How To Release Yourself from Your Past

Release yourself from the pastIt’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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23 Responses to How To Release Yourself from Your Past

    Commented:  01/11/2014 at 1:55 pm

    keep up the good work, far to many peoples lives are being ruined by their past bad experiences. To move forward we have to release the past and we must only look to the future if it is viewed from a positive perspective, once we let go of our negative emotional memories we can be free to move forward from the limitations they once imposed on us.

  1. Pingback: What If We Focus on Self Love? - Vidya Sury

  2. Naveen Kulkarni
    Commented:  12/15/2013 at 6:42 am

    Hi Pagie,

    I paused at your point on “Forgiving”. Yes, it feels so fulfilled to do that to the people who hurt us. We could actually find no reason why they did it to us, but somewhere it could be just a reflection of our own unintentional actions in the past. We never know.

    And we need to forgive others and ourselves.

    Thanks for this mindful post.

    Patricia Anderson
    Commented:  12/06/2013 at 8:35 am

    I agree with you Paige – these are questions to ponder when you are stuck in the past – “Is your belief serving you? Is it helping or hindering your ability to live the life you want?

    Our biggest challenge in awakening to our brilliance is to move beyond our own self-doubt and judgment. We always worry about how many times we have failed or what we have done in the past. The truth is – Our past does not have to determine our future. Past may become an inspiration to move on to a life with enthusiasm and filled of purpose but it can’t define what’s in front of us.

    Awesome article Paige!
    Patricia Anderson recently posted..9 Tips to Alleviate Pubic Speaking JittersMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  12/06/2013 at 5:23 pm

      Great comment Patricia! Yes, so often we dwell on the negatives of our past and use them as a wall, preventing us from opening to new opportunities in the future. In reality, that wall doesn’t exist. It only exists in our minds. We simply have to choose to vaporize the wall in order to see the amazing life ahead of us.

      Thanks so much!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..The Art of Helping Others (and How to Avoid Resentment)My Profile

    Commented:  12/01/2013 at 11:32 am

    Hi Paige, thanks a lot for this great post. I liked it a lot when you said: “If I said that you have purple skin, would you still be offended?” We oftentimes make the mistake to just belief and take granted what others say about us, without really evaluating if it’s true. Or, we just take things too personal. Most of the time when people say bad things about others it’s a projection of their own fears, feeling unworthy, not believing in themselves…
    Robert recently posted..The Magic And Power of Dreaming BigMy Profile

    Galen Pearl
    Commented:  11/29/2013 at 7:01 pm

    This is a perfect post for my foster daughter, who sadly continues to allow her childhood to dictate her life as an adult. So many times I have told her that no one can give her the childhood she should have had, and only she can give herself the life she wants now.

    Thanksgiving seemed like a good time for me to give blogging a rest, so I have posted my last post. And a good time to visit everyone to say thank you for the connection we have had these last few years. I hope you will stop by. Wishing you all the best always.
    Galen Pearl recently posted..It Is EnoughMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  11/30/2013 at 12:14 pm

      Hopefully your foster daughter can learn from you. You have so much to teach. Yes, we can’t change our past but, from this moment forward, we can change our lives.

      I’m sorry to hear about your site but I know exactly how you feel. I’ve been struggling to write regularly with all the other wonderful things happening in my life.

      I love the analogy you used on your latest post. I can’t wait to see the “David” emerge from your life. Please keep me posted!

      Big hugs to you!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..The Art of Helping Others (and How to Avoid Resentment)My Profile

    Jeff Bridges
    Commented:  11/29/2013 at 9:43 am

    A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement.
    Bo Bennett

    Commented:  11/28/2013 at 8:38 am

    Hi Paige,
    I think you make an extremely important point about asking ourselves whether we want to move forward.
    The fact is that moving forward is actually entering into the present moment.
    Living in the present moment is critical for breaking away from the tyranny of the past.
    Each present moment contains infinite potential ,as it hangs suspended between a rapidly aged past and a still unborn future.Any one who has ever lived a present moment in it’s completeness has lived heaven for an eternity.
    That is the unfathomable power of the present moment.
    richmiraclefiles recently posted..SIMPLE MAGIC WAND TO MANIFEST YOUR VISIONMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  11/29/2013 at 11:05 am

      Being in the present moment is incredibly powerful, as you’ve found Mona. When I notice myself stressing about all I have to do (the future), I’m getting better and pausing to take a deep breath and be in the present. Suddenly all is well, my stress subsides and I feel love for myself and everyone else. In that moment I choose to stop stressing because I know that I’m already doing my best.

      Being in the present moment creates an incredibly peaceful feeling. It’s definitely a practice to make that shift more often throughout the day.

      Thanks for that insight Mona!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Finding Balance Amidst the ChaosMy Profile

    Vidya Sury
    Commented:  11/18/2013 at 8:48 pm

    You know, Paige, at this stage, when I am all of 50 and think I’ve moved past some traumatic moments in my past, and I am happily ambling along life, every once in a while there’s something that triggers a memory, and it hurts afresh. Then I realize while I am okay with the total idea of moving on, specific incidents still feel unresolved. So the answer would be to resolve them, no? I can’t because those people are no more. So all the more reason to just let it be, I thought. Still, it does feel bad. Case in point, yesterday I was busy looking through some photo albums for some pictures when I happened to see some that brought on those memories. I just turned to prayer to calm down and then, wrote up a 60-second gratitude list. And felt infinitely better. I wish, though, these moments would just flow away without getting me all worked up.

    That being said, I’ve come a long long way from the place I used to be in.

    How are you, my dear sis? Hugs!
    Vidya Sury recently posted..Blissed Out With HappinessMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  11/19/2013 at 3:11 pm

      Dear Vidya,

      It’s exactly the situation that you described where I’ve seen EFT and EMDR work so effectively. They don’t erase the memories but take the sting out of them. I’ve personally used both modalities and have had some great results. Things, people, situations or memories that used to send me reeling now bother me little or none at all. I have a much greater feeling of acceptance about them.

      While prayer, exercise, gratitude lists and many other practices can help, ultimately they are ways of shifting our focus away from the difficult emotions instead of looking at them head on.

      Resolving issues usually has little to do with the other person. It’s more about the stories we tell ourselves about how to interpret our memories. It’s up to us to change those stories and, in the process, change the emotions behind them.

      For many painful memories, time can do some of the healing. Getting help from people experienced in things like EFT and EMDR can help repair those wounds much more quickly and thoroughly.

      Like you, dear Sister, I’ve also come a long way in these areas. This is why I look forward to getting older, wiser and happier every day. For some reason, I think of Maya Angelou when I think about getting older and how much better life gets.

      Lots of love and hugs to you Sis!!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..How to Shift from What’s Wrong in Your Life to HappinessMy Profile

    Elissa P
    Commented:  11/18/2013 at 7:24 pm

    Hi Ms. Burkes

    I have always believed that our past shapes and drives our future. As you stated if someone called me ugly in the past, I will move into ‘my’ future telling myself I am ugly and thinking everyone around me sees me as ugly. I then have to love myself enough to know that I am beautiful inside and out.

    I understand your take on not thinking of someone who is nasty to you as been a nasty person, but no matter what’s going in our lives, that does not give them or us the right to be nasty to someone else.

    You said “From many personal experiences, I’ve learned that bullies are simply scared and insecure people who find comfort when they can knock others down.” I believe this to be so true. I have always believed that people who belittle other people only do so to make themselves feel good.

    Fear is not from our creator and we should not embrace it in any shape or form.

    Elissa P recently posted..9 Essential Prayers That Will Completely Change Your Life. Part 2My Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  11/19/2013 at 2:38 pm

      I agree with you, Elissa, that no one has the right to be nasty to anyone. But it happens and the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is to feel some level for compassion for the other person rather than carrying around our own negative feelings about them.

      I love that you know that you truly are beautiful inside and out!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Choose YourselfMy Profile

    Commented:  11/18/2013 at 5:19 pm

    Thank you Paige for another amazing article. This one will keep me tune in the present moment, releasing that heavy load of the past.

    Commented:  11/18/2013 at 3:56 pm

    I think sometimes the quickest path to letting go is expressing the emotion fully (in a way that doesn’t damage you, other persons or the furniture).

    I know what you mean by saying that avoiding is resistance. But sometimes it is just sanity. Looking for an easier way may be time well spent. With regard to past pain; it may be that meeting an unmet need leads to the resolution of the pain.
    Evan recently posted..Knowing How Having Motivation and Living a Satisfying Life #3: what to do in a new situationMy Profile

      Paige Burkes
      Commented:  11/18/2013 at 5:33 pm

      Those are some great insights Evan. Expressing emotions through writing/journaling, talking, art and other forms can be quite cathartic.

      Sometimes it can be hard to discover what the unmet need is without looking the pain straight in the eye and asking it what it needs. I’ve had experiences where simply asking the question helps to dissolve the issue. Apparently the pain simply wanted to feel heard.

      Thanks for the great comment Evan!
      Paige Burkes recently posted..Creating a New Life By ChoosingMy Profile


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