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Making Peace With Your Past

Updated on March 15, 2013

Regret, shame, and guilt

I remember the first time I watched Titanic, it came to the part where they are floating in the icy ocean and she realizes Jack is dead. She lets go of his hand and he sinks into the dark water, and she goes on with her life.

I was so disappointed in her for not holding on.

I remember thinking I would not have let go, but then... what would I have done? Gone through life dragging a corpse behind me?

I hadn't really realized at that time just how many corpses I had refused to let go of in the years before that moment.

When all I had to do all along was simply, let go.

All images copyright TDH via Flicker Creative commons

Simply, Let Go

We all have things in our past we would rather not think about. Things we have experienced, mistakes we have made, people we have hurt.

Sometimes we regret the things we did do, and sometimes we regret the things we didn't do.

There are many wounds in life that don't quite heal, they always seem to be there just below the surface waiting for the right moment to remind us of their presence.

Regret, shame, and guilt, all stem from past experiences.

We carry those negative emotions around with us for months, and even years, dragging those negative feelings around like a rotting skeleton. Sometimes they are there for a reason, a part of our conscience, and a way of learning from past mistakes but they were never meant to be a permanent state of mind.

We all have circumstances in our lives that we wish we could go back and change, no doubt about it. Though most of us would dearly love to be perfect, imperfection is part of the human condition. We are going to make mistakes, sometimes BIG ones. Bad things are sometimes going to happen. We are always going to find things to regret.

Making peace with your past is making peace with yourself...

There are a lot of things that we have trouble letting go of:

A relationship that ended before we were ready

The loss of a loved one

Poor decisions we made in the past

Wrongs we have done to others

Wrongs that have been done to us

The loss of our hopes and dreams

It could be one of these things, or it could be something entirely different, but you will often find that they have one thing in common.

The level of emotion that was involved with the event. Love, grief, regret, guilt, anger, sorrow, fear, disgust, hate, helplessness, hopelessness, jealousy.

All very powerful emotions, and when those emotions become linked to a specific event, those bonds can be tough to break. In reality you are dealing with two different things, the actual event, and the emotions tied to that event. They have become entwined to a point that the two become one.

One of the first steps in making peace with your past is taking a closer look at the feelings involved.

When you place your hand in a flame you feel pain, in response to the pain you pull your hand away.

Our emotional reactions aren't all that different from our physical when you think about it. We feel pain, and we pull away. There are many different types of emotional pain, none of them are particularly pleasant. Often when we feel them rising within us, we pull away from them.

While that may be the correct course of action in the physical realm, it doesn't work so well in the emotional. Denying our painful feelings is like leaving your hand in the flame, and just turning your head so you don't have to watch.

Feelings are there for a reason, both physical and emotional feelings, serve as a clue as to what is going on in our world. Painful emotions are just a signal telling us that something is wrong and must be dealt with.

We have been conditioned that negative emotions are bad, and admitting to them somehow reflects on who we are as a person.

It can be very difficult to say "I am still angry about this situation," or "That event really hurt me." Especially if you have been pushing those feelings away for a long time, sometimes it is hard to even recognize the real feeling beneath all of the layers we place over it to protect ourselves.

What we first see as anger, could very well have began as something else entirely. Embarrassment, frustration, disappointment. Dig down until you get to the root of the problem, then admit it. Even if you tell nobody else, admit your true feelings to yourself.

Once you admit your true feelings, you are that much closer to letting go of them.

You can't change the past, lets get that out of the way right now. As much as we would like to, and many of us have tried, we lie to ourselves about it, we deny it ever happened, we focus on one aspect and ignore the others, but it doesn't really change it.

You can spend your whole life wishing you had turned left instead of right, chosen A instead of B, replaying every mistake you have ever made, every wrong that has ever been done, but all you are really doing is storing up hurts. You can't change the facts of what happened.

Sometimes we hold on to the past because we truly believe something is going to happen in the future that will change things. Maybe we are waiting for someone who hurt us to apologize, or maybe we are waiting for the day they will be held accountable for what they did to us. We could be waiting for them to forgive us.

We can end up waiting a very long time, sometimes forever.

All you are really doing is putting off your happiness waiting for something outside of yourself to come along and bring us happiness.

What if, god forbid, you found out that you only had a short time to live? Would it still matter? Would you still be willing to spend whatever days you have left holding on to a past you can't change? Chances are you would go out and live the rest of your time to the fullest, so why wait?

Give yourself permission to live whatever life you have left in the happiest way possible, let go.

Much has been said about forgiving others their trespasses, but the person most people have the hardest time forgiving is themselves.

I'm not proud of the reputation I carried in high school, it haunted me for many years. Since I still live in my hometown it isn't something I have been able to easily put behind me.

Let's just say I was the last girl you would have wanted your teenage son to date. I never said no to the prospect of a good time, but I also never really stopped to think about the consequences.

There are a lot of words that could be used to describe my behaviors, and none of them are pretty, so lets just say I ruined any chance I ever had of becoming president of the United States, by the ripe old age of 16. The fact that I made it through without getting pregnant, STD free and still alive is amazing in and of itself, but I didn't make it through unscathed.

I found myself a mother of three, newly divorced, and still stuck with that image of who I was. Even after I remarried I still felt like the high school whore. I considered myself worthless, and it seemed more than a few people agreed with me.

It was one thing I just couldn't move past. How could I forgive myself for doing such stupid things?

Chances are you may have something that you can't forgive yourself for either. We all struggle with it. We may feel responsible for the death of a loved one, we may feel it was our fault that something happened. We may have made some bad decisions, or not taken action when we should have.

If we can't change the past, then we must find a way to live with it. You might need to seek some help in doing so, but a qualified counselor can help you through these rough waters.

I believe that we are all presented with lessons to be learned, but most of us are so busy beating ourselves up for our past mistakes that we fail to learn them. Yes, we must take responsibility for our actions, and yes sometimes we are responsible for certain things. That doesn't mean we have to hate ourselves for it.

Give yourself permission to be imperfect, to be human. Allow yourself to accept that different choices could have been made, but you can't change what has already happened. We can dwell on the choices we should have made at the time, or we can vow to make better decisions in the future.

I'm still not proud of my past, but it is my past. I am no longer the person I was then. I have made many bad decisions in my life, and continue to do so today. That doesn't make me a bad person, it just makes me human.

We can learn from the lessons presented to us, and sadly some of those lessons are very painful. One of the best ways to deal with painful lessons is to find some good in them as hard as that may be.

Let's be honest, we all have those things hidden away inside of ourselves that haunt us. We have all been hurt at one time or another, our hearts have been broken, trust violated, apologies that were never made.

Forgiveness is never easy. We as humans tend to collect hurts, and if we aren't careful we can end up using those hurts as a wall. We convince ourselves that the wall is there to protect us, that it will keep the bad people out. It may, but it also keeps the good people out, and traps us inside of our own sorrows.

Humans are... well... human. Everyone will most likely disappoint us at some point or another in our lives, some more than others. When we refuse to forgive them, we often think we are punishing them, but we are really only punishing ourselves.

Forgiveness isn't about the other person at all, it isn't letting them of the hook, it isn't allowing them to get away with anything. It is simply setting yourself free. This is where it seems we get hung up the most.

We think that forgiving them means they are no longer responsible for their actions. In reality forgiving them just means you are no longer taking responsibility for their actions. You are in effect handing that responsibility back to them and moving on with your life.

Are you hoping that a day will come when the person who hurt you gets what is coming to them?

Maybe you are hoping they will finally see the error of their ways and regret what they did.

Surely someday they will apologize?

Maybe you are even waiting on the courts or the police to do their job so you can be free to move on.

If you are waiting for an event outside of yourself to occur so that you can find peace, you could be waiting a very long time.

Nothing outside of yourself can truly bring you peace, the best you can hope for is some sort of closure and even that is rare. Many times, it is going to be up to you to draw that line and say, it is finished.

As long as the source of your healing is placed outside of yourself, that something else is control of your life. You have no control of speed, direction, or destination. You are at the mercy of another.

Stop waiting for a train that may never come and work on freeing yourself from those shackles. Take back control of your life, decide where you want to go and go there.

If your day does happen to come, then rejoice, but don't stop living while you are waiting for it.

I have a huge problem with the phrase "forgive and forget." While forgiveness is an essential part of healing, spreading the idea that one must also forget to complete the process is hurting more people that it is helping.

Asking someone to forget anything in their life is like asking them not to think of a mouse dancing atop a thimble while wearing a pink tutu. Of course they are going to think about it when you tell them they must not.

Instead, how about "forgive and replace." Replace the negative thoughts with positive. Whenever a bad memory pops into your head try remaking the movie into a positive. If you were weak, imagine yourself fighting back. If you did something stupid, imagine yourself doing what you wish you would have done. Rewrite that old familiar script in your head.

Sometimes some sort of formal ritual helps you let go as well, it doesn't matter what it is as long as it means something to you. This is the real reason we hold funerals, it isn't for those who are gone it is for those who remain. When we scatter the ashes of a loved one in their favorite spot, it is a closure ritual.

Perhaps you could make a ritual out of destroying old love letters, photographs, and mementos.

Get a bottle of wine, pull out those old love letters and build a fire, and drop them in one by one. Scatter the ashes to the wind.

Write out your hurts and regrets and tie them to a balloon to be set free.

Take a walk in a place that has bad memories and leave a blessing for the future.

Write a poem about it and bury it under a rosebush.

It doesn't really matter what you do, there isn't a set ritual. Whatever you can think of that is symbolic of letting go of the pain will work for you. Then, when the event comes to mind, you can bring up the memory of your ritual, and replace the negative thought with a positive one.

Remind yourself that you have let go, and are ready to move on.

Everyone has their own timetable for healing, some can bounce back in a month, others can take a year. It depends on who the person is, what the situation is, and how many emotions are still tied to the event.

Many times if it involves a relationship we have to get through many of "the firsts" before we are ready to let go. The first time we pass our favorite restaurant, the first time we run into an old friend, the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first anniversary.

My first "first" after my divorce was Christmas. I cried a lot that year, but holidays were some of the hardest. My ex actually asked me for a divorce on our sixth anniversary, I woke up the day that would have been our seventh crying as well.

Some people thought I should have been "over it" a lot sooner than I was, but I just wasn't ready to let go just quite yet. After that things got a bit easier, the pain slowly faded and I was able to see that the divorce was not only the best thing for us, but for the children as well.

One thing is for certain, we never seem to get over it as fast as other people think we should. Don't let them pressure you, just keep taking those small steps forward and conquer each phase of healing when you are ready. If others are putting pressure on you, politely but firmly tell them that you have to do it your way.

At the same time, remember that progress is your goal, you don't have to do it all at once but don't stay in one phase forever either. Keep moving forward.

We would not be the people we are today without the events of yesterday.

Even the smallest details can have a large impact on where we end up. Yes, there are some negative effects from some events, but there are always positive as well.

I can honestly say that the negative events in my life had more positive effects on my life than negative. I couldn't say that at first, it took me a few years to really comprehend the positive changes that occurred in my life, but I kept looking and finally found them, in some cases I actually created them!

I was always seeking someone else to protect me, a daddy, a boyfriend, my brothers, the police. One night, I was still looking for that knight in shining armor that would make all of the bad stuff go away, when my prince charming turned out to be a toad. My world was crushed.

It took some time, but I finally found a strength in myself that I had spent almost 30 years trying to find in others. I was perfectly capable of standing up for myself, perfectly capable of protecting myself and my family and I was finally ready to let go of the fairy tale.

I look back on many negative events in my life, and now I see how they changed me in positive ways. If I had not had such a horrible childhood, would I be so focused on making sure that today's children have positive memories? I could perpetuate the cycle of abuse and neglect very easily, but instead I choose to believe that those who have been there are the best candidates for making the world a better place.

If I had not had to fight so hard to understand myself and help others understand me, would I still be able to strive so hard to understand others, to have this need to play devils advocate no matter what the situation?

We might not have control of the events that shape our lives, but we can control how we react to them. We can choose to allow them to weaken us, or to make us stronger. We can choose to allow them to make us self-centered, or make us more compassionate towards others.

Yes, sometimes horrible things happen, but we can choose how we view them. Today I am thankful that I finally found that strength within, that I was allowed to become a strong and independent woman who is perfectly capable of taking care of herself and the people I love. It was a hell of a climb to get there, but I wouldn't change it for the world.

You can find the good in the bad, even if you have to take the initiative to create it yourself. Remember always, that you have been granted the power of choice.

What we can do is find a way to turn every negative event in our lives into a positive. Perhaps we learned a valuable lesson, maybe we can share that lesson with others?

That is how I became an advocate, and why I write about so many personal things. If I can keep even one person from making the mistakes I did, or help them learn a lesson I struggled for so many years to learn them something positive comes from my experiences.

Those people who have suffered trying times, often make peace with their past by helping others. I know people who have lost children and gone on to start scholarships or non-profit organizations to educate others. Some fund a park project, others volunteer their time helping those less fortunate.

Keep looking for the positive and you are bound to find it.

Dan Gilbert

Author of Stumbling on Happiness

" From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have. In fact, a recent study -- this almost floors me -- a recent study showing how major life traumas affect people suggests that if it happened over three months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness. "

Synthesizing Happiness

I love this video from TED, it gives you a whole new perspective on happiness. It isn't the circumstances we face that show who we really are, but the way we choose to handle them.

May you find peace...

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    • profile image

      adultchild 2 years ago

      A big thank u.your way of dealing with past somehow feels right.already has an effect on me.hope more people are helped.carry on your journey and looks like ur enjoying life as it comes.

    • Sara2901 profile image

      Sara2901 4 years ago

      Very inspiring. Thanksbugworm

    • Elaine Chen profile image

      Elaine Chen 4 years ago

      I really like this topic and this lens; it let's me recall a statement that Kung Fu Panda told peacock in 2nd movie: "you gotta let go of that stuff from the past, cause it just doesn't matter.The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now"

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 4 years ago from San Francisco

      Good suggestions all. Like you, I have always had trouble with that phrase, "forgive and forget," because forgetting can lead to never learning from the situation, but as you say, forgiveness is healing and brings peace to our hearts, if not to the heart of the person who, as the song says, "done us wrong."

    • caneilson profile image

      caneilson 4 years ago

      Really good lens and one I can relate to a lot. Am in the process of shutting a door right now myself...

    • aviwolfson profile image

      Avi Wolfson 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      This really hit home, thank you for sharing this.

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed

    • Qcsgroup profile image

      Qcsgroup 4 years ago

      thank you so creating and sharing this lens . Sometimes you never know where your breakthroughs, miracles, and places of peace and solace can come from. thank you so much

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Maybe this is a ladies place but i ended up here somehow... I am a young man and today, maybe i started healing.. I am going through this hell currently but I am certain that better days are ahaid..

      Life comes in circles... Maybe if you carry a burden long enough, it eventually wears off...

      First time I talk about my feelings, and it was a bit awkard and unknown.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thanks so much for what i just read! i am in tears because now i know what has been holding me back. waiting on those who hurt and abuse me to acknowledge they did me wrong. I don't have to wait anymore. I currently am working with the young women in our church and the reason I wanted this ministry was to give them what i never had as a young women and that was understanding and patiece, and love. never again will I look at my childhood abuse the same.

    • wheresthekarma profile image

      wheresthekarma 5 years ago

      I hope you find that peace too. I could relate soo much to your life and went and am going through the same things. Great lens, going to pin this...

    • profile image

      miaponzo 6 years ago

      I think as long as you are constantly improving yourself, there is really nothing to feel guilty about!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I am letting go of my past right now on Squidoo. Once that is done I am moving onto my future. Only once we let go, can we move on. Life starts at 33.

    • ayngel boshemia profile image
      Author

      Ayngel Overson 7 years ago from Crestone, Co

      @indigoj: Thank you so much for visiting! Hope you found something you can use :)

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      Another fantastic lens. Thanks for sharing your insights and compassion.

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 8 years ago

      My God Woman - It sounds as though you wrote this lens with me in mind. An amazing lens from an amazing gal. The only flaw I can pick out with you is that you are American and I suppose you had little choice in that. Great Thundering Balls of Fire - if you were Canadian, you would be PERFECT!

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 8 years ago

      I'm still only half-way through this and I know I must make a link on my Self Destructive Behaviour page. You are a Keeper !!!

    • Kylyssa profile image

      Kylyssa Shay 8 years ago from Overlooking a meadow near Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA

      This is a wonderful lens! Thank you.

    • mysticmama lm profile image

      Bambi Watson 8 years ago

      Another Amazing Lens, thank you for making it, your openess can help a lot of others 5*

    • profile image

      pennymoore 8 years ago

      this lens is inspiring! Really great points and food for thought! I have so much to let go and am learning how to get there slowly but surely!

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 8 years ago

      impressive lens. I am loving your "changing your life" lenses.