Letting go of the past: how to keep moving forward
We sometimes get stuck in angst or resentment about something painful that happened in the past. It could be anything from an argument with a sibling or a betrayal of trust, to a lost love or the death of a loved one. Fixating on the past keeps us from fully living in the present…and it doesn’t change the past.
Although you can’t change what happened, you can change the way you think about it and the amount of energy you devote to it. You can learn to move forward.
Here are a number of questions that might assist you in moving past whatever it is that happened…
- Are you avoiding an emotion? Sometimes we fear that the intensity of an emotion (like feeling abandoned, shameful, unimportant or powerless) will devour us or incapacitate us, so the stuckness helps us avoid that feeling. Can you be brave enough to feel the pain/loss/shame of what happened and move through it? Is it possible that letting yourself feel the emotion will be less devastating than you fear?
- Are you stuck asking yourself “why?”… Sometimes things happen that make no sense to us and we spend years trying to figure it out. “Why” questions are not easily answered…so they’re generally useless. Ask yourself whether you need to know why in order to move on. Is it possible to accept that you will never know why? Can you accept the powerlessness of not having your questions answered? Is not knowing why reason enough to keep you from moving forward? Ultimately, you decide your own WHY…you get to come to whatever conclusion you want. Try to come to a conclusion that isn’t harmful to you!!
- Do you blame yourself for what happened? Sometimes when bad things happen we think it’s our “fault”, and our stuckness is about not feeling deserving of moving on to a happier place. Can you have compassion for your imperfection and any mistakes or decisions you made? Can you let others take responsibility for their own decisions and part in the situation? Does punishing yourself make anything better for anyone?
- The fear of something recurring can keep us from getting past events that were hurtful. When someone does something that hurts us, we do deserve to have it made better, if we are in a relationship with them. We can’t make that happen, but we can ask for what we need from them. Avoid constantly bringing up the mistake or the hurt…this can actually erode any trust that is attempting to be rebuilt. For example…your loved one breaches a trust and you fear that it will happen again. You are unsure if you can trust them again. There is no answer to that question “can I trust them?”. Trust is a decision…an act…a verb. You either choose to trust them or not. So, while the past should inform us about what someone is capable of, if you want a relationship to work, it is necessary to forgive and move on if we want that person in our lives.
- Did something happen that you continually replay in your head? Did you suffer a trauma and are having flashbacks or body memories? This situation can be assisted by a qualified therapist. Memories are important and should be honoured and listened to for what they have to teach us, but a therapist can help you work with the memory to add elements of control and healing.
- Forgiveness. Sometimes we stay stuck because we can’t ‘forgive’. Do you think that forgiveness is about saying something someone did is “okay”? It doesn’t have to be…we can choose to view forgiveness as a decision not to “let someone off the hook”, but to simply stop carrying around all the hurt and resentment. Forgiveness is about deciding that carrying around the hurt doesn’t help; it’s about accepting that we cannot alter what happened.
- Sometimes we get stuck in the past because we keep recreating it. We can’t get past someone’s hurtful behaviours because they are still happening… that person is still in our lives. When they happen again, we feel flooded with all the old emotion about the hundreds of times we felt that way. If we can’t get past something (like disrespect)because it keeps happening, then the question becomes what are we still doing in that relationship? We can’t always have emancipation from family members, and here we can only accept people for the flawed being they are if they ignore our please for change. But most of the people in our lives are there because we let them be…we choose who to surround ourselves with. If someone cannot respect you, how can you at least respect yourself?