Are you haunted by your past?
Do the ghosts of yesterday hang around, murmuring, moaning and groaning about old wounds and hurts; regrets about the things you did, or the things you didn’t do?
Do they prod you with their spiky fork of guilt and shame for good measure?
Perhaps it’s something about the end of a relationship, with all the loss and grief that goes with that; or your dysfunctional childhood, the less than perfect parents, siblings or family, or the doctors that let you down, the law, the institution, the country, the universe?
‘You’ve been wronged’, say the ghosts. ‘It’s not fair. How dare life treat you like that?’ They make you angry…. very angry, or sad, or anxious, or upset.
Better with, or better without?
Be honest, when you think about those things from the past, does it make you feel better, or worse?
It’s like when you go for a sight test and read the letters on the screen, and they change the lens, asking, ‘better with… or better without?’
Think about it, would you be better without the regrets of the past? What if you could successfully exorcise those negative demons, for good? What if you could simply change the lens through which you choose to view the world?
Anger, hurt, regret, guilt and shame weigh us down.
If you imagine climbing a mountain with a backpack filled with rocks, you’ll realise that rocky burden is going to slow you down, making the climb so much harder than it need be.
The big news is, we have more choice about the contents of our backpack than we realise.
So often we live our lives in a prison of our own making and can’t see that we are actually holding the key in our own hand.
If we remain imprisoned by the burdens and regrets of the past, we are giving away our personal power to others, or to life circumstances, and the ever-present negativity is like wearing our own set of shackles, having a personal cloud hanging over us; or our very own black dog of depression as an unwanted companion.
Life is a journey
Human beings are naturally goal focused.
On our journey through life, emotional health is represented by a forward, outward, upward mindset.
We look forward to activities, projects and outings. We focus outward on connecting with others, family and friends, work and hobbies and we set our sights upward on ambitions, goals and achievements. When we approach life in that way, we feel good.
But when we begin to focus backward, inward and downward, we start to become self obsessed and suddenly, it’s all about ‘me’;’ how am I feeling, look how they did me wrong, look how the universe is against me’. We begin to dwell on the past. In a way, we become ‘selfish’ and that ends up making us feel bad.
If you are spending too much time looking in the mirror and not enough looking out of the window, it might be time to stop, notice your choices and reclaim some control.
It’s a fact that, when we land in this world, there’s no guarantee we will be on the receiving end of good parenting.
Having children does not automatically make you a good parent, just like owning a grand piano does not turn you into a concert pianist. And when you realise that, when questioned, more than 80% of people say their family was dysfunctional in some way, suddenly you are not so alone.
We should all thank our parents for a very real gift. Sometimes they model how to do it, and sometimes they give us such a clear picture of how it should not be done, that we choose to do it differently for our own children.
And you survived, right?
That makes you a survivor not a victim, doesn’t it?
Look, perhaps you really were wronged; someone let you down, betrayed your trust and you’re still feeling the repercussions of that.
If there are children from a previous relationship, you simply cannot just shut the door on the past, because some of that past is still current in your life.
Hey, we pick up scars along the way; the scar on your knee where you fell over on the beach when you were twelve, the operation scar, the stretch marks, the bald patch, the frown lines, the laughter lines.
Life leaves marks on us, both physical and emotional…and we need to celebrate all those scars.
The artist Grayson Perry created a large and magnificent vase. It looked Chinese from a distance but, when examined closely, it became clear it was decorated with words, pictures and symbols representing the colourful life of his subject, disgraced UK politician, Chris Huhne. It truly was a magnificent piece of art.
However, just at the point where the vase was finished, when it was beautifully glazed and fired, Perry took a hammer to it…… and smashed it.
He took the broken pieces to an expert in the ancient art of pottery restoration and the expert carefully pieced the pot together again. The restoration was excellent and the cracks were barely visible.
But then the expert restorer did something unexpected and truly extraordinary.
Rather than try to hide the cracks, he used fine gold leaf to trace the lines of the repair so that they now glowed and became a beautiful shimmering golden thread which ran all around the pot.
The gold leaf became a celebration of the life of the pot; its original form, its fall into ruin and its re-creation into something almost, but not quite the same; something new and unique that celebrated, rather than tried to hide its history.
Hiding in plain sight is a secret we all need to know. It’s this:
No one can hurt you without your permission. Holding onto anger is like holding onto a hot coal or drinking poison to harm your enemies. Either way, it’s you that gets harmed in the long run.
Ok, perhaps you now see the sense of letting go of the past, but it’s easier said than done, right?
It’s like, ‘don’t just tell me what to do, tell me how.’
7 ways to let go of the past
#1 Put a fence around it
Whatever the problem, whatever the hurt, whatever the issue, there is really no point in thinking about it 24/7 with the same old thoughts going round and round in your head like a broken record.
Get yourself a notebook and sit down every day for 15 minutes to get all of that internal anger, hurt and frustration down onto paper. Then use the 4D technique to ask yourself;
- Do I need to do something about this?
- Can I delay doing something about this?
- Do I need to delegate this problem and get somebody else to do something about it?
- Do I need to ditch it altogether; accept there is nothing I can do? I simply need to put it on the back burner, refocus and move on.
#2 Thought stopping
That angry inner dialogue can leave us feeling permanently irritated and down.
In our minds, we are either beating ourselves up or beating up others.
Perhaps it’s time to be a little kinder to yourself and others. Accept we all make mistakes. If you notice those same old negative words going around in your head, simply say the word ‘STOP’ to yourself and replace them with something more positive and life affirming such as, ‘I choose to learn from the past, let go of the past and refocus on the future.’
Choose to be your own best friend, instead of your own worst enemy.
#3 Box it up
Often we focus on all the negatives about the past; the end of a relationship and all the things that went wrong.
A positive memory box is a wonderful way to celebrate either a person or a period in our lives. Some greetings cards, a piece of special jewellery, photographs and mementos. Pick the things that have positive associations and celebrate the past.
All experience is about acquisition of wisdom and learning. Those experiences which do not kill us inevitably make a stronger in some way.
#4 Let go
Forgiveness can feel like an extra burden for so many people. We are often told to ‘forgive and forget’ but this is easier said than done and sometimes feels like just another responsibility; something else to beat ourselves up for if we can’t do it…. yet.
While you’re waiting to forgive, perhaps you could give yourself permission to ‘just let go’.
Let go of the hurt, let go of the issue, let go of the worry, let go of the guilt, let go of the blame and feel lighter as a result.
#5 The letter
Expressing powerful emotions is a really positive and cathartic thing to do.
You can get those feelings from the inside to the outside by writing a letter you may never
send. In the letter you can convey all of your hurt, all of your anger and all of your pent-up emotions to the universe, the other party or to life in general.
Just bringing those emotions out into the world and letting them see the light of day can be really cleansing. Some people choose to throw the letter away or even burn it, perhaps even filming the destruction of the letter on their phone.
It’s all symbolic but it really does work.
#6 The ‘ta-da’ list
What we focus on is what we get.
If you’re simply focusing on all of the bad things, all the negatives and the people who hurt you from the past, then you’re going to feel bad in the here and now.
But if you choose to refocus on all of the positive things from the past and all the positive things you’re grateful for, then suddenly you feel much better.
When we build a ‘ta-da’ list instead of just a to-do list, we remind ourselves of the good stuff. We rewire our brains to stop and savour all those positive moments which can simply evaporate if we don’t consciously choose to notice them. We can all expand our positive memory banks by doing this and feel so much better for it.
#7 The best revenge
Finally, we can’t change the past, or make it disappear from our minds, but we can start to build a better future by learning from our mistakes and making good choices in the future.
And, deep down, in the end, we know the very best revenge is a life well lived.