Are you stuck in the past? As a psychologist, I talk with many people who can’t seem to move forward from the negative experiences of the past. These individuals tend to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about their past – how they were treated by parents, siblings, peers at school, current or past romantic partners, past or current spouses, and others. Or, they may spend a lot of time rehearsing their own wrong or unhealthy decisions. Oftentimes, they are filled with anger about a wrong that has been done to them or are constantly struggling with shame, guilt or regret because of something they’ve said or done.. It is ever so true that what happens in the past does have an impact on us. The problem, however, is that many people live in the present based on events or memories in the past and they just don’t think that (or even want to) move past the past.
If you’re tired of living based on the past and feel stuck, here are some principles that you can use to help you move forward:
1. Make the decision (as painful as it may be) that you will begin the process of “letting go.”
It is important to start by making an intentional, conscious decision that you will let go of the past. This means that you will put forth the effort to stop reliving the pain and stop repeating the details of the story around specific negative or traumatic experiences. This decision is in your control and is a choice that you decide to make for your life
2. Stop placing yourself in the victim role.
For a while, it can actually feel good to be a victim. It allows you to blame other people or events for the bad choices and actions in your life. It also allows you to get sympathy from others. Both of these are common reasons that people like to portray or even think of themselves as victims. However, the problem with this perspective is that it does not help an individual heal or move on. So, make the choice today that you will no longer be a victim. Thus far you have survived all the negative experiences of the past – you are a survivor. But you don’t want to just stop there – you want to thrive! And deciding to remove yourself from the victim role can help you do just that.
3. Forgive, if needed
If there are those whom you need to forgive, begin that process as well.
Dr. John Grohol, a psychologist, tells us this:
“We may not have to forget another person’s bad behaviors, but virtually everybody deserves our forgiveness. Sometimes when we get stuck in our pain and our stubbornness, we can’t even imagine forgiveness. But forgiveness isn’t saying, “I agree with what you did.” Instead, it’s saying, “I don’t agree with what you did, but I forgive you anyway.”
4. Spend time thinking about what you have learned from your experiences. How you’ve grown and can grow, from what happened to you.
When we go through hurtful experiences or if we make poor decisions, we often get “stuck” because we spend too much time focusing on the negative aspects. However, believe it or not, these types of experiences can also do some positive things for us. For example, it can help us to be more compassionate or kind to others, especially those who are suffering with their own hurt and pain. Or, it can make us stronger to face more challenging situations in the future. If you want to move forward, try to shift your focus away from the negative and think about how you can become a better person as a result of what you’ve experienced in your past
5. Determine how you can use your past negative experience to help someone else.
Instead of spending a lot of time “licking your wounds,” so to speak, and rehearsing all the bad things you’ve experienced in your life, begin to think of how you can reach out to others who are hurting. You will be amazed to know that there are many people right around you who have also been mistreated by others or who are dealing with guilt, shame, or regret regarding poor decisions they’ve made in the past. Your past experience can help you relate well to such individuals and can help facilitate their growth and healing in a personal, powerful way.
6. Learn from your mistakes. Determine that you will use them to be a better person.
Everyone makes mistakes in life. We can either grow from those choices or weigh ourselves down with guilt or shame about what we’ve done. If you have been under self-condemnation for all the wrong choices you believe you’ve made in your life, it’s time to do something different. Make the decision that you will no longer carry around the burden of guilt and shame but will become a better person as you move forward in life. If you make this commitment to yourself each and every day, you will find that you will feel stronger and be more empowered to face whatever life may bring your way.
These are just a few things that you can do help you move forward and not live in the past. To be honest, implementing these principles will not be easy. It will take determination and courage each and every day as you work on them. But if you persevere, you will definitely become a better and stronger person. Why not make the decision to move past the past today!
Photo by: Andrea Piacquadio