This article is written by Trishna Patnaik. Previously a corporate professional, she found her true calling in painting. Trishna is now a full-time professional painter based in Mumbai, as well as an art therapist and healer.
Letting go of the past can be challenging. Events that we found difficult can have a significant influence on our daily life, from our beliefs to the decisions we make, and how we choose to perceive the world.
Some examples of past events that can be difficult to let go of include:
- Intimate relationships
- Perceived successes or failures
- Mistakes or regrets
- Events that were upsetting or disturbing
In this article, we will look at how to let go of past traumas and hurts, why doing this can be difficult, and some tips for specific situations.
Why is it Difficult to Let Go of the Past?
Life experiences affect us in a variety of ways. Some people find it easy to move on after a difficult experience, while others find that these experiences have a lasting impact on their mental health.
People who struggle to let go of specific events from the past may have experienced trauma. Trauma is a kind of psychological wound that can result from any distressing experience, such as loss, danger, or deep embarrassment.
Some people experience rumination, or a tendency to think excessively about the same things. Rumination may make it difficult to solve problems, thereby preventing people from moving forward. It is a common feature of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
There are also some who dwell on the events of the past because of an unconscious desire to avoid being hurt in the future.
How to Let Go of the Past
Here are some suggestions on how to release yourself from the past-
Make a commitment to let go
The first step toward letting go is realizing that it is necessary, and feeling ready to do so. This can happen at different times for different people, but once you make the decision, it can be empowering.
Feel the feelings
Memories of past events can bring up complex or strong emotions. Allowing yourself to feel those feelings unconditionally, without trying to fight or fix them is an important step toward processing what happened. This can be difficult, so it may help to express these feelings in a safe place, such as in a journal, with a trusted friend, or with a therapist.
Feelings of unresolved anger, betrayal, and resentment are common among those who struggle to let go of a past event. Anger and resentment can also occur in the aftermath of trauma or as an associated feature of PTSD.
Some additional steps to take to manage this emotion include expressing anger in a safe way. While anger is a feeling and physiological state, aggression involves taking action on those feelings — often in a way that causes harm. It is possible to express anger in a safe way. For example, we can try:
- Writing our feelings on paper and then throwing it away
- Expressing our feelings through art, music, or other creative hobbies
- Engaging in exercise or sports, such as running
Give Up Trying to Control
Learning to let go of control may involve:
- Identifying why the need for control exists and exploring beliefs surrounding what happens if one “loses” control
- Identifying feelings or events that trigger the need for control and thinking of ways to cope with them in a healthier way
- Practicing letting go of control in small, manageable steps, such as by delegating a task to somebody else
- Beginning to make decisions based on love, rather than fear
Over time, this may help us prove to ourselves that we do not need to control things in order to be happy or to solve problems.
Mindfulness is a skill that encourages us to focus on what is happening in the present. Some ways to practice mindfulness include:
- Noticing small joys, such as the taste of a delicious meal or the warmth of the sun on the skin
- Spending time in nature, bringing attention back to the environment whenever the mind wanders
- Engaging in mindful, creative hobbies, such as drawing or playing musical instruments
- Practicing mindfulness meditation. Beginners trying mindfulness meditation can try this method:
- Sit somewhere quiet with no distractions
- Close your eyes and take several deep breaths
- Focus on inhaling and exhaling
- When thoughts of the past come up, simply allowing them for a moment before returning the focus to breathing
Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, care, and forgiveness. We can practice self-compassion by changing our self-talk. This involves noticing when our thoughts become critical and replacing them with more forgiving alternatives. Keeping a self-compassion journal or working with affirmations or mantras can be a good way to practice this skill.
Be Open to Forgiveness
Forgiveness does not mean condoning the harmful actions of others or accepting their apologies. Instead, forgiveness can mean accepting that someone’s actions were damaging while also letting go of anger in order to benefit your well-being.
It can take time to work toward forgiving others or forgiving oneself. It may involve processing emotional pain, understanding what caused it, and thinking about what it would take to forgive.
How to Let Go of Past Relationships
It can be particularly difficult to let go of relationships, as humans form deep attachments with each other. In addition to the above tips, people can take additional steps to let go of a relationship, such as:
- Temporarily or permanently limiting contact with ex-partners
- Reducing reminders of them, such as by hiding them on social media
- Setting and respecting boundaries
- Spending time on self-care and personal growth
- Focusing on what is possible outside of the relationship
When to Seek Help
Letting go of the past is not always easy, particularly if you have experienced emotional pain that is unresolved. If letting go of the past is proving challenging and negative thoughts and emotions persist for weeks or months, consider seeing a therapist, energy healer, or talking to your doctor. Don’t be afraid to seek support!