It’s easy to allow your past to hold you hostage.
Someone treated you badly. You regret something you did or said. You can’t let it go. It clouds your present and inhibits your future.
You have a hard time forgiving others or yourself for deeds of the past.
Because of something that happened in your past, you have difficulty trusting, loving and accepting yourself and others.
“Without freedom from the past, there is no freedom at all.” ~Krishnamurti
What can you do to let go of the past and move forward?
First, ask yourself if you want to move forward.
Yes, memories and emotions from the past may haunt you and limit you, but are you getting some sort of payoff by keeping those memories alive?
For some, playing the role of the victim brings attention and possibly sympathy (i.e. “Bad things always happen to me.”) If that’s the only kind of attention this person feels they can attract, the payoff is significant and there’s little reason for the subconscious mind to want it to end.
For others, being “right” is the payback. If a person lives in a somewhat uncertain present, holding onto the concept of being “right” about something gives that person a sense of validation, control and certainty.
While releasing yourself from a negative past may seem like an obvious choice for your conscious mind, your subconscious (which controls 98% of your thoughts and actions) may go into a tailspin at the thought of letting go of something that it finds comfort or benefit in.
Consider discussing this with someone who knows you well, will be honest with you and whose counsel you can be open to and hear. Many times it’s difficult to see your own habits and thought patterns because they’re so integral to who you are.
What do you believe about your past?
Once you can honestly say to yourself that you’re ready to let the past go, the next step is to closely examine your beliefs about that painful aspect of your past.
If I said that you were ugly, would you be offended? If I said that you have purple skin, would you still be offended?
You may be offended by the first statement if, because of a lifetime of experiences and how you’ve interpreted those experiences, you believe you’re ugly. Your mind doesn’t ask if my statement is true or not. It touches a core belief and sees the statement as a reinforcement of that belief, regardless of the statement’s validity.
But the second statement probably wouldn’t bother you because you know that your skin isn’t purple. Nothing from your past has called into question the color of your skin. You immediately dismiss the statement because you know it to be false. Why not do the same for the first statement?
And why would you believe either statement if I’ve never seen you before?
If you have a belief that says, “I’m no good in relationships. People always leave me because…” your subconscious mind is constantly looking for evidence to prove this belief while ignoring evidence to the contrary.
As the saying goes, bad things stick with us like Velcro while good things slide past us like Teflon.
Your subconscious may be holding onto a painful memory because it further validates a belief you have about yourself.
Is your belief serving you? Is it helping or hindering your ability to live the life you want?
If feeling the pain gives your subconscious a payoff, is there another way you can get this payoff along with some happiness?
It’s your choice whether you want to hold onto the ember burning in your hand or simply drop it.
When someone deals you a disservice, it’s hard to simply let it go. If they’ve hurt you, you can’t let them get away with it.
These are the beliefs that will keep you stuck in the past and forever tied to a person you can’t stand. What fun is that?
If someone left you in a nasty breakup or an inept boss yelled at you publicly or someone dismissed something you’ve worked hard on, it’s up to you to either take it personally and let it fester inside you or let it go because you understand that other people are dealing with their own issues.
Forgiving, letting go and releasing are all about you and not about the other person. The other person never has to know.
It’s often easier to forgive when you can truly put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
From many personal experiences, I’ve learned that bullies are simply scared and insecure people who find comfort when they can knock others down. When they were young, they may not have received the love, acceptance and respect they needed. As a result, they have a hard time giving it and operate from a place of fear and control.
If someone has been nasty to you, instead of labeling them a nasty person, consider what’s going on in their lives. People in physical or emotional pain have a difficult time being nice. Are they dealing with stresses at home or work? Are they working through an illness that they don’t want to talk about?
If you were in their shoes, how would you have acted?
Look the Painful Past In the Eyes
You naturally want to avoid painful things. Avoiding is a form of resistance and anything you resist will never go away. Resisting something gives it power.
The best way to rid yourself of the pains of your memories is to approach them directly. Both EMDR and EFT (tapping) use this very effectively.
Go to a quiet place, close your eyes and take ten deep breaths. Try to clear your mind as you do this.
Now think of the painful memory. Bring it up in all its vivid details. Where are you? Who is there? What are they wearing? What are they doing and saying? Watch the whole memory as if it’s on a movie screen and you’re an objective observer.
As you watch the movie, scan your body. What do you feel? Where do you feel it? How does it feel? Is your gut in knots? Are you having trouble breathing? Is your body tense? Whatever you’re feeling, focus in on it. Where exactly do you feel it and what exactly are you feeling there?
Your body is a storehouse of information that your logical mind has a hard time processing. Your body is your intuition, your True Self. It knows what’s best for you if you can get quiet enough to listen.
As you focus in on the feelings in your body, ask the pain or negative sensation what it’s trying to tell you. Remain open to answers you wouldn’t expect.
If the answers are based in fear, keep asking. Your True Self never speaks from fear, only love. Keep asking until you feel good about the answers, no matter how crazy they may seem.
As you receive the loving answers, go back to your movie. Play it again. How do you feel now?
Repeat this process of watching your movie, noticing the sensations in your body, asking them questions and being open to the answers.
With practice, this can significantly reduce the emotional triggers buried in the memories.
What steps have you taken to release yourself from the past?
“The knowledge of the past stays with us. To let go is to release the images and the emotions, the grudges and fears, the clingings and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.” ~Jack Kornfield
This article is not intended for those experiencing significant trauma. If you’ve been involved with abuse, a crime, wars or anything like that, I would strongly encourage you to seek out a professional who specializes in treating people who have had these experiences.
I’ve seen particularly great results when those professionals utilize EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing). This modality is used extensively to treat issues like PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and has been proven to be very effective. It doesn’t make the memories go away. It significantly reduces the emotional triggers connected to the traumatic memories, allowing people to move forward in their lives without consistently experiencing the traumatic emotions.
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