How can you let go of the past?

How can you let go of the past?

If you were told to close your eyes and think of a negative memory that you have to let go but can’t bring yourself to, it is likely that you would be transported to a day or week when you didn’t feel the best, or a person who wasn’t good for you or even an experience that still lingers on in your memory. Even sitting with this thought would make you uncomfortable because even though you would do anything to forget it, it still lies crystal clear in your mind like it was yesterday. Recalling such things would be a very painful experience to go through, despite wanting the opposite. Everyone holds on to things that they would be better off if they let it go, knowing that it is unhealthy for them. Our past often catches up to us and makes us feel trapped, like we are in a void from which we can’t escape, no matter how much we try to forget it. Many times, it is also difficult to find closure in an experience or loss of a person, which is why some people consider things to be unfinished chapters in their book of life, unable to pick up where they left off.

As humans, we tend to remember highly emotional experiences very vividly, making the process of letting go harder than it already is. However, one of our biggest anchors holding us down in the way things used to be is our fear of uncertainty. Familiarity is safe, warm and welcoming. Anything that we cannot anticipate or haven’t experienced before automatically becomes a cause for caution and concern. This is why even the thought of letting a person or memory go can make you feel very uncomfortable, even subconsciously, because you cannot imagine your life with certainty if they are not present. Nevertheless, letting go of the past and moving on is an important facet of the human experience and is imperative for personal growth. Such experiences have a transformative quality and can eventually get you to be more in tune with who you are and what you want.

Here are a few ways you can begin that journey:

Recognize where you stand:

The first step in letting go is actually accepting that you are stuck. Coming to terms with the fact that you are living in the past and being grounded in your reality is more helpful than denying the pain and confusion to yourself and trying to convince yourself that you have moved on. In such cases, the only way out is through confronting difficult and uncomfortable emotions. Be accepting of your reality by reminding yourself that such feelings are temporary and transient and embracing the hurt.

 Understand your ‘why’?:

To be able to move on, it is essential to understand why you want to do so in the first place. This will not only make you gain clarity and focus but also prove to be a motivating factor every time you slip. Understanding your ‘why’ involves asking yourself the tough questions like why is it important for you to do this now, what factors are keeping you stuck in the past, the difference between who you are right now and who you want to be and the actions you need to get there and listing down how living in the past is being counterproductive for your life right now. Once you gain emotional and intellectual clarity on such matters, it becomes easier to process.

Don’t be a victim:

We often tend to blame our past circumstances for our present situations and criticize previous experiences for certain outcomes. This can trap you in a vicious cycle of self- pity and begrudging your life, when in reality it is all those incidents that have shaped you into the person you are today in the first place. Instead of having an attitude of complaint and loss while feeling sorry for yourself, try shifting into a growth mindset and owning your story. This will help you take your power back and empower you to feel that you are the only one who has control over your life, thoughts and emotions. Believe that you alone can change your life and have the capability to move on and you are already half- way there.

List the learnings:

Making a list of all the lessons you learned through a negative or painful experience can be a liberating experience, especially in situations that lack closure. Nothing is a waste of time if you learned something. Being able to write down all the ways in which difficult incidents have aided you in your personal growth can also be helpful for you to see its place in the past and your journey into the present, by acknowledging how much you have grown as a person.

Apart from all this, it is important to remember to be kind to yourself. Healing is not linear and doesn’t happen overnight, so you cannot expect any immediate change. What matters is the process and eventually you will be able to confront all these thoughts without flinching, knowing that they occupy no space in your life any longer.

About the Author

Nishtha Gugnani
Postgraduate Student in Clinical Psychology.

A postgraduate student with a demonstrated history of working with mental health organisations and in clinical setups. With a thorough foundational ed

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