Make Peace with the Past
Are you one of those people that is stuck in the memory of a past event, or series of events that you can’t let go of? A dismissive, detached, or anxious parental upbringing perhaps? A ‘failed’ marriage? The loss of a close family member? A long-term relationship ending? An affair? Trauma?
At some point in your life, you have likely found yourself ruminating on the past. Maybe you have even experienced signs of depression due to thoughts of the past.
This is no way to live out your life. Much of my work is focused on regaining vitality by transporting you from the past and into the future.
As an example of how important it is to let go of the past, let’s take a look at grief. For anyone who has lost a loved one, they know how crippling grief can be. Grief can be experienced very differently for everyone, but no one benefits from staying in the grieving process for months or even years.
Misconceptions we hold about grief can underwrite our choices of how we process the loss. Some feel the amount of time you grieve is directly correlated to the amount of love you had for the one you lost. If you grieved for 3-6 months, then you loved the person this amount, and if you grieved for 1-2 years, then your love for the person was that much stronger. This is not to say it is healthy to ignore your pain and simply move ahead with little acknowledgement for your loss. You must acknowledge the hurt, sit with that feeling from time to time, but look ahead towards the future memories you will make with other loved ones. No one will ever totally replace the person you lost, but you may be surprised at what life has in store for you once you allow it to happen.
Here are some suggestions to help you move from the past towards the future.
It is difficult to be specific with these suggestions because they often relate to the situation at hand. Regarding the grief example above, it may mean that you need to give yourself permission to move forward. This doesn’t mean you leave cherished memories behind, it simply means you are giving yourself permission to step into the present, so others can enjoy you more. It means being an active participant in life.
Realize what staying in the past does to your physical health. We all know the bi-directional pattern between the gut and the brain. The more emotional strain we endure, the deeper the physical strain on our health. Emotional strain is an endocrine disrupter. For any woman suffering with post menstrual symptoms (PMS), we can see how hormone imbalance affects our ability to regulate emotions. Weight gain is another example of what emotional pain does to us. Hair loss, eczema, acne… I could go on and on. In other words, think of what your choice of living in the past is doing to your health today. Then ask yourself, “Is it really worth it?”
Specific ways of focusing on present and future events include:
- Start planning future events, whether that might be an upcoming birthday, a renovation, a career move, or new health routine – the goal is to focus on the future.
- Focus on the lessons you have learned, not where you failed. I am sure it isn’t the first time you have heard me say every mistake you made in a lesson is a golden nugget of information that you should now treasure and learn by. For instance, regrets about how you parented your child should be instead viewed as what you are doing differently today.
- Set a specific time aside to ‘relive the past’ and be diligent about this. For example, “I am going to think of this past event during 5:00 pm – 5:30 pm on my way back from work.” Once that time is up, then there is no more thinking about the past. It sounds corny, but it is actually very effective. This is even more effective if you plan your ‘worry/sadness time’ at an awkward time and place. For instance, “I am going to worry or feel sad about this during 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm while I sit in the furnace room”. Chances are you have other things to do during this time, and who wants to sit in their furnace room?
“Focus on the future. Focus on the lessons you have learned, not where you failed.”
Finally, people often romanticize memories, making them more grandiose then they really were, whether that be much worse or much better. We all heard how our parents started working 15 hour days starting at the age of 12 (really Dad?), or how someone fresh out of a broken relationship describes their partner as ‘the most amazing person” and how “we connected like no other relationship” and so on. This is a sign that you are stuck in the ‘honeymoon’ phase of the relationship, where oxytocin is running through your veins and you both had oodles of time to focus on one another’s needs. FYI – that is not where relationships tend to stay. Life happens after that stage and just like every other relationship, it would have experienced strain. The rose tint on your glasses would have turned a hazy grey, and many other colours as the partnership continues.
I hope this post helps you stay with the present. Your loved ones around you want and need you to be in the present. It is not fair for them to often experience you ‘half there’. They cherish you and want you to experience life to the fullest.
Life is short and none of us know when our time is up. Make the best of it.
Today seems like a good day to start.