Forgiveness and Letting go of the Past
This is one of my favorite topics. Any possibly the most important thing you could allow yourself to do, for yourself. How do we forgive? Why should we forgive? Who and what do we forgive? When do we forgive? And how is forgiveness and letting go beneficial to your overall mind, body, and soul.
The when is going to be up to you, however, ultimately, that pain of holding on will become so intense you will know it’s time to let go. If we don’t the pain and wrongdoings of the past will follow us into the future. Like an unwanted house guest that just won’t take a hint, and leave. We can hold on, but often times this only harms us, makes us bitter, and takes away from our own happiness. Be bitter, or let go. We forgive for ourselves, yes, I will say it again. We forgive for ourselves! Not for anyone else, we do not forgive for the other person, but for ourselves. Our peace of mind, our mental and physical health.
The reality is that we all have things to let go of, situations, people, environments that we need to forgive and move beyond. When we are kids, we already know how to forgive, it’s as though as we get older we become more frustrated and sensitive to every little thing. For example, I have vivid memories of my younger brother and me arguing and getting into those typical sibling fights over toys and irrelevant nonsense. It was nonsense, however, at the time, to young children, these irrelevant things were big enough to kick, pinch, bite, hit, or say unkind things to each other. We would be sent to our rooms, which were next to each other in a small hallway. We were supposed to sit in our own rooms, and “think about our behavior and take some me time” great, except we know each other so well, he knew I’d be by my door and he would sneak out of his room and slide books under the bottom of my door- that was him silently letting me know he was there and wanted to come in. I would open the door and he would come in, we then often, and thinking we were cleverer than our parents, built hideouts in my closet. Yes, we would take toys that perhaps minutes ago we were fighting over, make a hiding and playing place, and thought we were winning. The truth is, even though we thought we were being devious and sneaky, we were actually practicing forgiveness and letting go of whatever had happened earlier. We put it behind us and were able to successfully move on with our day, with our week, with our lives.
I love to people watch, and have witnessed kids argue, go tattle on each other, parents tell them to say sorry and hug the other child. This is forgiveness and letting go in its most simplified form. The next thing you know, these small children who for a moment felt sadness, anger, or any other uncomfortable emotion move on and will be smiling, laughing, and playing like nothing ever happened. The same is true for our pets, cats, dogs, fish, and horses. They may get into a tussle with another fury critter and then moments later be playing and enjoying the simplicity of what the intent really is, living life to its fullest and being happy. To be so innocent, so successful in relationships, and to be able to be carefree like a child is a gift. To maintain that skill of forgiveness is something totally different. It takes effort, time, and work. To be able to be so carefree that even when those negative emotions arise, we are able to let them come, and then pass without having an effect on our mood, our day, or worse, our life. Yes, not being able to forgive, holding grudges, thinking only of the negative emotion causes stress and takes away from our happiness. Why do we give others the power to take away from our happiness? Why do we hold onto these uncomfortable feelings so tightly that they begin to consume us? I have seen people get up in arms when their food doesn’t come out just right at a restaurant and then they let it ruin their entire night. Beyond that, sometimes because of one incident that wasn’t perfect or didn’t meet their expectation, they now have a vivid negative memory that they hold onto. This one experience that didn’t meet their expectations, they have been turned off, deterred from being willing to try this restaurant again. Perhaps this experience was so catastrophic in the moment that this person now posts on social media, blasting how bad the place is. We have all experienced poor service, less than stellar food, atmosphere, or something else that lit something up in us. Some feeling or emotion that caused us to have a reaction that perhaps wasn’t really warranted. The experience is only a part of the problem, we are conditioned to react, when really we need to think, process, and be mindful prior to whatever reaction we have, if we choose to react at all. Yes, you have the power to feel something, anger, sadness, fear, resentment, and NOT react. Someone recently asked me what I was thinking, I said “nothing” not because it was true, but because I didn’t know how to put my thoughts into words at that exact moment. Later on I sent this person a message saying that of course, earlier, I was not thinking nothing, in fact I was thinking lots of somethings, but I had the need to process these feelings prior to saying something perhaps I would regret, or that may not come out properly. Half the battle is having what you communicate be well received and understood in the context in which it is meant to be.
Every person throughout their lifetime will experience occasional pain, upset, disappointment, grief, loss, or injury. It’s inevitable, it’s a part of life. Whether it’s familial, economic, spiritual, physical, or emotional – at some point something will add to a negative experience that will affect you in some way. How long do you prolong the negativity and hold on before you allow yourself to move forward. For every moment we hang on to these things, these traumas, we are giving it the power to have control over us. The thing is, believe it or not, we have the ability to control these emotions that these situations bring up for us. Think about a situation that has recently caused you discomfort, pain, and negative emotions. Whatever just came up for you, you are holding onto!!! STOP right now. Stop giving it control. Until you are able to give up that attachment to whatever the incident was, you are stuck in a continuous cycle where you will inevitably keep reliving the pain.
Learn from the past, take from it only what you need, but don’t dwell there. It’s most likely not a comfortable place to be anyways, and honestly, you can’t change what’s already happened. Stop pointing fingers, we have all done things we aren’t proud of. Express yourself in a healthy way, use “I’ statements, “I feel,” “I think,” effective communication is going to be very beneficial if you are planning on having a discussion with someone about a situation that harmed you. These “I” statements will also help you express yourself and communicate better overall in your everyday life. In forgiving those who have wronged you, remember it’s just as important to forgive yourself.
For most of us, we know and are fully aware that living in the past isn’t healthy, however many of us get stuck there. Perhaps it’s a guilty pleasure, even though it leaves us feeling less than stellar. The brain isn’t comfortable with uncertainty, yet we also can’t predict the future, so then why do so many of us get stuck in the has been, could have been, what if’s, rather than just moving forward and allowing ourselves to be present and happy. A lot of this has to do with our own inner feelings rather than anything else. For example, recently I had made plans, and the day off they got cancelled due to the other party changing their own plans. The past me would have thought they didn’t want to see me, that I wasn’t enough, that it was a “me” problem. However, through growth and understanding I realized “IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT YOU” so rather than get upset, I simply understood and moved beyond it. No negative thinking, no resentment, no catastrophizing or awfulizing (which I have mastered by the way) I simply went on with my day, and turns out, it was a pretty amazing day.
We can move beyond out past by working through our feelings. Express your hurt, express you’re happy, your sad, and anxious, hangry, frustrated, express yourself. If you don’t how will anyone know what you are feeling?! Perhaps you have made a mistake in the past, friend, let me tell you, we have ALL made plenty of mistakes. Myself included here, however how we look at those things we call mistakes matters. Did you make a mistake then let it bring you down? Or did you choose to take a new knowledge away, embrace the mistake, and grow from it. There my friends, lie the difference. How we choose to handle the situation at hand. Maybe someone else hurt you, perhaps you regret something, missed out on an opportunity, or hurt someone. Don’t freak out, but – we have all been there, there is nothing wrong with you. You my friend, are HUMAN.
So how do you express yourself? Perhaps you are someone who can just go up to someone and say “I need to talk” and let loose on your feelings. Communicating is maybe something you don’t struggle with. Great. Good for you, do that! But we don’t all communicate or express ourselves the same way (that would be boring.) Express yourself by writing, journal, blog, something productive. I often have my patients write forgiveness letters to themselves for the things they are holding onto. I urge you to try it. Write a letter forgiving yourself, or the person/place/thing that you are holding theses resentments and feelings against. I am not saying give them the letter, simply write it out, get the words out. See how that makes you feel. I’d almost guarantee everyone will feel a weight lifted off of their shoulders in doing this.
Perhaps writing isn’t your cup of tea. Clearly for me, writing works. Maybe the hurt you feel involves another person. You can absolutely talk to them about it, or maybe you talk to someone else you trust and are able to confide in. A friend, a counselor, a friend or family member, maybe it’s your dog, no judgment. In expressing your feelings about the past you can begin to understand how something really affected you, how you truly feel about the situation, and learn to move beyond it.
Learn to accept and take responsibility for your decisions. Own them. When we take an opportunity and pass up another possibilities, let yourself be at peace and confident with the decision. Don’t allow yourself to ruminate on the “could have been,” because no, they couldn’t that wasn’t your path. Allow yourself to be happy rather than to get stuck frustrated at this crossroad. Accept your past, it’s happened, it’s behind you, and you are never going back down that road again. It’s not possible. If you are stuck on a decision you made in your past, leave it! Allow yourself to believe that the decision you made in your past is okay, it obviously made sense to you at some point, yes, you may see how you could have done things differently back then. That’s growth. You have learned, you have experienced, and you have grown. You do not have a crystal ball that shows you the outcome (if you do, share the wealth with the rest of us, please!), therefore for every decision you make, there is an unknown factor.
You and only you can decide to let go of your past and move onto a better, brighter, happier future. No one else has this power. After you are able to express yourself, whatever those feelings may be, you have the ability to make a conscious decision to let it go. While we can’t change the past, we can accept it, learn from it, and try to take away the positive aspects over only the negative. Don’t be a victim to your past, that doesn’t help you, in fact it only harms you. Be productive, move upwards and onwards, and choose to be free from the resentments, anxieties, and frustrations that you are holding onto. Is any of this easy? Heck no! or we would all do it. This is work, hard work. In fact… you may find yourself having to remind yourself daily about the choice you are making. Motivate yourself, use positive affirmations, meditation, and be consistent in your decision every day, until you are able to move beyond your past. Remain mindful and fully aware of what you have learned. Your past is an opportunity for great growth. You will learn about yourself, others, and life in general when you do this. There may be both positive and negative things that you learned along your journey, however, try to focus on the positive lessons. This can be a challenge, thinking of something positive. I promise, there is absolutely something positive from your past experiences that you have learned. Try writing a list of the positive and negative, be honest with both sides of this exercise. For example, maybe you didn’t get into your top choice University and went to your second choice school. Now think about your experience at said school, what did you learn? How did you grow? Now why are we still holding onto that other experience that never happened, and wasn’t meant for you? Let it go.
Your past does not define you or your future. In forgiveness and letting go, you will find that you don’t have to give these things the power to bog you down. Our past events, decisions, and actions have gotten us to whatever point we are at today. You are thinking “well, yeah, and?” AND your future is determined by the present you, right now. The decisions your make, your actions, they will become your past. So how do you decide what you want the future to hold and what kind of past you hope to think back on. Your past does not have to control your future. MINDBLOWN, it’s that simple. Change your course, let go of anger, resentments, doubt, guilt, shame, and let it all go. I am proof that we all make mistakes, we let out past eat us up, and that sometimes we fall short- that’s okay. I am also proof that changing your attitude, letting go, and recognizing that you are in charge of your own destiny is real. From a woman who lacked confidence, was full of doubt and guilt, to a positive, confident, stronger, and more determined- happier woman. All these things, all these emotions, thoughts of “I can’t” or “I won’t” yep, I’ve been there.
When you choose to take life by the reins and live for the present, you will notice a shift in everything- mind, body, and soul. No matter what you have endured, no matter how horrible it may be, even if you think there is no way out, you can do it. No, we cannot change the past, however we can choose how we decide to react to it and how we let it affect our present and future.
It takes making a conscious effort to forgive yourself, forgive your past mistakes and events, it takes time. Time to remind yourself of what you have gained, the knowledge you are taking into your future. You have growing, changing, evolving. Acceptance is key, being able to accept that you cannot, not matter how hard you try, change the past. Leave that baggage at the door, it’s heavy, and you don’t need it weighing you down. Please, stop punishing yourself for your past, make amends to yourself, to others, and then, move onwards and upwards. You do not have to be a victim of your past any longer. You my friend are a survivor, and you are fierce. Enjoy that bright future, your past does not define or dictate what that future looks like, so make it everything you hope for and more. You cannot predict the future, however you can create it.
The future it your property. Own it. Embrace it. Cherish it. Most of all, enjoy it.
· Does not mean we are condoning the wrongdoing.
· In finding a place of true forgiveness, we are not looking to decide whether or not what someone did was right or okay if it was in fact, not.
· Forgiving does not mean forgetting (We never forget, rather we learn, grow, and gain knowledge of what not to allow to happen again.)
· It IS: letting go, the ability to detox negativity that may result from a situation. Say Bye Felicia! To any hurt or emotional baggage.
· We do not forgive for the other person, we forgive for ourselves.
· It is a very personal thing, we do it for our own growth and happiness, no one else’s.
· It allows us to be free of our past and live fully in the present.
· It allows us to move on, be at peace, without anger, resentments, or the need to seek revenge.
· It allows us to regain our own personal power and find out voice again, and be heard.
· It allows you to see things as they are.