There is hardly anything more agonizing than holding-on to memories of our painful past experiences. We all make mistakes, but one of our biggest mistakes is continually revisiting the past. We have all suffered losses and pain, but no loss is greater than a life lost holding-on to a painful past. When we can’t let go of the past, painful moments accumulate in us; metastasizing in our consciousness like an emotional cancer. Whether a painful wrong was done to us, or we have guilt for our own wrongdoings or mistakes, we must seek to make peace with these moments and move forward.
Have you ever felt like you are stuck on an emotional treadmill — reenacting past injuries and losses or visualizing potential future problems? How many times have you imagined going back to a painful moment in time and “doing things” differently? How many times have you rehearsed a trauma from the past, playing out imaginary solutions, only to re-live your painful emotions over and over again? While some people can adjust and move past their traumas, others do not respond as well. Under pressure, they may even inaccurately feel they are in danger again, even when they are safe.
“There is a place in everyone that yearns to love, that longs to be safe, that wants to treat others and ourselves with respect. Sometimes that place is buried underneath layers of fear, old wounds, cynicism, and pain that we have used to protect ourselves from injury.”
— Jack Kornfield
Self-doubts, feeling unworthy, rejection, and past injuries can churn in us with a low-boil of anxiety. Who would you be without your self-judgments and the baggage of your past mistakes in tow with you at all times? Learning your lesson from a mistake is healthy, but living forever in the emotions of your past mistakes is toxic and debilitating. The problem with traumatic, high-stress experiences is that they often create negative beliefs about oneself such as being powerless, unlovable, undeserving, unsafe and that things are unchangeable. Sometimes we resist letting go because we just can’t see a way to move forward — believing things can never change for someone as unworthy as us. Be careful not to identify yourself with your past — you have a past, but it is not who you are today.
“When you don’t flow freely with life in the present moment, it usually means that you’re holding on to a past moment. It can be regret, sadness, hurt, fear, guilt, blame, anger, resentment, or sometimes even a desire for revenge. Each one of these states comes from a space of unforgiveness, a refusal to let go and come into the present moment. Only in the present moment can you create your future.”
— Louise Hay
Sometimes we have trouble letting go of the past so that we can forgive ourselves. Finding inner-resolution can be even more complicated when the past we are trying to free ourselves from involves having hurt someone. At times, all of us have been the wrongdoers or have somehow been neglectful, which comes with its own unique suffering. This seems to be the mandate of the conscience: when we harm others we harm ourselves; when we help others we help ourselves. When we have harmed someone or disappointed them, they may be angry with us and it’s natural for us to feel anguish over this. But don’t have unreasonable or excessive guilt. Guilt can interfere with our desires to move forward, to heal properly and to become a person who has the mental health and means of proper recompense.
Even if you were terrible and injured people, you need to move forward and take care of yourself first. You can’t do the best work on yourself if you are under the constant scrutiny of negativity and hatred. An atmosphere of guilt, blame and judgement is not a safe emotional space that fosters recovery. Someone’s forgiveness will not heal you; condemnation or absolution is their test, not yours. Choose healing and inner-peace over guilt. Set down the pain. Walk away and work on yourself first. When you are at peace, resolved and strong you can reach out and begin to make reparations. Paralyzing guilt will not serve anyone’s interest. Start thinking of your guilt as being selfish, because guilt blocks opportunities from arriving for you, and for those you care about.
Oftentimes, our guilt over failing or disappointing someone exists only in our own minds. We torture ourselves senselessly over perceptions that others are judging us, when in reality they are not. Even worse, we brutalize ourselves over circumstances that are clearly beyond our control. Painful things happen in life. The fires of remorse, regret and guilt burn over us through our mourning, but only to make way for the new growth of life after our painful losses. Your suffering is there to inspect you and perfect you. We are made complete by our pain.
You have to make the decision to let go of the past if you want to move forward. Reliving your painful past will poison your heart and your tomorrow. If you look at today through the eyes of the past, you can never see what the present moment has to offer. Beating yourself up over every perceived mistake is the work of an internal abuser who must be restrained and reformed. The past is inaccessible. Almost all sadness comes from thinking about the past, and all worry from thinking about the future — present-mindedness is your only safe haven. Only in the present is your mind free to do what it does best — solve problems. The easiest way to leave the past behind is to remember that love does not live in the past, only memories — love lives in the present.
“Whatever life takes away from you, let it go. When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment. Letting go of the past means you can enjoy the dream that is happening right now.”
— don Miguel Ruiz
Beneath your burdensome regrets and who you think you are through the lens of past mistakes, there is someone beautiful who wants to emerge. You are not your mistakes, and your mistakes are not you. You are so much more than your mistakes. Allow your truth to emerge. Your truth cannot emerge buried under a mountain of guilt and regret. Your past is like a bag of bricks; set it down and walk away. Quit collecting every painful word, memory, and mistake. Collect hope. Hope is lighter!
“Pause and remember– Stop mentally abusing yourself. Stop agonizing over your past mistakes and worrying about the future. Life is hard enough without the added fear, panic and anxiety. Your soul is crying out for love and encouragement. Take a moment to breathe deep, get present and find some compassion for yourself. Then, go out and treat yourself right; pamper yourself and take care of your needs. You are worth it!”
— Jenni Young McGill