Why cant i let go of the past

Tips for relationships, regret, and trauma

Letting go of the past can be challenging. Events that people found difficult can have a significant influence on their daily life, from their beliefs to the decisions they make.

Some examples of past events that can be difficult to let go of include:

  • intimate relationships
  • perceived successes or failures
  • mistakes or regrets
  • events that were upsetting or disturbing

However, there are ways to address the lingering effects of past experiences. This may involve practicing self-compassion, trying mindfulness as a way of focusing on the present moment, or seeking therapy to explore unresolved feelings.

This article will look at how people can let go of past traumas and hurts, why doing this can be difficult, and some tips for specific situations.

Life experiences affect people in a variety of ways. Some people find it easy to move on after a difficult experience, while others find that these experiences have a lasting impact on their mental health.

People who struggle to let go of specific events from the past may have experienced trauma. Trauma is a kind of psychological wound that can result from any distressing experience, such as loss, danger, or deep embarrassment.

Often, people associate trauma with being involved in a violent event, such as war. However, it can affect anyone. The distress it causes can also change how people think.

Some people experience rumination, or a tendency to think excessively about the same things. According to an article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor on Psychology, people who ruminate often have a history of trauma and believe that ruminating helps them gain insight.

However, rumination may actually make it more difficult to solve problems, thereby preventing people from moving forward. It is a common feature of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

People can also hold onto the past for other reasons. For example, they may long for positive experiences that are now over or dwell on past events because of an unconscious desire to avoid being hurt in the future.

The following steps may help people begin to move on from troubling memories, such as past mistakes or regrets.

Make a commitment to let go

The first step toward letting go is realizing that it is necessary and feeling ready to do so. This can happen at different times for different people, but once someone makes this decision, it can be empowering.

Feel the feelings

Memories of past events can bring up complex or strong emotions. Allowing oneself to feel those feelings unconditionally, without trying to fight or fix them, is an important step toward processing what happened.

This can be difficult, so it may help to express these feelings in a safe place, such as in a journal, with a trusted friend, or with a therapist.

Take responsibility

If relevant, it can help people who feel guilt, embarrassment, or shame about the past to take responsibility for their role in the event. This does not mean blaming oneself, but simply acknowledging what happened and taking ownership of past actions.

This can help people feel less helpless and feel that if they can take responsibility for the past, they can do the same for the future.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a skill that encourages people to focus on what is happening in the present. This can help people who struggle with rumination.

One 2016 paper suggests that people who are more mindful experience less rumination and are more likely to be compassionate toward themselves.

Some ways to practice mindfulness include:

  • noticing small joys, such as the taste of a delicious meal or the warmth of the sun on the skin
  • spending time in nature, bringing attention back to the environment whenever the mind wanders
  • engaging in mindful, creative hobbies, such as drawing or playing musical instruments
  • practicing mindfulness meditation

There are many ways to meditate. Beginners trying mindfulness meditation can try:

  1. sitting somewhere quiet, with no distractions
  2. closing the eyes and taking several deep breaths
  3. focusing on inhaling and exhaling
  4. when thoughts of the past come up, simply allowing them for a moment before returning the focus to breathing

This continual process of returning to the present is the basis of mindfulness. Some may find it helpful to visualize their thoughts floating away, while others may prefer to repeat a phrase that reminds them of the present.

Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness, care, and forgiveness.

People can practice self-compassion by changing their self-talk. This involves noticing when their thoughts become critical and replacing them with more forgiving alternatives. Keeping a self-compassion journal can be a good way to practice this skill.

It can be particularly difficult to let go of relationships, as humans form deep attachments with each another.

In addition to the above tips, people can take additional steps to let go of a relationship, such as:

  • temporarily or permanently limiting contact with ex-partners
  • reducing reminders of them, such as by hiding them on social media
  • setting and respecting boundaries
  • spending time on self-care and personal growth
  • focusing on what is possible outside of the relationship

According to psychologist Dr. Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., older research suggests that thinking about positive aspects of a breakup may help minimize feelings of loss. For example, after a relationship ends, some people may be able to pursue new goals, such as traveling, getting a pet, or finding a new career.

People who have been in unhealthy or abusive relationships may require additional support with letting go, as trauma bonding can occur. Trauma bonding refers to having an unhealthy attachment to a person who has treated someone abusively.

Feelings of unresolved anger, betrayal, and resentment are common among those who struggle to let go of a past event. Anger and resentment can also occur in the aftermath of trauma or as an associated feature of PTSD.

Some additional steps to take to manage this emotion include:

Expressing anger in a safe way

Some people feel hesitant about expressing anger. However, psychologist Dr. Howard Kassinove states that anger and aggression are not the same. While anger is a feeling and physiological state, aggression involves taking action on those feelings — often in a way that causes harm.

It is possible to express anger in a safe way. For example, people can try:

  • writing about their feelings on paper and then throwing it away
  • expressing their feelings through art, music, or other creative hobbies
  • engaging in exercise or sports, such as running

People with anger as a result of trauma or PTSD may benefit from additional trauma therapies.

Being open to forgiveness

The topic of forgiveness is controversial among people who have experienced wrongdoing, such as betrayal, injustice, or abuse.

However, the National Domestic Violence Hotline emphasize that forgiveness does not mean condoning the harmful actions of others or accepting their apologies.

Instead, forgiveness can mean accepting that someone’s actions were damaging while also letting go of anger in order to benefit one’s own well-being.

It can take time to work toward forgiving others or forgiving oneself. It may involve processing emotional pain, understanding what caused it, and thinking about what it would take to forgive.

Those who feel the need to control many aspects of their lives may do so because they struggle to trust themselves or others. They may have had adverse experiences that created a fear of uncertainty, causing them to feel that the only solution is to control events as much as possible.

Learning to let go of control may involve:

  • identifying why the need for control exists and exploring beliefs surrounding what happens if one “loses” control
  • identifying feelings or events that trigger the need for control and thinking of ways to cope with them in a healthier way
  • practicing letting go of control in small, manageable steps, such as by delegating a task to somebody else
  • beginning to make decisions based on love, rather than fear

Over time, this may help people prove to themselves that they do not need to control things in order to be happy or to solve problems.

If letting go of the past is proving challenging and negative thoughts and emotions persist for weeks or months, people can consider seeing a therapist.

There are many types of therapy, including some low cost options for people who need them. Some common forms of therapy include:

  • acceptance and commitment therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • mindfulness-based stress reduction

People with experiences of trauma or PTSD may also benefit from therapies such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing.

Learn about the different types of therapy here.

Letting go of the past is not always easy, particularly if a person has experienced emotional pain that is unresolved. However, there are ways to move on from the past and improve one’s mental health in the process.

This could include finding a safe space to process difficult feelings, cultivating self-compassion, and practicing mindfulness in order to be more present in the moment.

With time, memories from the past can become easier to deal with.

How to Let Go of the Past

How often do you feel that you can't move on? No matter how hard you try, you are living in the past. Like you are carrying a heavy burden that gets you stuck.

"Let go," your friends tell you. It sounds so simple, yet feels so hard. You can't stop holding to a grudge or a betrayal. Every time you want to move on, the past captures your undivided attention.

Rumination is a curious habit. It's like binge-watching bad movies on Netflix. That's what happens when we can let go of the past. We make sad stories play nonstop. The more we watch our life's movie, the more it hurts.

What if I tell you that it's possible to stop the rumination process? But, first, let's understand why we get stuck.

Stop Losing Yourself into the Past

If we can't change the past, why do we continue to live it?

According to neuroscience, the brain handles negative and positive information differently. Negative experiences require more thinking and, thus, are processed more thoroughly. This causes our brains to become better at remembering adverse events.

Reliving sad memories makes us feel like a hamster in the wheel — no matter how hard we try, we can't move forward.

You can't change how your brain works. But you can train yourself to get off of the hamster wheel. That requires cutting the emotional attachment we have with the past, especially negative experiences.

We usually have a hard time accepting that someone hurt us. Recognizing an unhappy ending makes us feel weak and embarrassed.

Eckhart Tolle -the most popular spiritual author in the United States, according to the New York Times- once said, "There is a fine balance between honoring the past and losing yourself in it. You can acknowledge and learn from the mistakes you made and then move on. It's called forgiving yourself."

You get the point. To move on, you have to reframe your relationship with the past.

How to Stop Ruminating

1. Stop trying to be the hero of your story

We've all been hurt. It's sad and embarrassing — no-one wants to look weak. That's why we construct our idealized version of the past. And blame others instead of taking ownership for what happened.

Everything in life has a beginning and an ending. You don't need to continue rehashing your past to keep it alive. Make peace with the end, especially if it was ugly, and move on.

2. Don't let others define who you are

Blaming others when things go wrong makes us lose control. We are letting them define the terms of how we live.

You can't control what other people do, but you can control how you react. Focusing on what people did (to you) is a distraction. Regain control of what you can manage and choose to live life on your own terms, not someone else's.

3. Learn to forgive yourself

When something goes wrong, we tend to blame ourselves, too. We have a hard time accepting that we make mistakes and let our perfectionist mindset take over.

Did you make a mistake? Fine, we all do. Learn to forgive yourself. Errors can be corrected. Mistakes are not a final destination but a stop that prepares us for the journey. We must learn from them and continue moving forward.

4. Don't let your problems define you

When we get so stuck in a problem, it becomes hard to separate the event from who we are. According to Eckhart Tolle, we also create and maintain problems because they give us a sense of identity.

Your stories shape you but don't define your identity. Don't let a bitter experience become who you are. Letting go of a past story makes space for new ones. Focus on the here and now and become at peace with yourself.

5. Build a Teflon mind

All our struggles stem from attachment. We are so in love with someone that we can't separate the 'me' from the 'we.' We are so passionate about our careers that we let our job titles define our identity.

There's nothing wrong with loving someone or our jobs. The problem is when we are so attached to them that the fear of losing them doesn't allow us to enjoy them today.

Ajahn Brahm explains the idea of "Teflon Mind" in this humorous and inspirational talk. The British-Australian Buddhist monk advises that the best way to let go of something that hurts is not to let it stick first.

Letting go of the past is not forgetting what happened, but to let go of our expectations. We don't suffer because a relationship ended. We suffer because we wanted it to last forever.

Instead of letting broken expectations get stuck in your mind, honor the positive experiences-- both past and present.

Let go of attachment

Most people can't let go of the past because they don't appreciate their present. Reframing our relationship with our past requires us to stop thinking of how things should be and accept them for what they are.

As Dalai Lama said, "Attachment is the origin, the root of suffering; hence it is the cause of suffering. "

Letting go of the past doesn't mean that things weren't good while they lasted. It's about remembering the good moments instead of allowing an unhappy ending cloud the whole experience.

Want to let go of the past? Start by appreciating what you have here and now: your present.

How to let go of the past, or why you continue to sit on the pages of the former

“It used to be better” - you probably know this phrase. Some people use it too often because the present doesn't live up to their expectations. The most radical of them even try their best to reclaim their past. In the movies, such personalities become supervillains, antagonists, or time travelers, but in real life, everything is much more complicated. We figured out why letting go of the past is so difficult and what to do to get rid of the desire to build a time machine. nine0003

Why do you still love your past?

It is not necessary to love your past with all your heart in order to want to return to it. Memories are a huge array of knowledge, emotions that can both soothe and cause sleepless nights when you think about how it was worth answering in that conversation ten years ago. Mentally, you go back to episodes that could have affected your present or that actually had an effect on it, whether it was a painful breakup, a job change, or going to the zoo with your family when you were a child. nine0007

The past has many advantages over the present and the future: it is already emotionally filled and understandable.

There is no uncertainty in him anymore

Psychologists believe that people who are dissatisfied with what they have now love to return to the past. To dissatisfaction, you can also add fear of uncertainty, not knowing what tomorrow will be - these feelings cause anxiety and stress, and then memories become an explanation or a protective cocoon. Since the memory consists of past events, there are no surprises in it, it is understandable and linear, like a favorite movie that you can watch on rainy evenings or on New Year's Eve. nine0007

Your memory chooses the best

Our memory is selective because the brain processes a large number of external and internal signals - it tends to remember what it considers important or applicable in the future. It can be a pleasant experience of communicating with loved ones, because it stimulates the motivation and reward system, or, conversely, a stressful situation, the experience of solving which may be useful in the future. However, over time, memories can be erased or deformed, supplemented with details that were not there, or, conversely, fade. Such falsification of memories can serve as a defense mechanism of the psyche, which retains only the important, or, conversely, smooths out the traumatic experience. nine0007

Remembering your past self, you can evaluate and identify when you were happy or made mistakes.

How to look at life from the bright side and successfully deal with stress? Learn this in the Antifragility course.

Drama triangle and whirlpool of memories

The desire to repeat the positive experience of the past is absolutely normal. An alarming call is the situation when a person constantly spins the same episode from different angles, as if forgetting to turn off the replay function, looking for someone to blame or an explanation for the events of the past. This may be familiar to people who have gone through a painful breakup: they may still be in the bargaining stage, with ex-partners trying to get "things the way they were." nine0007

In such a situation, thoughts about the past, like a whirlpool, pull a person into a dramatic triangle, which Stephen Karpman once described. The concept of the drama triangle is used to describe a role play that takes place in a dysfunctional relationship. There are three roles in this game - the Persecutor (aka the aggressor), the Victim and the Rescuer. The number of players can be different depending on the situation, and even alone you can play for a long time, you just need to jump from one role to another in time in the internal dialogue. nine0007

How would such a monologue look, for example, for a person who has not let go of a past relationship:

Victim: “Maybe this decision was made hastily? I emotionalized too much, I needed to talk, figure everything out. Now all I have to do is listen to sad music alone.”

Rescuer: “No, everything was done right, that person did not appreciate my emotions and desires. It's even good that we broke up now that we have good memories of each other, so that we didn't get up to our necks in hatred. Maybe I escaped a relationship with an abuser or manipulator and was able to catch him at first.

Persecutor: “I’m to blame for everything a: if I didn’t take a so close to my heart, nothing would have happened. It was probably difficult for that person to endure all these quirks, loneliness is my lot, so I definitely won’t spoil the next relationship, because there will be nothing to spoil.

This part can be played at different times of the day. What distinguishes it from reflection? None of the participants offers a constructive solution to the problem, but with each new turn, this discussion will take the person further away from reality. He will rummage through his memories in search of episodes that will confirm his guilt or the mistakes of another person, and while his mind is busy with this leapfrog, all relevant questions (perhaps much more unpleasant) will be put on hold indefinitely. Such unpleasant questions will be, for example, finding a new partner, resolving the consequences of a breakup, and so on. nine0007

How to let go of the past?

If you still want to let go of the past in order to move into a calm and rich future, in addition to the support of a specialist if necessary, several practices will help you.

Write letters

Write letters to your past self, talk about your emotions, conclusions, grievances and decisions. At the end, be sure to thank yourself for the experience. You can also try sending letters to the future (there are several online services for this), or you can send a letter from your own mailbox by setting it on a timer, but this is not so interesting anymore. Send letters a year, five or ten years ahead, write about your fears or your greatest joys. In a few years, you yourself will be surprised and laugh. nine0007

Accept what has happened

No matter how much you want to, you can't turn back time. Recognize and accept what you can no longer fix. Perhaps this will take some time.

Admit guilt, ask for forgiveness, make peace

Often we have an old feeling of guilt that prevents us from living in peace, so if you have such an opportunity, admit it or even ask for forgiveness. No matter how much time has passed since the conflict: sincere apologies have no expiration date. nine0007

Aleksandra Ivanitskaya





10 tips for those who can't let go of the past . For those who are stuck in the past, the only thing left is to learn to let it go. Heroine gives important tips to help you start a new life.

1. Forgive

If the person who hurt you can only offer an apology, accept it. Too bad he didn't build a time machine and go back in time to fix things, but let's be realistic. nine0007

Even if you never hear a person say sorry, forgive them. This is not a weakness, but a way to get out of the situation as an adult and heal yourself.

2. Live in the present

How to let go of the past? Live in the present. Sounds logical, but it's actually a little more complicated than it looks.

Learn to focus on the moment, fill every day with events, do not leave yourself time for self-digging. This requires effort, especially if you are not yet very strong in awareness. Life should not be a backdrop to your memories. nine0007

3. Apologize

Sometimes we go back to the past because of guilt. All you can do is express sincere remorse, but this is not enough. Say what you had to say instead of replaying your regrets in your head. This will help you forget about everything and move on.

4. Set goals

Looking to the future is much more productive than looking back all the time. Think about what you want and focus on achieving your goal. Even if it is a global dream - to start a family, build a career, see many countries - you can do something for this today. nine0007

5. Recognize your role in what happened

Take responsibility for everything that happened to you and stop looking for extremes.

Realizing your role does not mean shifting all the blame on yourself. Accept who you were, even if it's unpleasant. Do not hide behind the phrases "I was forced", "I was misled." Stop being a plaything in the hands of circumstances. Accept the fact that the relationship can not be returned, and devote time to creating a new you.

1Read Related: 7 Signs You're Suppressing Childhood Memories

6. Get away from people who live only in the past

If someone constantly talks about a time that you want to forget, you should directly say that it is unpleasant for you. Explain that you do not need pity, reproaches, regrets and do not want to discuss this topic anymore. Those who do not understand, you can also leave in the past.

7. Learn a lesson

If you are already delving into memories and past mistakes, do it with benefit. Instead of rhetorically: “Why do I need all this?”, Think: “What did I learn from this. ” nine0007

It is one thing to turn to the past in order to make a decision in the present, and another thing to wander aimlessly in it, wasting emotions on destructive behavior.

There is a lesson in everything that happens to you. And that's the only thing that memories are useful for.

8. Be patient

Trust in the healing process. Just because six months have passed and you're still suffering doesn't mean you can't do anything.

It's pointless to just sit and wait for everything to be forgotten. Ask the Internet: "How to start over" and complain to your friends. New life will not be put under the door with a note: "You deserve it." You have to go and do it yourself: evolve, travel, make new friends and stop feeling sorry for yourself. nine0007

9. Let thoughts and emotions out

The past is still in your head because you didn't let it go. Write down all the experiences on paper and burn. Collect everything that reminds you of what happened, and destroy it, the more effective, the better.

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