This is one of the most challenging things to do for many people because not only must you learn how to let go of the past, you have to come to terms with everything else that accompanies it. This can be a layered process with a timeline to match. As you ponder the question of exactly how to let go of the past, embrace all the other questions that will arise. Sorting through these emotions can impact your wellbeing, mental, and emotional health, not just concerning the past but for the future as well.
Why is it so hard?
Simply put, letting go is difficult because it is work, and it is final. Human beings are not hard-wired to enjoy the process of battling emotional pain, hence why many avoid it at all costs. When the past hurts, it can feel like the best thing to do is act as if it never happened, but the truth is that avoidance will only prolong the process, not eliminate it from being a necessity.
Embracing the release
Once you embrace the finality of having let go of the past, it can be incredibly empowering. Imagine having carried around a fifty-pound rock for days, weeks, months, or years, and then suddenly just putting it down and never looking back; that is what releasing a heavy burden feels like. Do not discount the fact that it can be a challenge, but in most people’s experiences, they ask themselves why they waited so long to get there once they finally let go.
Recognize the loss of control
Another tricky component can be the fact that releasing the past means we are also releasing control. It means you are saying to yourself that what has happened has happened, and there is nothing to change the past. Even if you are not someone who struggles with control issues, you might feel them tug at you ever so slightly in this scenario.
It is one thing to say that you cannot change the past; it is quite another to believe that sentiment and feel peace and content in that belief. Learning how to let go of control, though, can provide you with essential life skills that will encourage forward momentum and personal growth moving forward.
Tips for troubleshooting emotional pain
First, you must understand that ‘the past’ is also synonymous with ‘former feelings.’ So we say phrases like past events, but what we also mean is the emotional toll these events took on us and how we plan to heal.
1. Require positivity
Positivity is a non-negotiable; you must demand positivity to handle the heavy load of past negative emotions. This can take form in a few ways:
- You must have positive mantras or affirmations for yourself that you are actively speaking into your life.
- You need to ensure that the environment and network you surround yourself with are positive and supportive.
- Your habits need to reflect that same positivity that your words do.
2. Take space and distance when necessary
Sometimes, the time in question was not all that long ago, and you might still have negative thoughts in the present moment because you are still too close to the flame. If you need physical or mental space from the root of the problem, then take it.
Be sure that such placement does not unintentionally turn into a period of isolation, however. Isolation can tank your attempts to get over past events and instead create negative emotions unrelated to the past trauma.
3. Be disciplined and intentional
Practice makes perfect. And although we all know there is no such thing as perfection, creating discipline in your journey to get over something that happened in your past will be a helpful and necessary tool. Mental health is not something you can just achieve, and check off your list, then not think about it anymore. You need to have an emotion tied to the process to stay motivated to prioritize and work on it.
Setting intentions is a good form of commitment therapy that can act as a road map for moving on. Intentions can be actionable items and goals or emotional steps that you believe you need to improve mental health and have a happy life. One way to get in the habit of setting intentions is to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your routine so that you have dedicated quiet time to focus on your recovery.
4. Always be kind to yourself
As sad as it is, this is something that not everyone remembers to do, or even worse, something that not everyone feels they deserve. Depending on the nature of the past event you are trying to release, you may feel guilt in varying degrees. Self-compassion is not reserved for the saints; sinners deserve to be kind to themselves too.
One reason this is incredibly important is that we teach people how to treat us. For example, if you are constantly unkind to yourself, disrespecting your own boundaries, articulating how ‘bad’ you are, the people you surround yourself with will observe this treatment and think that it is acceptable and follow your lead. One of the most tragic things that you can do when working through past experiences is unintentionally make them worse or develop new ones that you will have to deal with.
5. Rely on your network of support
Your support network is there for a reason, and they want to be there for you. Friends and family that you trust are key factors in helping you gain positive experiences from a previous painful experience. Additionally, some of these people may have a level of involvement with precisely what you are trying to move on from and can provide genuine empathy rooted in the same feelings you are experiencing.
This term has been steadily gaining popularity in the last couple of years, but it is far from a trend. The idea that we need to take time out of each day, week, month, year to practice acts that make our lives better and our minds happier and healthier should not be cast aside. Here are a few ideas to help you design a personal care routine that honors your lifestyle and goals.
- Physical activity and exercise
- Taking time to do something you enjoy
- Light scented candles or diffuse essential oils
- Get a massage
- Walk-in nature
- Be creative, color, draw, paint
- Do a digital detox
- Listen to music you love
These activities will also help you practice mindfulness as it relates to your goal of moving on from past mistakes or events that have scarred you. It is important to understand how many different angles can all work in tandem to benefit you.
Your physical health is tied closely to your mental health, and vice versa. Instead of looking at your body and being as two separate entities, physical and emotional, look at them as one being and make lifestyle choices that allow the whole to be healthy instead of focusing on only one or two of the parts that make up the whole.
7. Incorporating forgiveness
When there are past experiences we want to move on from, there is always an element of forgiveness needed. Sometimes we must forgive ourselves, or others, or both. The art of forgiveness can be tricky. It certainly includes an element of realizing that if there are other parties involved, they might be able to reach the same awakening as you and that you cannot hinge your healing on anyone else’s actions and timelines.
8. Forgiving yourself
When you negatively view yourself because of something that you did or said in the past, that can be a deep hole to dig yourself out of. If you want to forgive yourself, start by acknowledging the incident out loud, give it only enough life to recognize that it happened but not enough that it dictates your self-worth or your future.
Think of it as a learning experience and refer to it if you are ever in the same position. Your brain works in ways that you teach it to if you do the work. Consider writing yourself an apology so that you have something tangible on hand for the moments where guilt, shame, or negativity arise.
9. Forgiving other people
First and foremost, you have to be ready. If you attempt to forgive someone prematurely, you may have to revisit the situation down the road. If you need time, take it, always be open and honest with yourself about your level of readiness.
Forgiveness is a decision, so be convicted in that choice. Identify what you need out of this situation, and look at both sides with as much objectivity as possible. Additionally, remember that you can tell or choose not to tell this person, or people, that you have forgiven them.
In some cases, the subjects in question are people we have created boundaries with or no longer have access to for other reasons like death or exile. Sometimes deciding to forgive someone and not share that with them can make you vulnerable enough to navigate the process but not so much so that there is a potential for new wounds to be created as a result.
When you need to direct this towards someone you do not have much choice in having interactions with, like a co-worker, think about how that fact plays into your overall strategy.
10. Consider professional help
Sometimes the mental load of something this huge is a weight we cannot carry on our own, and there is nothing wrong with that. Considering speaking with a mental health professional to assist you is a sign of a high level of emotional intelligence. Moving forward with the help of someone is like using training wheels for a bike you will eventually ride on your own.
Therapists can help you keep self-compassion in the forefront as you let go of the past. They will be there to re-route you if they notice that you are deviating from your intended path. This can teach you to avoid pain in your daily life that otherwise might have compromised your mission.
Depending on the magnitude of the trauma, you might also be dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in varying degrees.
You want to let go of the past, and you need to for your own good, and now you also know how to do it. There will be moments in our daily lives that act as temptations or roadblocks to that progress, but you have to learn to rise above. Focus on your why and your final destination.
In what ways are you hoping that this act will enrich you as a person and help you grow stronger and more capable of self-love? Create your own narrative about the who, what, when, where, and why as you let go of the past. Acknowledge that you are taking ownership of your own feelings and taking steps towards removing the past from your present.