Although we like to coin the phrase ‘putting the past behind us’, often we rationalise how we feel when our emotions continue to cause us disturbance and limit our ability to be happy. We might attempt to distract ourselves from unpleasant memories or feelings- anything from going out socialising all the time to watching TV or going on Facebook. These patterns of avoidance then easily become a way of life and keep us stuck.
Making peace with the past is something that enables us to move forward on our path towards happiness and also allows us to live and embrace the ‘here and now’.
First of all, taking time to reflect on what is unresolved in your life enables you to develop awareness of it. It might be related to childhood issues or recurring patterns such as in relationships, whether the issue was triggered by you or someone else. You might identify certain themes in your life, such as rejection or loneliness- recognising this pattern is the first step towards changing it and understanding how your present situation evolved. This is different from dwelling on the past as opposed to creating new connections that enable you to learn from your experience.
Letting go also involves forgiveness-recurring negative feelings such as guilt, anger and resentment are signs of non-forgiveness, towards ourselves or others. Forgiveness can take time and is hard to do and also involves having compassion for yourself or the other person. Holding onto such attachments keeps you a prisoner to the past and keeps you caught in a vicious cycle of negativity and blame.
To begin the forgiveness process, choose three people in your life who still provoke anger or resentment and write down the reasons why it was their fault. Then try challenging these thoughts, offering evidence for and against your view and re-evaluate what happened. Try stepping into their shoes and seeing what you feel or how you see the situation- does it feel any different?
Finally, allow yourself the opportunity to write a letter to each person outlining how you feel and express freely what you needed to say. This isn’t meant to be sent, just an exercise to discharge your emotion around it. Then review your feelings again and see how it feels. If possible, speak to that person and allow yourself to be honest with how this situation affected you, adding that you would like to now release it and move forward.
As Robert Muller put it: “To forgive is the most highest beautiful form of love. In return, you will get untold peace and happiness.”