Sometimes, there are things that happen in the past from which we have a hard time moving on. It can be a breakup, an argument or fight, a mistake you made or even something traumatic, like rape or incest. And while a lot of these circumstances are justifiably difficult to move past, we must learn to move on from them if we want to truly live in the present and appreciate all that life has to offer. Easier said than done, I know. Today, we will discuss why it’s so hard to leave certain things in the past and some steps we can take to start that process.
Why is moving on so hard?
The reasons why moving on is so hard really depend on the situation. But, the three reasons we will explore today are: because we’re hurt, because we’re ashamed or because we’re embarrassed.
We can all probably recall a breakup that took us a while to get over. And if it ended amicably, where you both agreed that the relationship had run its course and walked away with no drama, it probably wouldn’t be as memorable. But if something hurtful went down, like maybe you found out they were cheating, or they just flat out told you they didn’t love you anymore, or they left you for someone else, chances are, it took you a while to move on.
But why? Likely because you were hurt and you kept holding on to that hurt. You probably kept experiencing that hurt in your mind over and over and over again. You probably thought, “how dare they!” or “I can’t believe after all I’ve done for them that they would treat me like that!” Reliving such a traumatic experience and the associated emotions will stop you dead in your tracks and keep you living in the past.
Another reason why it can be so hard to move on from the past is because you’re ashamed. We’ve all done things we’re not exactly proud of and a lot of times, we want nothing more than to forget they ever happened. But sadly, our minds don’t let us forget. They keep reminding us of our shortcomings and that we’re not perfect. On really bad days, we might catch our minds telling us things like we’re not worthy, we don’t deserve happiness, we’re failures, or that we’re horrible people. And these negative thoughts spread. Now, we’re not just horrible people, we’re horrible moms and dads, horrible friends and horrible husbands and wives. Not only that, we start finding examples in our minds to convince ourselves that we are all these horrible things. Examples that are unrelated, like how we didn’t get the promotion and that proves that we’re failures. You fell asleep on the movie you were watching with your spouse and now you’re a horrible husband or wife. We keep doing this until we find ourselves in such a deep hole of misery it’s hard to dig ourselves out. We might be able to make ourselves feel better but chances are, we’ll find ourselves in that deep, dark hole again in the near future.
From time to time, I’ll remember back to that time my foot got caught on a rope that I was stepping over and I fell in front of a group of guys. (True story) I didn’t even know they saw it until they rolled down the window as they drove by and pointed and laughed at me. How mortified was I?!?!?! And every time I replay that memory, I smile but not because it’s a happy memory, but because I was SO embarrassed and what I wouldn’t give to rewind the tape and go under the darn rope instead. This happened when I was in college, almost 20 or so years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Embarrassment is like that. We remember what happened, we feel mortified about it – again – and then we think about what we should have done differently in order to avoid that humiliating situation. The memory of it sticks out in our minds like a sore thumb and we just can’t move past it.
More on why moving on is so hard…
While thinking through this topic, I made an important realization: that sometimes regret is the reason why we can’t (or won’t) move on. Whether we are hurt, ashamed or embarrassed, we likely look back on the situation and regret something we said or did. We replay the entire ordeal in our minds and decide what we should have done or what we should have said. Sometimes we look back and wish that we paid more attention to those red flags we saw but just completely ignored. We’re even upset with ourselves for not being smarter. Hindsight is 20/20, isn’t it?
How can we make peace with the past?
Let’s dive into some ways that we can put (as Pumbaa said from Lion King) our behind in our past. After all, the rear view mirror is smaller than the windshield because what’s behind us is not nearly as important as what’s in front of us.
DEAL WITH YOUR PAST
The first thing we need to try to do is to deal with the past. Instead of running away from it, or tucking it away in the depths of our minds or hearts, we need to face it head on. There are many ways to go about doing this. If it’s a failed relationship you can’t move past, maybe you need closure. Maybe you need to say to that other person what needs to be said. Maybe you need to tell them how much they hurt you, or how much you loved and trusted them. Sometimes getting these thoughts and feelings off your chest really help you get closure from the situation. Or, maybe closure for you looks like you forgiving the person who wronged you. Remember, forgiveness isn’t always for the benefit of the person who was in the wrong. Sometimes forgiveness is for the one who was wronged. Carrying around the negative energy from being angry, hurt or resentful may be heavier than the act of forgiveness.
It could be that the thing that happened in the past is more serious and can’t be closed out through a conversation or forgiveness. You may need outside support. That can come from your friends and/or family. Talking to someone you trust and who has your best interest in mind can take you far in moving forward. Or, you may need to talk to a professional, like a therapist or a counselor. A lot of us have dealt with some pretty heavy situations and need the help of someone with the proper training.
Next, understand your triggers. What usually happens right before you recall what happened in your past? What were you doing, where were you, or who were you with? What do all of these things have in common? Recognizing these triggers can help you stop these memories before they start.
Two pieces of advice. Stop trying to make sense of other people’s actions. You’ll never fully understand why someone did something to you. You won’t comprehend or rationalize their thought process. That’s something we will have to come to terms with. Even if you ask them why, and they give you some rational excuse, it will never justify their actions, so why bother? Sometimes people do things without thinking, or maybe they thought about it and did it anyway out of selfishness or spite. My second piece of advice is, let go of your self-image of perfection. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. We are each guilty of doing something selfish or spiteful ourselves. Coming to terms with that fact can really help you move on from what you may have done that you now regret.
CREATE A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE
The second thing we need to do is to create a plan for the future. The most important thing that can come from regret is a lesson. What did you learn from that hurtful, shameful or embarrassing situation? What did you learn about yourself and/or others? What can you do to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again? Maybe you change your behavior or thought process. And now that you can recognize your triggers, how will you respond to them?
Think through your responses to all of these questions and decide how you will deal with this situation moving forward. Let’s say you have a history of picking the wrong guy. And you’ve noticed that you usually fall for guys that you know are wrong for you, but you figure you can fix them, or that they will change. Maybe your plan is to recognize when this is happening and walk away from guys you know are bad for you. You loop in your sister or best friend to hold you accountable. No matter what your situation, create a plan for the future. Because as they say, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
GET TO WORK TODAY
It’s time to get to work! Did you not get the promotion you just knew had your name written all over it? What can you be doing now to ensure you’re prepared if a similar opportunity presents itself in the future? Maybe you need to be studying up on industry trends. Find a mentor or expose yourself to other areas of the company that do different types of work. Instead of sitting back and walloping in your hurt, shame and embarrassment, keep your mind off of those feelings and on things that you’re good at, or can make you better. If you need to talk with a therapist, find one. Feeling sorry for yourself is not an option if you’re ready to make peace with your past.
Moving on from something that happened in the past can be difficult. It can be hard moving past the hurt, shame and embarrassment something from the past has caused. But we have to decide that we won’t live in regret. We have to deal with the past head-on by saying what needs to be said, forgiving the person who wronged you, seeking outside support and understanding your triggers. After that, if you create a plan for the future and get to work on it, you’ll be on your way to living your life the way you were supposed to live it.
Here are your positive affirmations to ponder on this week:
- I am at peace with my past.
- I am not perfect and don’t need to be.
- I am patient with myself and understand that change takes time.
- I release hurt, shame and embarrassment and choose self-love and compassion instead.
- I understand that what happened in my past does not define who I am today.
- I have a bright future ahead of me.