How to Finally Let Go of the Past

How to finally let go of the past

Have you been hanging onto things even though you know you really should let go of them? I don’t mean physical stuff. I’m talking about emotional baggage…situations, events, experiences from the past and the thoughts and emotions that go with them?

It’s time to finally let go.

That’s right… Leave your emotional baggage by the side of the road.

Maybe somebody did something to you when you were a teenager. Even though you are 50 years old, you still rehash that experience over and over again in your mind—and allow it to impact your life. You go to therapy, hire healers, and talk about it regularly. You say you want to find a way to come to grips with it and, more importantly, to let it go—to put it behind you.

In the meantime, you keep thinking about what happened and talking about it. You blame that event or person for your inability to love, succeed, move forward, and change your current situation. And you let this old experience affects your thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Plus, you believe your behavior is justified by that past event and will change when you can let it go…finally.

Maybe you are passive-aggressive toward the person you feel wronged you. Or you feel angry and resentful toward anyone or anything that reminds you of the person or event. Even when you think you’ve found a way to forgive, deep down inside, you harbor the memory and the negative emotions that go with it. Thus, the event continues to impact you and your life.

A Human Response

You are not alone.

Most of us have experienced things in our past that continue to cause us pain. It’s a human response to mentally archive a negative event along with the emotions felt and beliefs formed around it. Years and years later, that event can still influence us, even if we aren’t conscious of that fact.

I have several past incidents that haunt me. One happened when I was only seven years old—my father died. A few others happened over the last 32 years of marriage.

I keep going over and over these events in my head and coming up with new ways of looking at them. I think, “Maybe if I look at this event from a different perspective or find a way to gain a deeper understanding, I’ll be able to get past it. I can let it go and stop allowing it to affect my relationship.”

But, if I’m honest, all the introspection, talk therapy, spiritual healing modalities, and psychological tools I’ve tried have not helped me let go. The more I think about a specific event or try to deal with my thoughts and feelings about it, the more that event seems to affects me and my life. Focusing on what happened just brings up old emotions and negative thoughts.

This way of trying to let go of the past seems to perpetuate corresponding behaviors as well. I find myself acting—reacting—in ways that I don’t like.

Yet, that’s not who I want to be. It’s not how I want to show up in my marriage either.

Stop Talking About What Happened

Recently, while talking to a therapist, I shared that I did not plan on talking to my husband about a specific past incident and my thoughts and feelings related to it. I’ve discussed it with him ad nauseam.

As I continued to speak about this, I remember my husband telling me on more than one occasion that he didn’t want to rehash the past. He wanted to let it go and move forward.

Now, that’s easier said than done. Plus, understanding the past has its place. And the more we understand the past and the lessons we’ve learned from it, the easier it does, indeed, become to let go.

However, constant focus on the past just brings those unwanted or disliked events into the present. And that’s where we don’t want them to exist.

So I said, “I think rather than talking about this…again…with my husband, I’d rather decide how to move forward. I’d rather focus on behaving in a way that is more aligned with who I want to be—know I can be. I’d like to stop acting like someone I don’t like and decide how to show up in my marriage.”

And that’s the key to letting it go—whatever “it” is for you. You have to decide to show up differently. You have to behave in a way that aligns with the person you want to be.

Make a Decision to Let Go

There’s nothing wrong with trying to understand why things happen or why you react the way you do. At a certain point, though, you have to decide, “I’m done with that.” At that moment, you make a new decision about how you will respond—not react—to that old wound.

There are a myriad of ways to help yourself let go of old thoughts and emotions about whatever happened in your past. You can do hypnotherapy, therapy, brain spotting, EMDR, tapping, or rebirthing, just to name a few.

I’ve tried most of these. What I now know—and have experienced—is that the most powerful way to let go of something is to remember how you want to show up. And then behave like that person every day.

If every time you’re with a specific person you become vindictive, angry, or passive-aggressive, for example, next time that happens, ask yourself, “Who do I really want to be in this moment. Do I want to be an angry and passive-aggressive person?”

And if the answer is “no,” make a decision: “That’s not who I want to be. I want to be this other type of person.” And, here’s the clincher—immediately behave the way that person would act.

In the process of stepping into the person you want to be, you begin the process of letting go of that old stuff.

Change Your Habitual Way of Showing Up

Basically, you change your habitual way of reacting to someone or something. Your behavior—striking out verbally, withdrawing emotionally, or berating the other person, for instance—is habitual. Habits are learned over time, and you can unlearn a habit by creating a new one.

You have habitual thoughts about whatever happened, and you feel corresponding emotions, which are habitual reactions to the thought. Your thoughts and feelings then lead to habitual behaviors—automatic reactions to thoughts and emotions.

To begin the process of letting go, develop a new habit. When you have an old reaction, remind yourself who you truly are and want to be. Choose a new behavior. Every time you do so, you breakdown the old habit and get closer to developing a new one.

And when you habitually think, feel, and behave in the way you have chosen, you stop thinking about that old stuff. The old memories won’t trigger you anymore, and you’ll stop focusing attention on them.

Live in the Present

I’m not claiming to have this let-go process handled; I’m working on it daily, though. From my recent experience, I have seen that making a decision about who to be in every moment allows me to let go more quickly and easily.

The decision to respond differently takes awareness, it’s true. But when I become aware that I am behaving in an old reactive manner, I can shift my attention to the present moment. In the present, I can decide how I want to show up now. I don’t have to behave in old reactive ways based on past hurts. And that moment of decision, along with a new response or behavior, diffuses all the negative thoughts and emotions I have around whatever happened previously.

More than that, it helps me take responsibility. I stop blaming something or someone for whatever happened and my resulting thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. I look at how I can change—not how I can change someone else or the past.

After all, we can’t change the past. It’s over and done. And we can’t change anyone else. We can only change ourselves.

I want to feel good about myself. I want to like myself. I want to feel happy.

I can’t do or be that when I’m reacting to the past—when I’m something other than my best self. I can only feel good about myself and happy—and accept others and the past—when I choose to respond in the present and step into the best version of myself in every moment.

I bet you don’t want to be that person either—the one stuck in old unsupportive beliefs and habitual ways of behaving, the person unable to move forward because you live in the past.

So, decide not to be that person. Decide to be the person you know, inside, you really are.

Let the past go. It has no place in your life now. Step into the future and a different version of yourself.

Have you tried letting the past go by choosing to show up differently in the present moment? What results did you get from this process? Please, share your experience in a comment below. And please share this post with someone who might benefit from reading it.

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Would you like to let go of the hold the past has on you in the present? Give me an hour of your time, and I’ll help you begin mastering your mind, emotions and behavior. In the process, you’ll take huge strides toward fulfilling your potential and purpose, realizing your dreams, and becoming the best version of yourself. Apply for a FREE Certified High Performance Coaching strategy session. Fill out this application.

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Photo courtesy of Sergey Nivens

4 thoughts on “How to Finally Let Go of the Past”

  1. Thank you for sharing Nina; we often think that our experience is unique, but it is not, it is very common. The only difference is the intensity of the circumstances that vary in myriad ways.
    You set the bottom line quite accurately: just let go but get into today’s life, environment and family, there is no other way.
    Warm Regards,

    1. Thanks, George. The past has its place, and understanding it is helpful. But in the end, what we do NOW is what matters.I appreciate your comment.

  2. Hi Nina,
    Letting go of the past is not easy for everyone. Sometimes it takes huge courage to put our resentment aside and forgive the person who did wrong to us or hurt us. But ultimately letting go the bad feeling pays off.

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