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10 Helpful Tips to Let Go of Your Past (By a Psychotherapist)

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When people have difficulty letting go of events or relationships from their past, it is often due to unresolved conflict or unfulfilled promises. As human beings, we want answers and closure; without these, the unresolved conflict becomes a ghost that haunts our present and future relationships.

The Story of Ansley and James: How They Let Go Of the Past

The story of Ansley and James is helpful to understand how someone’s past can affect the future, and what to do to let go of the past.

Ansley and her husband, James, have been married for three years. Last year they sought couple therapy to help them work through issues with communication and Ansley’s jealousy and insecurity. Ansley’s jealousy affected nearly every aspect of their lives: she erupted in anger any time her husband, James, smiled at a server, and she combed through his social media. James says he doesn’t notice when women flirt with him, and that makes Ansley even angrier.

After hearing their story, the therapist asks if they would participate in the creation of a genogram, which is like a family tree, but is used to identify patterns and issues across generations. The genogram reveals that Ansley’s parents divorced when she was eight due to her father’s repeated infidelity.

Recognizing the root of Ansley’s insecurity and jealousy was the first step toward saving this relationship. Ansley’s family had been marked by infidelity, to the point that it’s been normalized behavior in her mind. So how did Ansley managed to “let of of the past” and improve her relationship with James?

Ansley and James continued couple therapy over the next few weeks to improve their communication. Ansley also began to see her own personal therapist to help reduce her anxiety and develop more effective coping skills so she can finally move forward from her past.

10 Tips to Let Go of the Past and Move Forward

  1. Work with a therapist. A therapist can help you recognize why the past is taking up so much space in your present. Knowing the origins often brings feelings of relief, paving the way for the work ahead.
  2. Imagine your life without the weight of the past holding you down. To imagine your future without the weight of the past, try this, says psychotherapist Jane Greer: “Close your eyes and imagine yourself moving forward, knowing you have let go of the past. How does it feel? When we let go of a grudge or hurt, we feel lighter and freer.”
  3. Use mindfulness techniques such as yoga or long walks. Mindfulness techniques can help you experience and appreciate the positives of the present. Examples of mindfulness techniques include slowing down your breath during meditation, practicing yoga and taking a long walk.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. Focus on the positives of your partner, your career, friendships, etc. Read our article on the top things to be grateful for to view over 40 examples.
  5. Remember that letting go of the past is releasing it, not repressing it. Repression is about stuffing away your memories instead of processing them, which can lead to emotional problems down the line. To process your emotions, try writing your thoughts in a journal, going on a long walk, or talking about what happened with a therapist.
  6. Envision what you can do with time not spent dwelling over the past. How will you use your time? Visualize turning the page on the past to free up energy for something else.
  7. Challenge irrational thoughts or self-doubt associated with this past conflict. For example, you may have thoughts like ‘I’m not good enough for her/him,’ or ‘I don’t deserve to be happy.’ Challenge these negative thoughts by thinking rationally about your past and present relationships.
  8. Engage in activities that are future focused. If you feel stuck in the past, ask yourself questions like ‘What do I want to accomplish today?’ or ‘How can I better myself in the next few months?’. Working towards a future that you look forward to can help you forget about your past.
  9. Explore your community for new restaurants, shops, recreation, etc that do not present reminders of the past. This can give you more experiences that inspire positive memories and new discoveries.
  10. Remind yourself that the past is just a memory and does not control your future unless you let it. You can’t change what happened in the past, but you can learn from it. Use this knowledge to create a better future for yourself.

Why is it so Important to Let Go of the Past?

Holding onto the past is often due to a need to resolve past conflict or to obtain closure. Failure to let go of the past causes problems in current and future relationships. Not letting go of our past means we are more likely to repeat it and get stuck.

Releasing those old ghosts is liberating, allowing for a healthier, more productive future.

When Should you Seek a Professional to Help you Deal with Your Past?

We all have memories that may be painful, or we may have had a relationship we cannot quite let go of.

However, if you are reliving past trauma or emotional pain that interrupts your ability to function, then it may be time to seek professional help. Your pain is your pain, and no one can tell you how to experience it, but there are qualified professionals who can help you work through it.

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of depression that last more than two weeks, it is time to seek help. Some of these symptoms include:

  • A loss of interest in activities you once found pleasurable
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Loss or increase in appetite
  • Insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

These symptoms can indicate a serious crisis. If you feel you or someone you love is in danger of self-harming, contact the 24-Hour Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

A mental health professional can help you understand the root causes of your inability to let go of the past. Uncovering your motivations will greatly improve your chances of moving forward in a healthy way.

How Do You Let Go of Someone You Love Dearly, but is Unhealthy for You?

The most difficult people to let go are often those with whom we have been romantically involved. When the breakup happens and the shock and anger have subsided, there is a tendency to idealize the person and the relationship.

Relationships involve two people. There is no such thing as the relationship being good for just one person. It is important to be realistic about the relationship, and the other party involved. Using techniques from cognitive behavioral therapy, challenge these idealized thoughts.

Write yourself the letter you would write to a good friend who was hung up on a person with whom they were not happy.

Be your own best friend and be a bit tough on yourself. Tell yourself that you deserve more than you got. Tell yourself that you do not want to be in a relationship where your feelings are not returned 100%.

How Can you Move Forward from your Past?

Remember a few simple things:

  • Every past relationship is merely a learning experience for the next one to come.
  • Just because I was not right for this person, does not mean I am not right for anyone.
  • Just because this person was not right for me, does not mean that the right person does not exist.
  • Adversity makes me a stronger person.
  • I have the strength to get past the past.

Your past does not dictate your future. With the right steps, you can learn and grow, and finally move forward from your past by letting go.

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