Holding on to the past has a profound ripple effect on your daily life and into your future. Whether it’s past pain, beliefs you’ve created about yourself and the world around you due to past experience, or past mistakes it’s essential to make peace with the past and leave it where it belongs… in the past. This will allow you to grow from your experiences, break habits and patterns that don’t serve you, and take the reigns of your life so you can live with intention and authenticity.
Holding on to the Past
If you’ve been frustrated with yourself because you hold on to the past and struggle to let it go, you’re not alone. It can be very easy to fall into a cycle of self-shaming and abuse when we find it difficult to do something that is portrayed as so simple, “just forgive”, “just let go” the experts say. But here’s the thing, it’s not that easy. So, why do we hold on to the past even when we don’t really want to? Well, because your brain is wired to keep you safe and to learn from the things that have and haven’t worked out for you in the past. It’s normal to hold on to the past, and in many ways, it’s actually helpful. For example… if you’ve ever touched a hot burner on the stove, it’s helpful that you hold on to the knowledge that it hurts so you don’t do it again.
Unfortunately, much of the information our brains store that’s meant to help us survive and even thrive is overgeneralized and actually preventing us from moving forward and finding happiness. For example, if you’ve been hurt in past relationships, your brain may now have categorized all relationships as a danger. If you were praised for accomplishment as a child, your brain may have associated self-worth and survival with accomplishment (and you may now struggle with perfectionism).
Whether you’re aware of the ways your past is impacting your future or not, it certainly is. Your past experiences and how you processed them affect every decision you make. And past unresolved emotional pain and stress have even been associated with chronic disease and physical pain. Understanding how to identify the ways the past is affecting you and truly let go is essential to your wellness and happiness now and in the future.
How to Let Go of the Past
Letting go of the past begins with awareness. Simply by wondering “why do we hold on to the past, anyway,” you’ve taken an important first step. It can be very helpful to start journaling so you can identify patterns, thoughts, or residual pain that might be affecting you. Examine yourself and your life looking for things that haven’t been serving you but that you struggle to stop doing, allow yourself to discover the things that are still painful, and think about what keeps you up at night or gets in the way when you’re facing a new chapter.
Give Yourself Grace
We are so frequently our own worst critics. It’s important that you give yourself grace, comfort, and kindness throughout the process of making peace with your past. Not doing so will set a new pattern that this is not safe and can leave you trapped and struggling to break free. You can’t change what already happened and beating yourself up for it won’t help. Be very careful when trying to “learn from your past”. This activity often opens the door to heaps of self-criticism and “should haves”. While it can be helpful to learn from the things that have happened it isn’t necessary. The most important thing you can do for yourself is to create a sense of awareness that you did the best you could at the time and be proud of your resilience and the fact that you’ve come to a place in your life where you can move forward.
Creating affirmations or reassuring mantras can be a very powerful tool in letting go of the past. Affirmations and mantras have been proven to rewire the brain. That means you can change the automatic thoughts and patterns that are caused by your brain misguidedly trying to keep you safe. Consider affirmations and mantras like…
- I am safe
- I am capable
- I am doing the best I can (and have always done the best I can)
- I can create the future I want
- I have excellent judgment
- I trust myself
- I can only control me
You Can Only Control Yourself
If you want to let go of your past and be happy one of the most important things to do is embrace and internalize the fact that you can only control yourself. This will impact not only your ability to move past your past, but will also unburden you from the need to manage others. You’ll find yourself able to give up people pleasing, be authentically yourself without worrying about other people’s opinions, and you’ll worry a lot less about the problems of others as well.
When it comes to letting go of your past, it’s important to recognize that if you were hurt by someone else, they might never apologize. Heck, they might not even take responsibility or acknowledge that they did anything wrong. And more so, it’s possible that no one else from your past will validate your feelings either. That doesn’t mean that your experience is invalid or that you’re oversensitive or overreacting. It simply means that they aren’t you, they aren’t responsible for you, and you can’t control anyone else. What you can do though is identify and give yourself what you need whether that be patience and time, comfort, self-care, or the opportunity to safely create boundaries and distance. You make the choices for you, and you do what you need to to work through past pain related to others.
Allow Yourself to Process
It can be a lot easier and feel a lot safer to squish down uncomfortable feelings or to keep busy and ignore them. This might even be something you learned to do in your past that you’re struggling to let go of. Giving yourself the time to process your feelings allows them to diffuse which makes them feel a lot less dangerous to your brain. Even if those feelings are ages old, invite them to the surface, don’t fight them or rationalize them, and comfort and reassure yourself through them. Many people find that when they’ve bottled feelings and are holding on to the past, there is a grieving process. Allow yourself to move through that. And know that feelings and emotions aren’t permanent, you are safe, and you will come through the other side lighter and more joyful.
Seek Professional Help
If you’re really struggling with letting go of the past or you have unresolved trauma or shame, it might be necessary to seek professional help. Not all past challenges can or should be worked through alone. Seek a therapist who can provide you with a safe, judgment-free space to process.
You Deserve It
Keep all of these points in mind when you’re thinking about how to let go of the past and be happy. It might seem like a daunting or even impossible task at first, but it’s well worth it. You deserve to live the life you’ve been dreaming of. You deserve to be unburdened by the past and free to grow and explore. Take the first steps today to let go of the past so you can be happy and write the next chapters of your life with freedom, intention, and wild abandon!