Letting go of the past, especially when it has been painful or hard, can be very difficult for many of us, but is necessary and essential to our happiness. Often we can dwell or ruminate on a difficult past and this is quite common.
Why do we dwell on the past?
There are different reasons for this, but often we can wonder why me and why did I have to go through that awful experience? Or why do I repeatedly get hurt? Or, sometimes we regret our actions or how we handled a situation and we cannot stop thinking about it. Or, if we had a particularly painful childhood, we can ruminate on this and it can ruin all of our good feelings and happiness in the present.
Certain situations in the present often can serve as constant reminders of our mistakes, what we did or did not do that we regret, or of our painful past.
What can we do about it and how do we let go of the past?
1. Forgive others.
First we must make peace with our past in order to begin the process of healing and letting go. If you have been mistreated, forgive those who have wronged you, betrayed you, hurt you, harmed you in some way or abused you. You can forgive them within your heart. With forgiveness, we can finally heal and let go of any anger/rage, resentment, bitterness or pain that we are holding onto that is ruining our ability to be happy. In the end, holding onto such feelings only harms you, it does not harm the other person. When we can forgive others in our own minds and hearts, we can feel alleviated of our pain and we can let go of it.
What helps me with forgiveness is knowing that many people are quite commonly unaware of how their hurtful behaviors are impacting others. Some are completely ignorant of the negative impact their actions and words have upon others. Perhaps they are in emotional pain themselves and are lashing out unknowingly. And some people just don’t know any better or learned bad behaviors from poor role modeling. When we understand this, it is easier to forgive.
People are who they are and we cannot change them, but we can change how we react. And when we begin to understand and have greater compassion for others, we can begin to let go of the harm they have inflicted and forgive people for their weaknesses, failures and shortcomings.
Others are fully aware of how much they are hurting people; some people are just plain vicious, cruel, abusive and mean. Those are the types of toxic people to avoid, walk away from or eliminate from your life entirely. We can still forgive these types of people, however, because we can begin to understand that they are also in deep emotional pain and are acting out their hurt feelings.
With abusive and cruel people, often they have been abused or treated cruelly themselves, and most likely in childhood. They want others to hurt because they are extremely hurt and wounded themselves; even though their behavior towards us is wrong, we can know and recognize the fact that they are hurting deeply inside. When we understand this, we can also develop greater compassion for them and it is easier to forgive and let go of the pain they have inflicted upon us. We don’t have to condone their behavior, but we can forgive it. It may not be easy to forgive and can take time, but it truly works and is deeply healing.
2. Turn mistakes and regrets into life lessons.
With mistakes and regrets, we must also make peace with the past in order to be happy in the present. Regret is extremely wasteful energy that is highly unproductive and counterproductive to our happiness. What we can do is apply lessons learned from any mistakes we have made and regrets we may have and get rid of any guilty or bad feelings we still carry.
Think about what did you learn and personally gain from that experience, and what would you do differently today? Turning mistakes into valuable life lessons that we learn from is a much more positive and productive way to view our past actions that we regret.
Also make peace with and be accepting of where you are now. If we carry regret, sometimes we are not at peace with our current lives. We make certain choices and choose different paths in life all the time. Become comfortable with the choices and decisions you made that led you to where you are now, and know that those decisions were the best ones given the information and knowledge you had at the time. When you know this, you can make peace with the present.
3. Forgive yourself.
The only way we truly learn in life is when we make mistakes. We are not perfect human beings, we all make mistakes every single day and mistakes are to be expected in life – we are human, after all.
So don’t be so hard on yourself or beat yourself up for past mistakes or bad decisions. Most importantly, forgive yourself, have greater compassion for yourself and a greater understanding of yourself at the time. Have compassion for your state of mind, level of maturity and position in life at that moment in time. When we develop self-compassion, we also develop greater self-love and self-acceptance. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you know now. As they say, we have “20-20 hindsight.” Then learn from your mistakes and allow yourself to grow and improve from them.
I have made plenty of mistakes and poor decisions in my life, and I have found myself in some pretty difficult positions as a result. The way I view these experiences is that I’ve learned not to repeat the same mistakes, and I have also learned more about myself in the process. Sure, it took me a while with a few of those lessons, but I eventually learned, and I am a much wiser and happier person today because I have gained and grown from those painful life lessons in the most positive of ways.
When we forgive others, make peace with our mistakes or regrets and forgive ourselves, we can finally let go of any pain from the past that is haunting us today. Letting go of the past becomes much easier when you follow these steps, and you will feel much happier for doing so.
Here’s to letting go and to your happiness!