How to let go of the past
Like an anchor that weighs us down, our pasts can be quite the burden. From romantic relationships that turned sour to a fallout with friends or family, our past hurts have a strange way of holding on to us, or at least that’s how it seems. For many, they believe their past hurts are the ties that bind them, but a simple shift of focus can reveal that it’s really us that hold on to our pasts, not the other way around.
It’s in our nature to analyze and over-analyze past situations, especially when they’re unpleasant, but there comes a point when it’s important to let go. It’s not easy, of course, but it’s important to do it all the same. While some are more than willing to leave the past behind for a brighter future, the execution proves to be a tricky thing — just when you think you’ve moved on, the past has a sneaky way of creeping up on you. Never fear, though. As with most difficult tasks, letting go of past hurts is a series of trials and errors, but when you’ve finally made that breakthrough, everything else seems to fall into place.
If you want to shed troubles of the past, it’s important to begin by looking within – only then will you understand exactly what it is you’re searching for and how to successfully move on. These five steps will not only start you on your journey, but they may be all you need to bring you fully into the present and leave the past where it belongs: in the past.
1. Make a Choice
It’s one thing to say you want to do something, but committing to it is something entirely different. Unfortunately, letting go of the past, while in theory is pretty simple, takes effort. You can’t expect to wake up one morning and suddenly be absolved of all of your negative thoughts and energy directed to the past – its effort that will get you there.
To make any progress, it’s important to firmly make the decision to let go. It takes a serious effort to make a plan and stick to it, and that’s just what is required. The choice is all yours, of course, and it’s not something that everyone is ready for at the same time.
There is a mourning period for the end of any good thing, and everyone is entitled to it – trying to let go of something before you’re ready is just as bad as thinking it will disappear on its own. Once you’ve come to terms with it, however, is the time to start the process. Even if you’re not 100% sold on the idea, making the choice to let go might be the final piece that helps you see things much more clearly.
Hindsight is 20/20, and though you may not be able to see it now, letting go has the ability to make things crystal clear. When deciding to let go of your past hurts, it’s important to remember that doing so not only has the ability to free you from the past, but can also make your future brighter. Learn from your mistakes now and you won’t make the same ones again.
2. Learn to Accept It
One of the hardest parts of letting go of past hurts is realizing that you can’t go back and change things – as much as we’d all like to revisit moments in our lives, it’s impossible. The desire is real, though, and it’s only human nature. We tend to ruminate on our past, trying to make sense of it and find the meaning in it. Our over-analysis gets us nowhere. Though the gears in our heads may be spinning, we’re stuck in the present, for better or for worse.
As difficult as it may be to believe, it’s probably for the better that we can’t change the past. If we had the ability to change our past, there’d be no end to the things we’d alter- our lives would lose meaning if our decisions held no consequence. After all, it’s our actions that define us.
For instance, perhaps in your past you were too trusting of someone you thought was a real friend, or maybe they trusted you and you were not able to meet their expectations. Whatever the case may be, the mistakes and choices of our past define us and help us grow. We would learn nothing if we could go back and make everything perfect!
Looking at the past this way can help ease the pain. Even if it’s something that’s on the forefront of your thoughts now, rest assured that in the future, it will serve as a reminder of the path you’d like to take. Accept your past hurt knowing that you’re a better person because of it. Depending on your own personal experiences, it may help you value relationships more, not take people for granted, or more carefully choose your friends and loved ones.
If you’ve been betrayed in the past or felt personally victimized by someone else’s actions or words, you may be wondering why you’d ever forgive that person – you don’t owe them anything, and as the person most effected by their choices, you may feel they don’t deserve it either. It’s completely common to feel anger and hurt towards the past, and sometimes it can last a long time.
Sometimes, however, our minds switch to auto-pilot and what we think we’re feeling is really just a reflex of old thoughts. In some cases, the hurt subsides on its own, but we’re too engrained in our thoughts to see that. We continue to focus our attention on the negative, but if you make the conscious choice to look inside you may actually realize that it’s gone. This is an example of how strong the hold we place on the past can be and how our emotions can often take over reasoning.
Sometimes relationships can become strained while both parties insist the other is to blame. After a long enough time, the catalyst for the disagreement is forgotten, but the emotions remain right at the surface, at which point the feelings become blind resentment rather than hurt stemming from a specific incident. For any progress to be made, it’s important to look at the root cause and decide if it’s worth harboring resentment over. You’ll likely find that often times it’s not.
For others, especially those who internalize their emotions, forgiveness is a foreign concept. They may not deserve your forgiveness, but it’s really not for them – it’s for you!
When you focus on who someone is instead of what they’ve done, you’ll see that they’re only human. It may be hard, but it will certainly make the idea of forgiveness a bit more palatable.
Trust that the hurt that someone caused you was only the result of their inability to deal with their own hurt. Not everyone is lucky enough to have grace under pressure, and in the wake of an unfortunate situation, some are quick to place blame or direct anger at you or someone else to deflect from their own feelings of inadequacy. Even if that seems far-fetched, forgive simply to relieve yourself of the constant negativity.
If you’re holding on to hurt, the person that caused it is taking up real estate in your mind – whether you like it or not, that person is consuming your thoughts and living in your head rent-free. Forgive them and forgive yourself for allowing it to fester and you’ll feel like the weight has been lifted off your shoulders.
4. Live In The Moment…
A lot has been made of the importance of living in the moment. Mindfulness is a useful tool to focus your attention and ultimately center yourself, and it can be a lot more helpful than you may think. When our energy and attention is turned to the past, our present lives suffer – relationships become strained, productiveness halts, and we’re just not with it. We can’t change the past, so the effort expended trying to figure it out leaves us with nothing left for today.
Looking back isn’t all bad, though, and the ability to harness the energy of our past mistakes or hurts can actually help us to be more present. Learning from our mistakes and past can make us more confident and courageous in our choices and our interactions with people.
Life is too short to be worrying about the past, but learning from the past is encouraged. When we’re able to be present, we can pour our energy and focus into the right places, the most important things and things that can actually be changed. Cultivating and nurturing lasting relationships, enjoying time alone to reflect, being productive – these are all things that can be done right now and putting in the energy can drastically change your future, too.
The inability to live life in the present is the reason why we so often find ourselves in unpleasant situations. While we’re focused on nitpicking at our history, we create an environment in our relationships that lends itself to hostility. Not being attentive or noticing red flags only leads to further problems instead of quick resolutions. Once you free up your headspace of the past, the present will suddenly command your attention.
5. …But Also Look Ahead!
While your main focus should be on living your life in the present, it doesn’t hurt to look forward. The future, in all of its unknown glory, can be rather daunting much like the past, but considering where you’d like your life to go can be therapeutic.
That’s not to say you should plan out every detail of your life – there will always be uncertainty and unexpected obstacles, both good and bad, that you won’t have the ability to see coming. But considering how you want to live your life in terms of relationships and your own character can actually give you a positive outlook.
Understanding the most importance aspects of life helps you to hone in on what you need to focus and work on. If past hurts have the ability to inform how your present life plays out, then they can also serve you in the future, too.
For example, if you suffered from a fallout with a family member, make the conscious effort to invest in good family dynamics and create a loving environment for those you’re still close with. Likewise, if you were slighted by a friend or past spouse, you can make it a point to surround yourself with people who don’t exhibit the same characteristics and greatly reduce your risk of a similar situation happening again.
Similarly, taking what you’ve learned and applying it to yourself can help you grow leaps and bounds as a person. Once you know the kind of people you want and don’t want to be around, you can truly become the right kind of person – one that wouldn’t hurt someone that way you’ve been hurt.
Past hurts, while obviously painful, can possess a silver lining in this way; they can make you a better person for the experience and maybe even for the other person involved. Moreover, going forward as a good person without a hold on the past means that perhaps the damaged relationships from your history can be repaired. If you act as an example of someone who can take a bad situation and come out the other side better, maybe others, including those from your past, will learn, too.
Like it’s been said a hundred times before, letting go of past hurts is not easy. We fight every day to make sense of our history but, in the end, we’re just fighting with ourselves.
Taking steps to shed our misfortunes and misgivings, however, can transform what we thought was a bad situation into a sobering reality: no one is perfect and in most failed relationships and fallouts, both friendly and romantic, there isn’t just one person to blame. Life isn’t something that can be wrapped up in a bow, so it would be silly to think that intricate and complex relationships could be.
By being present and learning from the past, however, we stand a better shot at a happy future or even making amends with those we thought we never could. Go easy on yourself and others, as everyone is fighting their own battle. Once we learn that forgiveness of others and ourselves is possible. Understand that you have more control than you think and instead of waiting for the past to loosen its grip, it’s you who can learn to let go. It will prove to be tricky, and it takes time, but once you begin, you won’t look back!