There are moments in life that feel insurmountable. They humble you and make you wonder if you will ever recover, be it heartbreak, loss, or failure. It is in the aftermath of these events, while standing in the wreckage, that you have a choice–will I let this define me, or will I move on. Moving on and letting go of all the emotions that you felt in the past can feel impossible, but it is a conscious choice you must make.
So, how can you move on from the past?
- Decide to let go
First, you must choose to let go. I know it sounds puerile to say so, but sometimes you might be holding on to something so tightly that you’ve forgotten what it feels like to let go. So, to prepare yourself, you must decide to let go. In doing so, you commit to following up on your choice and holding yourself accountable for any self-sabotaging behavior. You are choosing to engage in self-destructive thought patterns that keep you focused on your past hurts. In deciding to let go, you are taking some power back and allowing yourself to experience a future without having your pain hold you back.
- Create distance
Once you’ve made the conscious choice to get over your past, it is time to take action. Creating distance between yourself and the person or situation that causes you pain is a good first step.
Ramani Durvasula suggests that being away from the person or situation that causes you pain is a good idea because you don’t have to process or think about it. Out of sight, out of mind. I happen to agree. You might feel calmer and at ease once you step away from that situation or person. Thus, you will be able to act from a place of clarity and intention.
- Express your pain and responsability.
I am not sure if this applies to everyone, but I sometimes tend to bottle things up. If you bottle things up as well, I’m sure you know how agonizing it feels– like stones on your chest and a lump of coal in the back of your throat (especially when you are about to cry).
However, bottling things up is not good. Unsurprisingly, bottling up your emotions has psychological and physiological effects. Not only does it exacerbate mental health issues like anxiety and depression, but it disrupts your stress hormones. However, a change in stress hormones is not the only possible outcome for those who bottle up their emotions.
A 2013 study from the University of Rochester and Harvard University found a correlation between high emotional suppression and cancer-related mortality. Researchers from both universities poured over statistics provided by the General Social Survey (GSS), an annual study of opinions and attitudes among the US public conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. They examined correlations between emotional suppression and mortality outcome. Their analysis found that heart ailments such as myocardial infarction and coronary atherosclerosis made up at least 58% of national deaths. Whereas leukemia, lung, pancreatic, and colon cancer made up 47%. They also found that emotional suppression elevated the risk of dying from these diseases. For death from cancer, the risk increased by 70%.
A recent study from the University of Melbourne in Australia and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver supports their findings. Researchers highlight the link between anger and experienced symptoms of depression among men with prostate cancer.
Additionally, bottling your emotions can also lead you to depend on unhealthy coping mechanisms.
So, try to find a healthy and productive outlet to express your emotions–write, journal, paint, or do whatever you need to do to let go of those emotions.
- Do some personal work.
This point sounds a bit vague, and that is the point. Working on your internal self encompasses everything you need to do to move forward. That work varies from person to person. For some, it may mean actively fighting against negative thought patterns or not seeing yourself as a victim.
Will it be hard? Yes.
Moving forward from a painful event might require you to confront aspects of your life that you do not want to. It also may ask you to sacrifice things you have used for comfort but are holding you down.
Throughout this process, you will feel afraid or doubt that you are getting better, but try to focus on the present. Focus on why you want to let go of the pain you’ve held on to for so long. In the beginning, it will be hard because you have been living in the past for a long time but try to bring awareness to where you are physically and emotionally. Doing the work is part of keeping your commitment to let go.
Throughout this process, remember to be gentle with yourself. Don’t demand too much at once.
- Practice mindfulness
One thing that can help you shift your focus away from the past is mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness encourages you to set your eyes on the present and enjoy where you are right now. Being in the present moment allows you the freedom to choose how you want to live
- Allow the negative emotions to pass.
During difficult moments, it is tempting to suppress your emotions. But, please don’t! As stated above, not only does emotional suppression cause extreme harm to your health, but also it feels awful.
So, just let those emotions flow out of you. Go ahead and cry, yell, or scream. It’s fine. It is much better to let tears flow than to try to hold them back.
Finally, one of the last steps to letting go of the past is acceptance. It is no coincidence that acceptance is a popular tenant for those going through recovery. Learning how to move forward from pain is, in a way, a loss because you are closing an old chapter of your life. During this step, you have to accept the events that happened to you as they happened– without romanticism or nostalgia.
Often, we are hesitant to let go because we are waiting for closure–for the other person to apologize or own up to the hurt they caused us. But, life rarely allows us those moments. You will have to suture that wound or pick up those pieces yourself. Throughout that process, you will learn how strong you are.
As you learn to let go of painful past moments, be kind to yourself, and surround yourself with people who provide you with comfort and support. Take care of yourself and allow yourself to forgive.
Chapman, B. P., Fiscella, K., Kawachi, I., Duberstein, P., & Muennig, P. (2013). Emotion suppression and mortality risk over a 12-year follow-up. Journal of psychosomatic research, 75(4), 381–385. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychores.2013.07.014
Grohol, J. M. (2014, July 22). Learning to let go of the past hurts 5 ways to move on. Psych Central. https://psychcentral.com/blog/learning-to-let-go-of-past-hurts-5-ways-to-move-on#5-Ways-to-Let-Go-of-Past-Hurts.
Haddock, P. (2019, September 28). Ready to let go of past hurts? Medium. https://medium.com/swlh/ready-to-let-go-of-past-hurts-1806bf0ac5eb.
Lindberg, S., & Browne, D. (2018, September 1). How to let go: 12 tips for letting go of the past. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-let-go.
Rice, S. M., Kealy, D., Ogrodniczuk, J. S., Seidler, Z. E., Denehy, L., & Oliffe, J. L. (2020). The Cost of Bottling It Up: Emotion Suppression as a Mediator in the Relationship Between Anger and Depression Among Men with Prostate Cancer. Cancer management and research, 12, 1039–1046. https://doi.org/10.2147/CMAR.S237770v
Stenvinkel, M. (2020, November 17). A surprising way to let go of painful feelings and the past. Tiny Buddha. https://tinybuddha.com/blog/surprising-way-let-go-painful-feelings-the-past/.