In my early 20’s a close friendship I'd had since middle school came to an end.
There was no big blow up, just numerous small slights and offenses that piled up over the course of a few months.
We never acknowledged them to one another, but clearly they were affecting our relationship. Our efforts to see one another became few and far between until we just stopped talking all together.
Outwardly I would act like it didn’t bother me, while internally I felt hurt and betrayed by her. I secretly replayed all of the ways she caused me pain while flipping back and forth between sadness and anger.
I was caught up in how wrong I thought she was. Playing the role of the victim was comforting, and obsessing over every little slight made me feel justified in my own actions.
However, this was not a healthy way to live.
There is a Buddhist quotation that reads, “Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” While obsessing over the mental and emotional drama I created for myself, I was not effectively fostering the friendships that I still did have.
It wasn’t until I let go of what happened with her that I was able to focus on the present. I had to forgive her. I had to acknowledge my own part in the situation and also forgive myself. Of course I was not infallible; we both played a role in the deterioration of our friendship.
Once I took the necessary steps to get past my past, I found I was able to move forward in my life. I think that going through this experience has even made me a better friend now.
For some inexplicable reason, we often seem to hold tightly to our suffering – whether it is shame over something we have done or pain we think was inflicted onto us by someone else. We replay these situations in our minds and dissect every minute detail. Or we go through the unending alternative realities if only we – or they – had done something differently.
Why do we torture ourselves this way? Well, research has shown that stressful events with a social component are more likely to impact us and thus lead to ruminating or fixating behaviors.
As author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown has described, “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don't function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.”
Ruminating over the past is unhealthy and unhelpful. While it can seem like you are working through your issues by examining and dissecting them, this is not the case. Ruminating will actually paralyze your ability to problem-solve.
Rumination leads to negative thinking which leads to shame which leads to further rumination. It creates a toxic cycle that is extremely difficult to get out of. This type of thinking does not promote positive change; it only increases the feelings of discouragement and helplessness.
Some of the negative effects of rumination include:
- Social anxiety
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Increased blood pressure
- Higher cortisol levels
As you can see, being stuck in the past and ruminating over what went wrong not only wastes the present, but also compromises the future. This type of thinking has led you to where you are now. In order to get unstuck, you need to do something different.
Here are 10 ways to get past your past and fall in love with life again.
1. Accept the Past
What has happened has already happened. There is nothing anyone can do to go back in time and change it.
For this reason, the only viable option is to accept it. Leave the past in the past, and focus instead on where you are now: the present. Find the joy in the people and activities that are in your life currently.
2. Feel Your Feelings
Just because you accept the past, doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it. Putting on a fake front or bottling up your true feelings will only exacerbate the issue.
It is one hundred percent okay to feel hurt, discouraged, angry, confused, or anything else. Take the time to acknowledge and feel your emotions without judgement. This is how they can eventually move on.
3. Stop Story Telling
Our perceptions are built around the stories we tell ourselves in an attempt to make sense of the world.
If I constantly think, “People leave me,” or “I am unlovable,” then that will be my perception. However, it doesn’t make it true.
Stop the story telling surrounding your past. This also includes replaying the situation over and over or going through all of the imaginary “what if” or “could have been” scenarios.
4. Let It Go
This is an active decision you have to make. Choose to intentionally let go. Holding on to the past isn’t going to alter what has already happened; it is only going to interfere with your present and future.
Find the middle ground between clinging onto your pain and pushing it away by gently letting go. This can be a difficult process, but you cannot make positive change for the future while still clinging to the past.
Forgiveness does not mean you agree with a behavior, it just means you are releasing any resentment. Whether you need to forgive yourself or someone else (or likely both), finding compassion will help you make the leap.
Can you look at the situation from an unbiased perspective? Everyone makes mistakes, and they are typically not malicious in nature. Remember that we are all fallible human beings who, most of the time, are just trying to do our best.
6. Accept the Lesson
Sometimes we end up learning lessons the hard way. A hurtful or challenging situation can bring up a lot of underlying issues that are not being dealt with personally or in relation to others.
Use this as an opportunity to explore these problems and find proactive solutions. You will come out with more awareness and strength on the other side.
7. Surround Yourself with Support
Share your past with friends and family you can trust to be supportive and nonjudgmental. In order to be your authentic self, you need to let them in on the truth.
Allow their positivity and encouragement to help you get your joy back. Emotions can be contagious, so ensure that you surround yourself with happy, loving people who want the best for you as well.
8. Own Your History
You are the only one to have had your exact past experiences. Those experiences, whether they felt negative or positive, have equipped you with particular knowledge, skills, and perspective. Instead of trying to hide or forget your past in shame, use it to your advantage.
Maybe you can provide an empathetic ear to a friend, volunteer at a related organization, get involved in political or social change, or something else. Meaningful connections are made through honesty and vulnerability.
9. Take Care of Yourself
Ensure that you are taking the time to take care of your body, mind, and soul guilt-free. Do things that make you feel energized.
Eating nutritious food, getting enough sleep, being physically active, reading, journaling, meditating, or getting a massage can all be effective strategies for self-care.
Work toward changing your thinking patterns from a critical voice into a loving voice in order to build yourself up.
10. Plan for the Future
Instead of dwelling in the past, look forward into the future. Start brainstorming and making plans for the direction you want to take your life. Where do you see yourself one year, five years, and 10 years from now?
By setting goals and making a plan for their achievement, you are inspiring hope for the future. This will motivate you to get up in the morning and go after your dreams.
If your past has led you into a place where you experience symptoms of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or binging, I encourage you to seek out professional help. There are so many options available such as talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR, and more. A counsellor will be able to customize your treatment to your specific needs and expedite your recovery.
French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” We may want to cling to our past pain, but wounds cannot heal if they are constantly picked at. Choose instead to accept your past, live in the present, and have hope for the future. You will gain freedom and fall in love with life again.
Grace Furman is a writer and blogger at Heartful Habits. Heartful Habits is a place of inspiration for what Grace calls living mindfully and heartfully. She loves learning and sharing about wellness tips, natural remedies, beauty DIYs, green cleaners, healthy recipes, social issues, and more.