matter how many closed doors we have to go through to get to them.

What does the Bible say about finding your destiny? ›

Jeremiah 29:11-14

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

What is a destiny mindset? ›

A destiny mindset means that you see your life as consequential. That you believe that you matter because you are fulfilling a certain type of destiny that there's a future for you, whether that's a legacy or destiny or life vision — or you just believe that maybe there's a higher power that's calling you.

How do you know if you have a bright destiny? ›

Take heart, there might already be signs of greatness lurking within you that can help motivate you to keep working to achieve it.
  1. You're Always Looking For New Challenges & Accomplishments. ...
  2. You're Confident. ...
  3. The People Around You Are Successful Too. ...
  4. You're Always Looking To Try New Things. ...
  5. You Never Stop Learning.
Feb 14, 2018

How do you know if you have fate with someone? ›

You feel an instant and intense connection when you first meet. Feeling an instant and intense connection when you first meet someone can be a sign of fate. It's that inexplicable feeling of just knowing that you're meant to be together, and it's a powerful feeling that can't be ignored.

What is it called when you can't let go of the past? ›

What is rumination? Rumination is when you're stuck in a loop of repeated negative thoughts about the past, and you can't seem to stop even if you want to.

Why can't I stop dwelling on the past? ›

What is rumination? When people ruminate, they overthink or obsess about situations or life events. 'The process of dwelling on past events that can't be changed is called rumination,' says Eék. 'Some people are more likely to experience this than others, especially if they have an anxiety-prone personality.

How do you heal emotional pain from the past? ›

But it's possible and healing can be achieved. Openly expressing how you feel, reclaiming your power, making room for new experiences, and focusing on the lessons are a few ways to let go of emotional pain. If you're having a difficult time letting go, consider seeking the help of a mental health professional.

Why I am stuck in the past? ›

So why does this happen in the first place? Lack of self-love, low self-worth, unawareness, and fear are at the core are all reasons that can explain why people get stuck in the past, says life coach and breathwork teacher Gwen Dittmar.

What medication is used to forget bad memories? ›


Propranolol is a blood pressure medication from the class of medications known as beta blockers, and it's often used in the treatment of traumatic memories.

How do you deal with painful memories? ›

6 tips to help get over painful memories
  1. Try to practice self-compassion. ...
  2. Try to create some distance. ...
  3. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. ...
  4. Try to cultivate a mindfulness practice. ...
  5. Consider seeking the support of a therapist. ...
  6. Consider group therapy.
Sep 6, 2022

How do you know if you are traumatized? ›

Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Most people who go through traumatic events may have temporary difficulty adjusting and coping, but with time and good self-care, they usually get better.

Does past trauma ever go away? ›

So, does PTSD ever go away? No, but with effective evidence-based treatment, symptoms can be managed well and can remain dormant for years, even decades. But because the trauma that evokes the symptoms will never go away, there is a possibility for those symptoms to be “triggered” again in the future.

Why does my past still bother me? ›

When we are not living in the moment, we are reliving the past—or fearful of what might happen in the future. Our experiences also shape our beliefs about ourselves. We like to feel like we're in control… So when something happens that's outside of our control, it's often easier to blame ourselves.

What does their fate mean? ›

: the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do : destiny.

Why is fate a bad thing? ›

It takes away our responsibility and sense of control. While it's slightly terrifying to think that fate is guiding our destiny, we almost always welcome it as a sign of where to go next. But in reality, fate is just a romanticized idea that actually leaves us complacent.

What does it mean to accept your fate? ›

It is through the Discipline of Desire that Stoics learned to embrace and accept this idea of fate — that there are things outside of our control and that regardless of how we might approach the desired outcome, there may be something that prevents us from achieving said goal.

What is it called when you accept your fate? ›

A fatalistic person believes in destiny: whatever is meant to happen will happen.

Is fate positive or negative? ›

'Fate' mostly has a negative connotation and it indicates that people can do nothing about the future and everything is the way it is.

What are examples of fate? ›

Fate is often referred to directly, as if it were a supernatural power: “fate tore us apart." It can also describe your lot in life, like if it's your fate to take over the family farm.

What is fate in human life? ›

Destiny, sometimes also called fate (from Latin fatum 'decree, prediction, destiny, fate'), is a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual.

What is fate according to the Bible? ›

Fate, in the sense of that which has been predetermined and written into the lives of individuals before birth, and which comes into existence in many different, predetermined forms, or fate as a chain of causes, is never on Paul's mind.

What power does fate have? ›

One of the founding members of The Justice Society, Doctor Fate is able to use his powers to wield magic, conjure illusions and see the future.

What fate is worse than death? ›

something you do not want to experience because it is so unpleasant or embarrassing: Being seen with my parents at the beach would have been a fate worse than death.

How does karma decide fate? ›

Karma simply means to perform actions, but it is the motive or intent of the actions that determines one's destiny. Therefore, each human being, and not the Almighty is the architect of his or her own future.

Who decides your fate? ›

Fate is what puts opportunities in front of us but our destiny is ultimately determined by our decisions. For instance, if you go to a party and meet the perfect guy that was fate. But what you do about it is your destiny.

How do I accept things I Cannot change? ›

Accepting Reality When You Know You Can't Change It
  1. Notice when you're fighting against reality. ...
  2. Remind yourself that you can't change what has already happened. ...
  3. Embrace your feelings. ...
  4. Pretend that you're accepting reality. ...
  5. Relax your body. ...
  6. Use coping statements. ...
  7. Know that it takes practice.
Aug 12, 2021

Is fate the same thing as karma? ›

Our journey in life is determined by our accumulated karma, and fate is a part of it. Destiny, on the other hand, is created by our actions. Good or bad, and the consequences of those actions determine our destiny, whether it brings happiness or sorrow. This happiness or sorrow is what we refer to as our fate.

Is fate a spiritual thing? ›

Fate is the greatest spiritual test, and the choices we make after fate has surfaced will affect us for lifetimes to come. By viewing fate as divine re-alignment, we can embrace the opportunity to transform our karma into our destinies, once and for all.

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