How do I let go?

I am currently struggling pretty bad learning to let go. Learning to let go of my now senior girl who is my only child & graduates in May. Learning to let go of the love of my life since they passed away last spring even though we hadn't been together in 19 years. Learning to let go of the past when my daughter was still little. When she is not around, I sit & watch old tv shows that she watched when she was little & look at pictures of her when she was little & bawl my eyes out. And when I'm not crying over her, I'm crying of my lost love & what we had together & living in that past. I cry every single day at some point or other about one or the other & sometimes both. I AM STUCK!
Asked by Jerri

Thank you for your question. And I am sorry you are struggling and experiencing some difficulties right now.

The question of how to let go of the past entails several different things including understanding valuable lessons, coming to accept those things beyond our control, and, in some cases, too, perhaps taking some accountability. Additionally, we might need external help and support.

It is a normal, natural human tendency to wonder about how to best let the past go. We may find ourselves believing that the present pain and upset we are enduring will forever be influenced by and linked to everything that’s come before. Yet, even when our current anguish is, in fact, related to the past and those previous experiences, we can relinquish the pain by beginning to turn our attention more and more towards today.

It is truly possible to let go of what is weighing on you. You may still forever hold the memories, but the hurt doesn’t have to be so heavy on your mind and heart.

Loving friends and family might urge you to just “let go.” You are completely normal if that feels like a task which is easier said than done. But . . . . just because it’s not easy, does not mean you are stuck!

A critical step in releasing the past is to begin appreciating what you have here and now, who you are here and now. An attachment to what was can be a source of suffering – as you are experiencing. Practice being more mindful of the present. The present is really the only thing which matters and it is all we can control. The past is a memory and all its contents can never be changed. The future is just a guess, it’s an unknown that just dwells in your imagination. But the present is right here now waiting for you to act. Engage more with your life right now – not yesterday, not even later on tonight. But now. It’s easy to lose sight of one important fact - one of the best ways to let go of the past is to stop living in it. That is a deliberate, conscious choice we can make – one we can keep purposefully and intentionally making until it just becomes natural.

That said, developing a plan of personal growth for yourself can be an incredibly powerful thing. Improving and learning is both a way to distract from ruminating on the past, as well as it’s an empowering way to form a life you look forward to waking up to each day. What might growth look like for you? That’s going to vary from person to person. Are there dreams you have? How do you want to be remembered someday? What skills do you have which could benefit others – giving back and serving is one very good way to add value and give yourself new purpose and meaning. No matter what, you always have something that can help others. And one of the great secrets to living well is to give generously – even if all you have some days is a smile. It can be a good way to improve your life and it will help you move on from the past. Even if you have little more to give than a listening ear to someone who needs to talk – you always have a gift to give no matter how broken you might feel. And as you give, you will feel more productive and you will begin to heal.

Another idea is to seek out supportive, positive people. We tend to become who we surround ourselves with. If you are around people, places, and things which keep pulling you into the past, then seek out those individuals who will help pull you forward. Find others who are dedicated to growth and to progress. Maybe take a class. Find them at a local church.

Further, gratitude is a powerful tool. It sounds like you have a rich past with many things you can be grateful for. Turn your attention toward today. What are the things in your present life which you can express gratitude for? Consider getting yourself a journal and keeping track of them. Every little thing matters. Perhaps you saw a beautiful bird outside the window. I often see squirrels in my backyard, chasing each other – it always makes me laugh and that is thus a moment to be grateful for. Or maybe you have warm socks to keep your toes cozy. Perhaps you have nice eyes. Maybe you are grateful for the refreshing glass of cool water you are able to drink when you are thirsty. Bring yourself into today and see all the things around you which you can count as blessings.

Decide that letting go of the past is “must” for you. Think about anything from the past you could be holding onto. Are there hurts or regrets you have? Do you need to offer forgiveness to anyone? And then spend time reflecting on the reasons for moving on – how can life change if you move on?

If you continue to have a difficult time letting go, then don’t hesitate to seek out support. A therapist can work with you to help you explore what your unique challenges are. And they can help you develop coping skills which will assist you in moving forward.