We all have a past, and sometimes, things that happened in the past have a way of creeping with us and holding us back from moving forward.
If you're struggling to move on, and let the past go here's what mental health experts recommend in order to leave the past behind once and for all.
The psychology of letting go.
Whether you want to let go of a past relationship, a past mistake, or a past trauma, it can be incredibly difficult to disentangle yourself from whatever it is you've gone through—but the good news is, the urge you feel to move forward is actually guiding you in the right direction.
Most of us feel guilt or shame for our past actions because those actions or situations were not in line with our current morals and values. In this way, our previous wrongdoings can get us into what we hold important now. This is easier said than done, letting go of the hurt is a process. Giving it time won’t make it better, but time will develop a new way of normal. Time to heal will bring a new reality one that you can move forward in and achieve success and happiness.
12 tips for letting go of the past:
1. Be intentional.
As you realise you're stuck in the past, you may have a realisation that something needs to change in order for you to move forward. Personal growth and progress always start with an intention. A wanting and a willingness to do something different in order to get a different result. The first step to letting go of the past is choosing with the intention to do so.
2. Take the time to process your thoughts and emotions.
Understand that healing is not a simple A to B process, and letting go takes time. After all, we can't change the past, and we may never be the same, but that doesn't mean we have to stay stuck. Stepping away from the past is often more of a process of moving through rather than letting go. We can't just let go and forget, but rather we often need to sit with the feelings, process them, and move through them to states where we feel more calm, centred, and empowered rather than feeling triggered by a past event.
When we can separate a past experience from our current reality, we tend to be able to move into future possibility and hopefulness more solidly. Acknowledge the past event or experience and process the feelings—owning your part and the emotions that come with it.
3. Work with an affirmation or mantra.
Affirmations and mantras can be a powerful tool to help "rewire" negative thought loops, priming the brain to look for and believe in what it is you're telling yourself.
That was then, this is now. Find your own mantra that fuels your inner want and commitment to letting the hurt go.
Here's a quick list of mantras and affirmations for letting go of the past:
· I choose to let go of the past.
· I look forward to my future.
· I am fully present in this moment.
· I can't change what's happened, but I can change how I move through it.
· I am resilient.
· I am ready to move on.
· I am grateful for who I am today.
· I am more than what has happened to me.
· I give myself patience and grace.
· I embrace new beginnings.
4. Cultivate mindfulness.
We may not even realise we're stuck in the past if we aren't consciously aware of the thoughts that run havoc in our minds. Mindfulness is an important practice for letting go of the past. Take more time with mindfulness focusing on the present and what is instead of what was. Mindfulness can involve your grounding in the body as well, whether you take up yoga or spend more time walking through nature. Allowing yourself to ground in the present moment will help you separate the past from present, and settle more firmly into what is actually happening in this moment, not what happened in the past.
5. Meditate and visualise.
Even if you don't regularly visualise or meditate, spend some time focusing on or visualising what letting go would truly look like for you. As you do this, notice the feelings that come up for you, and tap into the lightness and relief that arise as letting go starts to feel real in your body.
6. Practice radical acceptance.
Radical acceptance is exactly what it sounds like: Accepting what has happened, even if it requires a radical change in thinking on your part. This doesn't mean you wanted or are grateful for what's happened but rather, you're choosing to allow it to be there when you can't change it in that moment.
When we reject, resist, or otherwise struggle against our pain, we only create undue suffering. So, give yourself permission to be as you are, feel what you feel, or have experienced what you've experienced without creating unproductive shame or anxiety. The pain might still be there, but some of the suffering will be alleviated.
7. Forgive yourself and others.
Sometimes letting go requires leaning into forgiveness, whether that's forgiveness toward yourself or another person. It's like the old saying goes: Holding resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Recognise that it's toxic for you to hold on to it.
8. Try inner child and/or shadow work.
It might seem counterintuitive to dissect your past with inner child and/or shadow work, but when it comes to letting go of the past, sometimes the only way out is through. Inner child work helps to remind ourselves that we're not wrong or bad and heal the shame that comes with just having feelings. In order to become the best version of yourself, you need to know what the bad bits are that are holding you back or are hidden, and that's where the shadow work comes in.
9. Reconnect to yourself.
When we're living in the past, we're missing out on who we can be in the present, and this can lead to feeling disconnected from our passions, goals, and even our body. Moving on involves focusing on yourself and cultivating the areas of your life you care about. Recommit to your hobbies and interests and allow yourself time to heal and move forward in your life.
10. Reconnect with your body.
Tying back to the previous point, but specifically focusing on the body, you may find success in letting go of the past when you can get your body involved. Everything that happens to us emotionally or psychologically happens to our bodies as well. It's all connected.
And while there's no set-in-stone proof that bodywork like acupuncture, massage, or tapping (aka Emotional Freedom Technique) can help you move through past experiences, anecdotal evidence suggests this may be possible. In fact, research on tapping, which involves the manual stimulation or "tapping" of acupuncture points along the body, has been shown in studies to help alleviate some symptoms of PTSD.
11. Give yourself grace.
Last but certainly not least, be patient with yourself as you learn to let go. Again, we can't take back what's happened, but we can change how we move forward. Without diminishing the gravity of your experiences, sometimes it can be helpful to try to make meaning out of what's happened to you. This doesn't mean you have to like it, but if you're able to reframe the way you think about your experiences, you can better integrate the things that have happened to you. And if you've tried and tried and continue to struggle with letting go of the past, it may be worthwhile to enlist the help of an Emotional Wellness Coach. We should never have to struggle alone.
12. Practice Gratitude.
Gratitude is a very powerful tool to shift your mindset when it is consumed with thoughts about pain and heartbreak. The painful emotions can be so overwhelming that we lose focus on what is still good in our lives, and what we can still be thankful for. It can always be worse than what our current reality is, it might not seem that way. Imagine there are ten people in a room and each person throws their problems into a bucket. If I would then ask you to choose any of the problems out of any of the ten buckets, which would you rather choose and carry with you? I can guarantee you that you will take back your own problems. Even when we are stuck, we are actually strong enough to push through and let go of the hurt. Acknowledging all the good around us and the focus on the positive even though you are hurting, helps the brain process the traumatic emotions.
How to let go of the past in relationships.
Sometimes we have to get over a breakup and other times, we have to forgive ourselves or our partner for something that's transpired within the relationship, such as infidelity, to keep the relationship afloat. And the first step is forgiveness.
If you find yourself doubting your partner's commitment, ability, or intent—consider how you might be activated by past hurt. Then compare this to current evidence from your partner's actions. Maybe you find that your partner is showing up in many ways, but your hurt from the past relationship is blinding your ability to see it.
And if you're getting over a breakup, even if it was your decision, it's still an open wound that will take time to heal. If you loved this person deeply, you may always love them, but their role in your life has changed. You can absolutely love them from afar but the most important thing is to give yourself grace, honour your emotions day by day, and give yourself the space to process for as long as you need.
Whether you're going through a breakup or you and your partner are going through a rough patch, start a daily meditation practice to help you visualise a beautiful future. It is important to remember that you are a whole and powerful being, and you do not need a relationship to validate that. Oftentimes, we get so caught up in a relationship that we lose sight of the things that make us, the individual, feel good.
How to let go of past mistakes and forgive yourself.
Guilt and shame are very real feelings that virtually always relate to something that we've done in the past. But what if today, right now, we truly had a blank slate? One of the biggest hurdles is letting go of your inner critic.
Focusing on the I should do this, or I should have done that sets you up for being self-critical. When you 'should' on yourself, you are judging yourself. When you judge yourself, you are limiting all of your potentials to grow and think openly.
Instead of judging, we can learn from our past and use those experiences as tools for change. Instead of getting caught up in the 'shoulds,' think of ways that you can learn to adjust your way of thinking, start by letting go of the thoughts that may not even be beneficial to you.
How to let go of past trauma.
If you've experienced a trauma, or even have post-traumatic stress disorder, letting go of the past is going to be a bit more of a difficult task that includes a lot of emotional unpacking.
Letting go of past trauma is an involved process that includes a number of different methods and practices and is best done with the help of a mental health professional. Some recommendations to get you started include EFT (tapping), Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), and practicing radical acceptance.
But again, because this is deep work that will take time and energy, you would be best served to get outside support from someone who specialises in trauma and/or abuse and who can help guide you through it.
The most important thing to remember when letting go of the past is that it will take time and likely won't be a straight and quick process. We can't undo the things that have happened, but with intentionality, patience, and potentially the help of a professional, it is possible to come to terms with your past so you can move into your future.