“To get over the past, you first have to accept that the past is over. No matter how many times you revisit it, analyze it, regret it or sweat it, it’s over. It can hurt you no more.” ~ Mandy Hale
I woke up in the middle of the night. I was soaking wet from my sweat, my heart was pounding hard in my chest and my head was heavy. My cheeks were wet with tears.
I just had a bad dream.
I closed my eyes, trying to go back to sleep again. But the heavy feeling in my chest made me feel uncomfortable, and I started to recall my dream.
What did I dream about?
I dreamed about going back home and fought with my dad, who I stopped talking to for a couple years.
We were both out of line and I blamed myself for it.
I always felt guilty because of it.
Families are supposed to be happy and conflict-free. And because of me, there was a shadow hanging in my parents’ house that no matter how hard we tried to ignore it, it always lingered.
And I am the one to blame.
If you ask me what I regret doing in my life, that will be the top in my list.
Then it hit me.
I couldn’t let go of my past. Especially the hurtful parts.
My wrong approach with my painful past
As a normal human being, when things didn’t go my way, when my feelings were hurt, I shoved painful memories into the back of my mind. And I tried to forget about them in the hope that one day it would be totally forgotten.
But it is impossible.
I could never truly let go of my past if I never dared to face it.
I learned that lesson the hard way.
It was after hours and hours of meditation, keeping a gratitude journal and practicing mindfulness that my past came back from the grave and haunted me.
I thought I was calm and peaceful, but in fact, I still dwelled in the past. My nightmare was the obvious answer.
As I become more and more aware of my own feelings, I finally have the courage to face them.
Closure of my past memories
Stop pretending that everything is ok and you are cool with your past.
There is no right or wrong when it comes to feeling. Because the heart never justifies.
I am a logical person. I know my past hurts and there is nothing I can do today to alter my past. I tried to reason with myself. I know the many reasons to stop dwelling on the past.
All the reasons are very convincing and I shouldn’t even feel anything when it comes to painful memories.
But there is one problem with it. That’s not how the heart works.
I still remember. I still feel. I still hurt.
But instead of trying to ignore my feelings, I let myself free to feel this time. Feel whatever my mind wants to feel. Even if it brings me pain, even if it brings m chaos, it is the most crucial step to truly let go.
Acknowledge how past memories affect you
We are protective creatures. That’s how we are wired to survive. And because of it, we tend to react in a way that guarantees our safety.
But this backfires on us in most cases.
My feelings were hurt because of my dad. And I found myself withdrawing from any conversations that involved him. I tried to stay as far away as possible from him, and avoid talking to him to the most possible extent.
In fact, I am the one that creates the heavy atmosphere in my family without awareness. I am the one that keeps lingering in the conflict and never lets go. Because of it, I tend to catch everyone else’s action to convince myself that the tension in my family is still there.
Accept that you cannot change the past, but you can change how you view it
We cannot recreate our past no matter how many times we recall it and tell ourselves “if only”. But we can change how we see it and handle it.
Instead of holding onto the pain, acknowledge the pain and let it go.
I wrote down on a piece of paper how much my painful past hurts me and how it negatively impacts my life. I don’t have the power to undo it, but I have the power to stop getting hurt because of it, and I can choose to let it go.
Affirm to yourself that you are able to forgive people and forgive yourself, and you are easing the scars your past has left you.
Engage with your past memories in a healthy way
Once you allow yourself to feel how you truly feel and recognize how you react, it’s time to engage with your past to slowly ease your pain. It means that you stop reacting the same way when it comes to something similar to your past.
I used to withdraw from places that involved my father, leaving the conflict hanging and even more noticable.
Now I tell myself that the awkward situation was my creation, and that I have full control to choose to keep engaging with my family without causing any conflict. I gradually started to believe myself and I stop running away from conversations and places that involve my father.
Here are two of the tools I use:
1. Meditation is the most powerful tool to connect with your inner-self and to realize your own emotions. It helps us to calm our chaos, open up our feelings and reduce negative self-talk.
I didn’t know I was still dwelling in the past until after hours and hours of meditation, after my connection with my inner-self reached to the higher level that she started to let me know how I truly felt.
2. Self-affirmation. This is the hard truth: there is no magic method that you can do to let go of your past. It can be done but it requires hard work, attention, and repetition. And you can make yourself believe in it through repetition.
I now affirm that I acknowledge my painful past and I am willing to let it go.
“I forgive myself.”
“I love myself for being able to let me know exactly how I feel.”
“I am grateful for recognizing my painful past, I am ready to let go and move on.”
Be grateful for the progress
If you are like me, you will catch yourself feeling you should “get over it”. But no matter how many times you tell yourself that, you just cannot “get over it”.
And it is ok.
Because life is much more complicated. You cannot expect your brain to think differently, your heart to feel differently in just seconds. It is possible but you need to be patient.
So no matter how little or how slow you go, forward is forward.
Punishing yourself by feeling bad for the rest of your life is not the answer. Make it up using your future.
The past already happened. No matter how hard you punish yourself, how horrible you feel for the rest of your life, you cannot undo it.
But you can make it up. To you, to your loved ones, to your soul. With your future.
Stop living in the past, give it the closure it deserves, and live your life the way you deserve.
Mai Pham believes we can create our own happiness. She helps overwhelmed and frustrated people ditch their stress and enjoy their lives again. Grab her free actionable cheatsheet: 5 Simple Tips to Release Stress and Bring You Calm in Under 5 Minutes and join her free 7 Joyful Days Challenge email course. Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
Image courtesy of Rakicevic Nenad.