Few things are as difficult as letting go of the past.
People tend to think that it’s only the good things that anyone has a hard time letting go of. In truth, it can be anything.
Even changing and letting go of a negative situation brings a lot of challenges. Not only do you need to be willing to face an uncertain future, but you also have to be okay with loving whatever mistakes and responsibilities you had in the face of those bad times.
Now, that is not to blame anyone for finding themselves in a bad situation. Not at all. It’s just that many people know they are in a bad situation and choose to stay in it, ignore their gut feelings, or give the benefit of the doubt to someone who doesn’t deserve it. It’s easy to slip into a self-blame pattern and beat yourself up for that mistake if you don’t love yourself well.
“I should have known better.”
“I could have done better.”
“God, I’m so stupid. Why did I do that?”
And the answer is simple. Everyone makes bad decisions sometimes.
On the other hand, letting go of good and happy situations in your past can be even harder. After all, they feel great! It was a great time in your life! The best time in your life! And man, what you wouldn’t do to go back to when everything was good and made sense! Maybe it’s a bad relationship with someone you loved so deeply, your dream job that isn’t what you thought it would be, or how you felt before an illness cropped up.
Learning to let the past go is such an important skill to develop. The time you spend living in the past deprives you of the happiness of the present and building a better future. It’s time to let go and move forward.
How do you actually do that? Well, you need to address why you can’t let go in the first place. So let’s look at some reasons and their solutions.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you let go of someone or something from your past, or something from your present that no longer serves you. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
1. Living in the past is easier.
Few things are as difficult as change. People who like predictability may live in the past and not let go because that’s just what they’re used to. And their past situations may not even be good to begin with.
For example, consider a person who finds themselves in an abusive relationship. It probably didn’t start off abusive. In fact, it was probably pretty great at the beginning. It might even be great most of the time in the present.
Abusers rarely show their true face in the beginning because they know that other people will flee. Instead, they act nice, kind, and loving for a while before taking their socially acceptable mask off. But even that isn’t a totally accurate representation of how that situation can go. Sometimes, a person can be 95% great, but that other 5% is so awful that they aren’t healthy to be around.
There are times that the victim in that scenario will not accept the present because they are waiting for that loving, wonderful person they met at the beginning of the relationship to come back. They may be led to believe by the abuser that they just need to act a certain way to receive that affection again. Often, they don’t realize that this is just manipulation.
The victim may believe that they can’t change their present, that their future will be miserable, and that they can’t do any better than the abuser. They may be convinced that no one will help them and that they’ll find themselves alone. And some people get so comfortable in their own miserable situations that they simply cannot envision anything better.
But what’s the solution?
Everything changes. It is a promise made to us by life. Those changes won’t always be for the better. If you can look at a situation and realize that it is not working for you, then you have the power to change it. You don’t have to be complacent and allow yourself to be treated poorly.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a bad relationship, a garbage employer, or even just a stagnant situation that doesn’t provide any fulfillment or growth. Embrace change. Embrace curiosity about what could be.
Even if you’re trying to escape a bad situation, just about anything will be better than allowing yourself to be worn down by it. The cost of inaction is almost always greater than the cost of avoiding change.
2. You find satisfaction in a bad situation.
People go through a lot of struggles in life. Sometimes those struggles will harm us in a way that causes us to function differently than an emotionally healthy person would.
For example, a person who was neglected by their parents may find themselves attracted to other people who are emotionally unavailable. And when they can curry favor with that unavailable person, it fulfills some part of them that is still yearning to be accepted and loved by their parents.
Does that make for a healthy relationship, though? Well, no. It doesn’t. That creates a dynamic where the emotionally unavailable person has the most control over the relationship. The person who cares the least typically does have the most power in the relationship. After all, if the other person doesn’t actually care about your needs, they don’t need to inconvenience themselves with the heavy emotional lifting that is sometimes required in a relationship.
The same is true for emotionally volatile relationships. Some people crave the excitement and passion that comes with the make-up-break-up cycle. The anger and conflict tell them that the other person cares about them. Making up later brings more passion and brilliant feelings, though they aren’t healthy.
But what’s the solution?
If you can see yourself in this kind of situation, your best option will be to talk to a certified therapist to get to the root of why you are doing these things. You will need to address whatever underlying issue is causing the behavior, unmake the old bad habits, and create a new, better habit.
You will have to make an active choice to be uncomfortable and break your own cycles by not involving yourself in these situations. You may also need to take some time to learn about healthy relationships and how to make them work.
3. Sunk-cost fallacy.
The sunk-cost fallacy is a common problem that people face. They have difficulty letting go of a negative thing because they’ve invested a lot into it. That may be a business owner bleeding money for months and refusing to call it quits. It could be a person clinging to an unhealthy relationship that no longer adds anything positive to their life. It might be not looking for a new job because you’ve been there for 10 years and don’t want to go, even though the environment is unhealthy for you.
“But I’ve put so much into this!”
That may very well be true. But as previously pointed out, everything changes. What once was a good idea or environment may no longer be right for you.
It may be a matter of not accepting the present for what it is and continuing to hope that things will change in the future. The problem is that they may very well change in the future, though it may not be for the better. But what if it is? What if I quit too soon, and things could turn around tomorrow?
But what’s the solution?
The sunk-cost fallacy is difficult to deal with because it always hinges on that future “what if.” You can work with that “what if,” though. Set a definite date instead of leaving it as an abstract future thing. “If this doesn’t change or work out in 90 days, I’m leaving.” That will allow you to try to initiate some changes, see if things can go different, and then tell yourself, “I did everything I could. It’s time for me to let go and move forward.”
It will likely feel uncomfortable and difficult to push yourself forward when you read that cut-off day. So instead, try to hold yourself accountable for it. And if you can’t do it for yourself, you may want to ask someone you trust or a counselor to hold you to it.
4. You can’t admit when you’re wrong.
One of the hardest things you can do is admit that you’re wrong. Some people just can’t bring themselves to do it. They cling to their past decisions and circumstances because they can’t admit that they made a wrong choice. People usually don’t start off that way. Often, they have been taught to not admit they’re wrong under the pain of punishment.
It might be surviving child abuse where they were punished harshly for telling the truth. They may have experienced domestic violence where their abuser hurt them for expressing their genuine feelings or wrongs.
Shame can play a role. The person may feel like they can’t admit that they were wrong because it somehow reflects on their character. And while you may certainly be judged for your choices, because that’s how people are, you can always choose whether or not to listen to that person. How many people throw stones when they don’t have their own life in order? So sometimes you just have to decide to not listen to people.
But what is the solution?
This is another tough problem that may require a therapist to work through (visit BetterHelp.com for online therapy). Suppose that inability to admit you’re wrong stems from a rough childhood or abusive relationships. In that case, you’ll likely need to address the trauma that created that issue. You’ll likely need to learn that it is okay to make mistakes, regardless of what other people think.
Many people think that admitting when you’re wrong is a weakness, but it’s not. On the contrary, it’s a great strength to help mend burning bridges and create stronger relationships. It can give you the freedom to let go of the past and move forward into your future.
5. You romanticize the past.
Romanticizing the past is a difficult problem for many. As a result, people tend to completely overlook all of the negative circumstances that occurred in the past. Instead, they focus on the positive things because those are the things that appealed to them, fulfilled them, or confirmed their own biases about life.
This is just as true with the general public as with the individual. A person may go in and out of relationships with an ex because the sex was just so good! When it was good, it was great! But let’s not think about arguing for days on end, destroying each other’s belongings, days of the silent treatment, and all of the other little things that go along with a toxic relationship. But still, when it was good, it was really good.
And unless you really have your eyes open and look at the situation for what it is, you may be dwelling too much on the positive circumstances and not the negative. The best approach, of course, is balance. It’s okay to acknowledge that some things were great. But you can’t ignore the negative in favor of only the positive. That’s how you fall back into unhealthy, negative cycles that can implode your life.
But what is the solution?
When you look at a past situation that you can’t let go of, don’t dwell on the positives. For every positive you find yourself pining for, remind yourself of a negative that caused you to no longer be in that situation.
You can balance out the perspective you have of the past by not focusing solely on the positive. “Oh, we broke up, but I really miss him.” Okay, well, why did you break up? Was it an unhealthy situation or negative actions that drove it?
But what if it’s not? Because sometimes, things were good in the past, but they just didn’t work out. That’s okay too. When that happens, you can instead look at improving your present and building a better future.
6. A lack of closure.
Sometimes we can’t let go of the past because we can’t find closure for our experience.
For example, let’s say you have a romantic partner that ghosted you. That can be incredibly hurtful because it provides no real answers to why the person left. Anyone may find themselves constantly dwelling on why that person disappeared. They may stay focused on the relationship, picking apart every detail to figure out where it all went wrong. They lack closure, so they can’t let go.
Closure plays such an important role in the healing process. But unfortunately, life isn’t a clear-cut narrative where all the plots will be neatly wrapped up. We’re not living a story. No, life is far more chaotic. You will have times when you don’t receive closure. Sometimes terrible things just happen, and that’s the way it is. It’s not personal.
But what is the solution?
Easy come, easy go. That mantra makes a lack of closure much easier. When you allow life to flow as it’s going to flow, then you can let go of those questions.
As in the previous example, ghosting sucks. But that’s not really on you, is it? You’re not the one who chose to ghost for whatever reason the other person had. What role did you have in that? Did you even have a role at all?
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter in the major scheme of things. All that really matters is that the person decided to bail, they are no longer there, and now you have to find a way to improve your present and future. Easier said than done, I know. Everything is.
7. You believe that your past defines you.
People often attribute their past decisions, experiences, and relationships to who they are in the present. Unfortunately, these self-limiting beliefs can lock you into a perpetual state of living in the past rather than facilitating your present growth.
The person who tells themselves, “I’m a hard worker. I’ve always been a hard worker. I’ll always be a hard worker.” will have difficulty adjusting should they be struck by an illness that doesn’t allow them to work as hard. This is because they’ve associated their self-worth with their ability to be productive. They will likely miss the past version of who they are.
And then there is an opposite to that. “I’m a garbage person that no one will ever love.” Well, that kind of thing becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. That person will spend their time looking back on their past relationships, focusing on those negatives, and continue to convince themselves that they are an unlovable, bad person because of it. They’ve determined that their past of bad relationships is a statement of who they are.
But that simply isn’t true. It’s not true because those beliefs can be changed.
But what is the solution?
There may be underlying trauma, social expectations, or experiences that try to convince you that you’re locked into those specific beliefs. And if that’s the case, then it’s likely going to take therapy to address those issues, create new narratives, and find yourself underneath the expectations you’ve created for yourself.
BetterHelp.com is a website where you can talk to an accredited and experienced therapist from wherever you are in the world. Here’s that link again to discover what they offer and how you can get started.
Not all of them are obvious either. For example, certain cultures put great importance on marriage and kids. If you’re not married and trying for kids, there must be something wrong with you. That social expectation can cause you to define yourself even if that’s not who you are. Maybe marriage and kids aren’t right for you at all. That doesn’t have to be who you are.
Making peace with your past…
It’s hard to let go of the past when you place great importance on it. The fact of the matter is that the past was here, and now it’s gone. You can’t go back to it, whatever it is. Even if you replicate the situation you were in, the circumstances and your life situation will automatically make it different from what it was.
Instead of dwelling on the past, think about how you can better your present which will improve your future. That may require adjusting your expectations, finding new ways to look at the world, or some time with a therapist to accomplish.
But you can accomplish it. There’s a whole lot of life to experience in the present. You’ll miss it if you spend your life looking over your shoulder.
You may also like:
- How To Let Go Of The Past: 16 No Nonsense Tips!
- If You Wish You Could Go Back In Time And Change The Past, Do This
- 16 Quotes To Help You Let Go Of The Past
- How To Deal With Regret: 7 Essential Tips!
- How To Stop Feeling Bad For Past Mistakes And Things You’ve Done Wrong
- How To Learn From Your Mistakes: 8 Very Practical Tips!
- 5 Things From Your Past That Will Poison Your Future (If You Let Them)