Fifteen Ways to Let Go of the Past

Edited by Donna, Eng, Maria

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Why People Hold On To The Past

Everybody encounters some sort of hurt, abandonment or emotional challenge during the course of their life that seems to wound them to their very core. Some people manage to get over things quite quickly and move forward into the future quite easily. Others tend to dwell on the emotional or psychological injury for months or years, allowing it to set them back in life.

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Although some people have a genuine disposition towards being depressed there are some others that seem to hold onto the grief, shock, and trauma just for the sake of holding onto it. People who nurture heartbreak from the past tend to do so because it provides them with some kind of emotional or psychological payoff.

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Here are the top ways that holding onto the past motivates and even rewards people for staying stuck in it.

  1. 1
    Individuals who hold on to their grief might be using it as a form of negative attention seeking
    .
    Although this attention is often in the form of pity, it is still better than not getting any attention at all. Wallowing in the grief creates dramas and more involvement with others. The person may feel that if they stop broadcasting their problem with the past that they might become lonely.
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  2. 2
    Holding onto the past allows you to blame your current failures on other people, rather than take personal responsibility for your own life
    .
    If others are the cause of your unhappiness, then you do not have to be personally accountable for why you cannot move forward in life, because everything is their fault and not yours. The rationale here is that you are sometimes too injured by others to move forward and that the world somehow owes you.
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  3. 3
    Holding onto the past gives you an excuse not to follow your dreams in life
    .
    If you present a personal setback as disastrous, then it explains to others why you are a failure or broke your promises to them by pursuing a certain path. It allows you to be lazy and blame your lack of personal drive on others.
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  4. 4
    Holding onto the past allows you to stay attached or even actively involved in someone's life after you have been rejected
    .
    Sometimes, the hate and resentment that you are harboring with them are the last vestiges of any emotional connection between the two of you, and if you let that go, then there is no attachment between the two of you at all.
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Many people are reluctant to let thoughts of another from the past go because psychologically it signifies a final goodbye to a person or a situation that you may have really loved.

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    You may be holding onto the past because you are hoping that somebody or a situation will change
    .
    You may feel that someone has the potential to change or that a situation will turn around if only you can just be patient and hang in there. Subconsciously, you might also feel that if you let the situation go, that it will no longer be in your favor. This type of holding on to the past is particularly common among people who have been abused, as dwelling on the past is the only way they have any control over a situation that was always beyond their control in the first place.
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  2. 2
    Holding onto the past might actually result in a financial pay off for some people
    .
    Relatives or friends may feel sorry for you because of your inability to cope with the past and actually send you money. They may also perceive you as to sick to work or take care of your physical day-to-day chores for you. You may also receive gifts because others feel sorry for you.
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  3. 3
    Holding onto the past may be giving you permission, in a subconscious way, to be addicted to prescription drugs
    .
    Anti-depressants and other prescription drugs used to treat depression may be giving you a high that you emotionally connect to being in emotional pain about the past. If you let that pain go, then you will no longer have the need to be prescribed those drugs. You may also fear to have to deal with your feelings and grief about the situation, once you stop taking them.
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The Benefits of Letting Go of The Past

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The psychological, emotional and personal benefits of letting go of the past may include the following.

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    You will feel lighter psychological and emotionally and experience a new sense of freedom
    .
    The anger and resentment that you were experiencing may have been limiting your choices in life and preventing you from going forward. For instance, you may not have wanted to pursue your career because your ex had an affair with a woman in the same field. Detaching from your feelings about her will allow you to move forward.
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  2. 2
    You will feel like you can go anywhere that you want without fear of running into someone or a situation that hurt you
    .
    When you let the past have power over you, you avoid going to places or parties where you might be triggered by memories of a traumatic situation. You may even avoid going out to celebrations because you fear running into an ex or a rival. When you get rid of this type of aversion, your life is opened up to more possibilities and choices, not only romantically, but often in a career.
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  3. 3
    Letting go of the past sometimes has a positive effect on your physical and psychological health
    .
    You may be less prone to obsessive or negative thinking. You may find those nagging health problems clear up because your depressive lifestyle is no longer affecting how often you eat, exercise or socialize.
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  4. 4
    You will feel invigorated and like you have more energy
    .
    Dwelling constantly on the past is very exhausting both mentally and physically and prevent you from following up on more important things in life. Instead of succumbing to a daily depression, which may have you medicating or overeating to deal with your feelings, you will have more energy to pursue those things that will move you forward into a brighter future.
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15 Ways to Let Go Of the Past

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  1. 1
    Develop an interest in yourself and your own future
    .
    Depending on how body you were treated or hurt, your self-esteem might be very low. You may feel so rejected that you might actually despise yourself. This happens when someone thinks they were the cause of a breakup, or not good enough somehow. If you find yourself thinking, "What's the point of trying?" then it is very important for you to sit down and make a hand-written list of everything you are grateful for in your life, as it is these things that you risk losing if you stay stuck in the past.
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  2. 2
    One of the simplest ways to let go of the past is to forgive whoever or whatever hurt you in the first place
    .
    Many people are reluctant to do this because they think that forgiveness means that they have let the matter go. Mostly forgiveness serves to give the person who was wronged more of a sense of inner peace and serenity. It does not mean that you have to move forward with the person or that you have to enable them to do further wrong to you or others. It means that you are making the choice not to live every day of your life harboring resentment towards anyone.
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  3. 3
    Be the emotional, psychological and philosophical master of yourself by deciding that you are going to let the matter go and then make a commitment to make it happen
    .
    This means making a promise to yourself that you are going to do what it takes every day to stop the self-perpetuating resentment that you are generating towards someone or something every day. It means that you are going to discard your current way of thinking and stop reliving the story of what happened in your head.
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  4. 4
    Take a vow of silence and refuse to talk about the past to others
    .
    Stop talking about the hurtful past situation to others or making any reference to the past at all and do not let anyone else bring up the situation either. The less you talk about it, the less meaningful the situation is to others and yourself. This is because you are no longer giving your pain all of your publicity. You should also avoid people who want you to join a pity party of some kind and have you wallow in the past with them. For instance, if your ex left you for someone else, then you should avoid hanging out with a group of other people who have also been left, and who reinforce your memories of an awful past.
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  5. 5
    Stop bad mouthing or gossiping about the person who hurt you
    .
    The more you cut up someone's reputation or badmouth them, the more you will feel you have to do it to prove to others that you really are a martyr and that the other person is the victim. If you stop doing this, you will not only feel lighter and happier psychologically, you will also feel better about yourself. Every time you gossip about someone, especially hatefully to someone else, your self-esteem drops. You feel body about yourself and your oppressor from the past feels nothing.
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  6. 6
    Purge your personal pain writing it all down in a diary
    .
    Take three days to yourself and write down everything that is bothering you about the situation and then do not write about it anymore. This type of journaling helps you get the pain out of your system and also help you understand what the pay-off is to holding on to the hurt for so long. It will also help you understand how you may have been an active participant.
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  7. 7
    Rewrite your life story by remembering yourself as a survivor and winner, rather than a martyr and victim
    .
    Our minds tend to exaggerate the bad things and minimize the good. Whenever a very negative thought manifests, counteract it with a thought about how your life was good back then as well. Change your inner narrative so that when you tell yourself what happened, you appear as the hero, rather than the victim in a situation. Give yourself a pat on the back for even getting through such a bad time and then choose to only think of the situation in that way, rather than dwell on the injustice of it all. Note too, that when practicing this way of forgetting the past, that it really helps to realize that life is not fair, can be cruel and that nobody escapes some kind of misfortune at one time or another.
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  8. 8
    Identify the people in your life who somehow benefit from you holding on to the past and then move slowly and politely away from them
    .
    This could be a psychotherapist that you pay every week, a friend that listens to you talk about the pas but secretly wants to be in a romance with you or a person who has been in a similar situation and needs your experience to validate his or hers. By seeing these individuals less and perhaps even cutting them out of your life, you are getting rid of the influences and enablers that may be encouraging you to be stuck in your pain.
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  9. 9
    Stop thinking about yourself all of the time and get busy doing things for others less fortunate than you
    .
    One of the most efficient ways out of self-pity is to take your focus off of yourself and begin to do good for others by volunteering your time to a charity or raising money. This not only takes your mind off things, but it also helps raise your self-esteem and detach from the past.
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  10. 10
    Stop trying to analyze the situation and resist the temptation to find fault with yourself or others
    .
    Sometimes things happen for no reason and misfortune or bad luck is to blame. Sometimes the issue is that you are trying to make sense of a situation that was actually manufactured by someone who is mentally ill. Sometimes there is no answer as to why something happened, and most people blame themselves by default. If you really believe that what happened in the past is your entire fault, then forgive yourself and move on, because dwelling on the past will not change the past.
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  11. 11
    Stop holding onto the past because you need a "resolution." Some people feel they need some kind of validation from the other person or the situation, to know that it is truly over before they can move on
    .
    If a resolution to the situation is coming, then it is best not to put your whole life on pause while you wait for it. It is also irrational to expect the person that hurt you in the first place to come through with answers for you that will help you move forward because they have already harmed you and are likely to do so again.
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  12. 12
    Sometimes there are ways of undoing the past, especially if the situation was your fault
    .
    If you are dwelling on the past because of guilt and you have genuinely hurt someone else or are responsible for a terrible situation, you can move forward by making amends to those you have hurt. This can transpire as a personal apology, doing him or her a favor or making a financial contribution if necessary. You may or may not be forgiven, no matter what you do, but the fact that you tried can help clear and empty conscience so that it is easier for you to let the matter go.
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  13. 13
    Be mindful and practice living in the here and now
    .
    The more you are living in the present, the less time you have to wallow in the past. Every time you feel a past memory, creep into your mind, dismiss it and then bring yourself gently back to the present moment. Realize that every time you feel a negative feeling that you have a choice between feeling that hurt again and welcoming what good is offered you in the present.
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  14. 14
    Find the lessons learned from the past experience and be grateful for them
    .
    See your bad situation in the past, as being part of a learning curve or the person you feel has been unfair to yourself as a teacher. Thank them in your heart for helping you understand what it is you do not want in life or for the opportunities to transcend your personal limits so that you can change, grow and become stronger in the future.
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  15. 15
    Believe in the goodness of the universe and that whatever happened was for your higher good
    .
    Another way of looking at this is to believe that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should and that better things await you in the future. This positive way of looking at things can help you better accept what happened and also put out the kind of positive attitude that attracts good things to you in life.
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Tips and Tricks

  • There are no rules when it comes to getting over a negative experience, especially a death, but dwelling every day on something for more than six months indicates that you are stuck psychologically in the past
  • Group therapy or a psychiatrist can help you in the short-term, but if the purpose of attending the session's keeps you stuck in the past and thinking about it, all of the time, then it may be holding you back

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APA (American Psychological Association)
Fifteen Ways to Let Go of the Past. (2017). In VisiHow. Retrieved May 25, 2017, from http://visihow.com/Fifteen_Ways_to_Let_Go_of_the_Past

MLA (Modern Language Association) "Fifteen Ways to Let Go of the Past." VisiHow, visihow.com/Fifteen_Ways_to_Let_Go_of_the_Past Accessed 25 May 2017.

Chicago / Turabian VisiHow.com. "Fifteen Ways to Let Go of the Past." Accessed May 25, 2017. http://visihow.com/Fifteen_Ways_to_Let_Go_of_the_Past.

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Categories : Relationships

Recent edits by: Eng, Donna

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