Like the maw of a monster from a horror movie, your past suddenly and unexpectedly grabs a hold of you, ready to suck you down and drown you. Anguish, frustration, resentment, and pain swamp you and drag you to the depths of despair. It’s a struggle of life and death – at least that’s how it feels.
Your unresolved issues can weigh you down like a ten-ton weight. You sink deeper and deeper into the muck of past regrets.
“Oh, if only I could turn back the clock and handle things differently,’” you think. “If only I would have known then what I know now. Maybe I could have avoided this pain. I could have spared myself many tears if only…”
The truth is, you can spare yourself many tears and a lot of pain, if you learn to live in the present. But it’s just not that easy to leave the past behind! you say. And you are right. It isn’t easy. At all. It’s definitely more work than reading one little blog post.
I do have some very good news for you. But first, some not so good news. Every day you remain trapped in your unpleasant past, innumerable amazing opportunities pass you by. However, the moment you recognize that you don’t want to stay caught in your past, you’ve taken the first step to free yourself. You are on your way!
How can you actually leave the past behind
Accept the past
Sigh. Yes. You have to acknowledge that the past simply cannot be changed. You cannot turn back the clock, no matter how much you wish it. You can only change how you view the past and whether you let past mistakes have control over you in the present. As long as you hold on to how you wish things had been, you can’t accept your present.
And although you can’t change the past, what you can do is accept (and embrace) your wish to change the past. Your wish an indication of acceptance that things went wrong, and that stuff that shouldn’t have happened, happened. In the past. And it is not happening anymore.
You may need to grieve the past that you never had – the loss of what you could have had. This process takes time, so be patient with yourself!
Confront the past
While you grieve your past, allow yourself to live in the present. Remind yourself that you past is not happening anymore.
When you know that what happened in the past is not happening anymore, you can feel safe to confront it. Decide to honestly face the issues. Although what happened in the past is not happening anymore, the pain is still very real.
Let yourself feel your feelings so that you can resolve them. What holds many people back is that when they experience these feelings, they try to avoid them. Acceptance involves acknowledging that these feelings match what happened to you. By denying your feelings, you deny that what happened to you was as bad as it was.
Allow your feelings the room they deserve. If you fear that doing this would overwhelm you, consider counseling or therapy. When I work with clients on overcoming their pain, I guide them in facing their feelings little by little, because they might feel flooded otherwise.
You will realize that as you practice accepting the past (and the feelings that this process brings up), you will become stronger. Just like physical exercise develops and strengthens your muscles, your “emotional muscles” become stronger when you decide to face your feelings.
No one is perfect! Accepting that we all make mistakes, and forgiving yourself for that, is one of the hardest things to do. I often ask my clients, What makes you think that you are so much better than anyone else? Everybody else makes mistakes. Why not you?
Forgiving yourself will help you find a compassionate part within you. In some ways, forgiving is just one more way of acceptance. By accepting that you made mistakes, and that you can’t change them, you can practice compassion with yourself. Forgiveness and compassion have healing powers, you will see.
When you release the anger and pain connected with the past, you will feel a weight lifted off your shoulders. This allows you to learn and grow from what happened, instead of letting it drag you down.
Forgiving others can be a more difficult step. Remember that forgiveness doesn’t deny the bad thing that was done to you. It doesn’t make it any better, nor does it absolve anyone from fault or consequences. But it allows you to move on.
Be aware of your thoughts
You can control your mind! At least you can control how your mind responds when it becomes triggered. When it wanders off to bad places, pull it back. Break the bad habit of allowing your mind to bring you down. Remember, thoughts lead to emotions that can cause you pain. Blaming and shaming doesn’t help anyone, it only gets in the way of healing.
Individual counseling can help you recognize negative thinking patterns. With some practice, you can learn to stop these, and replace negative thoughts with thoughts that make you feel better.
You can stop your negative thinking from having so much power over you. Reprogram your thinking by giving your mind a break. There are many practical strategies for interrupting your thoughts. Meditating, taking a walk, listening to music, or seeking out relationships are some of the strategies I discuss with my clients. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to control your thoughts. So remember, practice is key!
Decide to move forward
Moving on will require you to remove old habits to create a new and happier existence for yourself. This is not an easy step! Then again, neither were the previous ones. None of this is easy!
But did you know that achieving hard-to-reach goals has a huge positive impact on your overall happiness? Yes, it does! And not only does reaching your goals make you happier in the moment, it has a long term effect. These positive feelings last for a long time.
Finding healing is a journey. You don’t need to arrive at your destination to experience happiness. Fill your time with things that you enjoy and that keep you from dwelling on the past – a new hobby, a new habit, or new surroundings. Start using your newly acquired skills to redirect your mind. This will be especially hard if you are used to focusing on the negative, and if you have done so for a long time. But you can do it. It’s in you, and it’s on you. You decide to take control.
As I admitted before, these steps are not easy. But they are possible. Happiness is attainable. At LaunchPad Counseling, we work with individuals, couples, and families on working through painful past experiences. I love seeing the growth that our clients experience. If you think we can help you, please let us know by calling 804-665-4681. You can also sign up online and we will call you to set an appointment.