How To Know When It’s Time To Let Go Of Your Past
By: Danni Peck
Updated October 07, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
The past is a tricky thing. How do you know when it’s time to move on? The past is a part of us. We all have past experiences that form our memories and serve as reminders of who we are, and how we got to where we are today.
Often, reminiscing on the past is a good experience. We look back and smile fondly over memories that meant a lot to us at that time. Other times, our pasts can be a source of obsession and negativity that becomes unhealthy. That is our focus here.
You Find It Hard to Be Present in the Moment
One sign that it’s time to let go of your past is if you have a hard time being fully present in your current reality.
If you are constantly thinking about the past to the point where you don’t enjoy the things that you normally would, you have difficulty attending to conversations, and you are indifferent to little things that used to bring you joy, it’s time to consider that something from your past is interfering with your ability to live, fully, in the present. It is sometimes noted that depression is a result of living in the past, while anxiety, or worry, is due to living in the future. Peace, and certainly joy, result from living in the present. This suggests that signs of depression may provide evidence that you are living in the past beyond the healthy benefit of learning from it.
Some signs of depression include, but are not necessarily limited to:
Loss of interest
Loss of interest in things you used to find pleasurable
Changes in sleep patterns – can be either sleeping too much or too little
Changes in eating patterns – can be either eating too much or too little
Suicidal thoughts or intentions
People are Tired of Hearing You Tell the Same Stories Over and Over
Your friends and family should love and care about you, so it makes sense that those are the people to whom you turn when you need a listening ear. When you are experiencing a trauma or other negative circumstance, your closest friends and family may be happy to listen, but everyone’s patience has a limit. Some well-meaning others in your life may just not have the skills to listen well, even if you are not asking more than that from them. But if you have reason to trust that some of those in whom you confide are good listeners, and purveyors of wise counsel, but they, too, seem to be growing annoyed listening to you, that may be a reasonable indicator that you need more than just a listening ear. If you talk about the same turning point in your life, failed relationship, or bad memory for years, chances are people will be less receptive to listening.
When we care about someone, not only do we want them to learn and grow from their experiences, especially the most painful ones; we also want them to successfully heal and get to the point they are able to move on, into their future.
Thinking About the Past Makes You Feel Sad, Angry, or Drained
Sometimes thinking about the past can be a good thing. We look back on our mistakes and learn from them, cherish our favorite memories, and form our sense of self, based on our past.
At the same time, if thinking about the past influences your emotions and energy in a negative way, you might want to consider why that is. Constantly dwelling on negative parts of your past will keep you in that negative space.
Our brains operate through association. This means that, sometimes, when we experience an emotion today, especially strong ones, that may trigger a memory of a time in the past when we felt the same. This can add intensity to the present-day experience, thereby causing our emotion to seem out of proportion to today’s event. This is a pretty normal experience, and is helpful to understand. At the same time, if we find ourselves frequently being reminded of the same event, person, situation, or trauma, from our past, it would be wise to directly address that past event, and the emotions surrounding it, so we are better able to leave it there.
How Do You Let Go of Your Past Anyway?
Deciding to let go of your past is an important first step, which is somewhat easier said than done. However, there are many ways you can take control of your tendency to dwell about the past.
Begin Writing on a Consistent Basis
One way that you can start coming to terms with your past is by writing about it. Journaling is a great way to give attention to the things that are bothering you, without having to sound like a broken record to the people you love. One way to maximize the intended benefits of this particular activity, is that you be consistent in writing every, single day, whether you think you have anything to write or not. The reason for this that to the extent you are being assailed by unwanted, intense, intrusive, thoughts periodically throughout your day; which are distracting or painful for you; the practice of providing a venue for you to write at the time you choose each day, should pretty immediately reduce both the frequency, and the intensity, of those intrusive, ruminating thoughts and feelings overtaking you through the rest of the day. This, in and of itself, can be a meaningfully welcome relief to those who are haunted by their past.
There are additional, numerous potential benefits from such a consistent, and intentional commitment to write every day. First, this serves as a way to release your thoughts and feelings from your mind, heart and spirit, and place them onto paper. This serves as kind of an emotional cleansing, which actually tends to serve the purpose of helping you not ruminate on unwanted thoughts and feelings. Second, this often provides the opportunity to more thoroughly process something you need to work through. Third, because it is now all in writing, not only does it allow you to stop holding those thoughts and feelings inside you; it also provides the basis for potential letters or conversations, with others at some point in the future. Fourth, there is actually evidence that literally using a pen on paper provides a therapeutic benefit of its own.
Focus on What You Can Control
Also, work to stop ruminating about things that you can’t change and focus on things over which you have control. It can be crazy-making to dwell on things over which we have no control. So the more you choose to be intentional to shift your attention to things you can control, the powerful you will feel as you effect change in the present. Part of what often keeps us stuck in the past, is blame – blaming someone for what they did to us; blaming an event that harmed us; and blaming anything outside ourselves for who we are today. There is no question but that we are all impacted by our history’s. We have no responsibility for what we were subjected to at the hands of others who had power over us at any point in time. At the same time, there comes a point where it is healthiest, and most mature, to intentionally choose to accept complete responsibility for who we are going forward. Blame and change are absolutely mutually exclusive. This is because the possibility of change does not even occur to us as long as we are blaming someone, or something, else for our circumstances. And even if the idea of change does occur to us, it just makes no sense. Conversely, as soon as we begin to make changes in ourselves, then the blame no longer makes sense! So while blaming someone, or something, outside ourselves can be pretty enticing, at least for awhile; the harsh reality is that such blame is guaranteed to keep us exactly where we are right now. It is more of a prison, robbing us of our freedom and power, than anything else. This is not even remotely about blaming ourselves for things over which we have no control; it is about recognizing that as long as we choose to blame something or someone else, we have no power or control to improve who we are, or what we are experiencing.
Choose to Forgive
One of the reasons we sometimes have difficulty forgiving someone, or something, from our past, is because we interpret that forgiveness means forgetting, or excusing, the infraction. But forgiveness would not be necessary if the infraction was not meaningful. The opportunity to forgive kind of verifies that a serious offense occurred. We have the ability to extend forgiveness whether the other person acknowledges any wrong-doing, confesses, apologizes, or asks for our forgiveness. Choosing to forgive is an important, and sometimes mandatory, step in truly being able to leave our past in the past where it belongs, to free us to live fully in the present.
Seek Professional Support
Another way that you can let go of your past is by talking to a therapist. Speaking to a licensed professional can help give you a new perspective on your past and why it makes you feel the way it does.
Online counseling services like BetterHelp are a convenient and affordable resource that lets you talk to a professional about your problems via the web. A BetterHelp therapist can help you start seeing your past in different terms so it finally loses its grip on you.
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