Usually people dwell in the past for two main reasons: painful memories and past mistakes that trigger negative emotions in them.
The past defined who you are today, but it doesn’t need to define your future. Having said that, it’s imperative to learn how to let go of the past and forgive yourself for past mistakes. Before starting the real discussion, please read the following story first, as it’s pertinent to today’s topic.
CHAINED TO THE PAST…
Lee is a man who doesn’t share much about himself to others. He’s currently single and working a low-paying job. The man is definitely not living life at the fullest and yet, he seems kind of reluctant about changing his current situation.
A few years ago, Lee lost his three children in a fire. The man accidentally set his own house on fire with his three kids and wife inside of it. Lee wasn’t inside the house, because he was out shopping for some groceries.
The fire and the aftermath was just too much for the couple. As a result, they decide to get a divorce. At the time, Lee’s wife blamed the tragedy on Lee and his reckless lifestyle: drinking and substance abuse. During that fateful night, Lee was drunk and high.
Several years went by and Lee is still angry at himself for what happened. He’s clearly not happy about his life, but the man also feels like he doesn’t deserve to be happy. That’s why Lee avoids dating and keeps accepting odd jobs.
Despite of trying really hard to let go of the past and having his ex-wife say that she forgave him, Lee is still unable to get over the feeling of guilt that he’s been harbouring inside since that tragic night.
NOTE: What Lee did was not out of ill-intent. Yes, he was negligent but does that make him a horrible person? Not really. It’s true that Lee’s behaviour during that night was reprehensible. However, that itself doesn’t make him a bad person. Sometimes people make mistakes. And Lee happened to make a big one.
Let Go Of The Past: The First Step To Move On
If you feel like your past is holding you back, then, the first step to move on is to forgive yourself.
Don’t over analyse how your past has negatively influenced you. Instead, think about how your past can help you become a better person. No one’s life is perfect. Actually, perfection is not that important. Knowing how to make the best out of your own life is where your focus should be on. Therefore, do not deny yourself happiness even when you think of yourself as an imperfect human being.
“Fresh starts” require blank canvases. You won’t be able to do it, if you keep tainting your canvas with regret and other negative feelings. Therefore, give yourself a gift: forgive yourself. Don’t punish yourself, just because you feel like you’re not worthy of being happy. If you willing to learn and change, then you are worthy.
Let’s be real, who has gone through life without ever making one single mistake? They already happened and there’s not much that one can do to turn back in time. Some mistakes are fixable, while others are not. Look at Lee’s case, his children are no longer alive because of him. However, no matter how many times he beats himself up, nothing will ever bring them back.
So what now? The past definitely shapes who we are today, but it doesn’t need to dictate our future. If you feel stuck in the past, don’t deny it or try to forget about it. Try to acknowledge its existence instead. At first, it won’t make much sense. Why would one want to confront something that is painful and unpleasant?
A series of personal decisions and actions led to where you are today. Having said that, you’ve a lot of saying on where you want to be (future). Therefore, if you are not currently where you want to be or not feeling how you want to feel: do something about it. Instead of feeling guilty and sad about your life, change your own narrative and try to turn things around.
Coping With A Painful Past
A painful past that you haven’t come to terms with is like a chain that prevents you from moving further. Therefore, it’s imperative to make peace with the unpleasant (and many times hurtful) parts of your past.
Accepting something that has already happened, does not invalidate how you felt about it. If a certain event in your life caused you great pain, accepting it, does not mean that it was okay. However, when you come to terms with what happened, that is you giving yourself permission to be free from it.
Moving On From Past Mistakes
First of all, why do people make mistakes? Human beings are not perfect. Having said that, sooner or later, everyone will make a mistake. However, mistakes serve a greater purpose that many seem to forget: to make us learn something new.
In a way, mistakes do not happen by chance, they are part of the human existence. For instance, in the story above, there’s nothing redeemable about what Lee did or failed to do in that fateful night. However, losing his kids was definitely a wake up call for Lee: a strong reminder that his reckless drinking habits can have indeed dire consequences. It was definitely not a pleasant lesson for Lee, but he needed it.
Mistakes have several degrees to them. Not all mistakes are made the same. In Lee’s case, he was negligent and that cost him the lives of his own children. Whether they are big or small, people need to own up their mistakes. That’s another fundamental step to move on. Although making amends might not be enough to undo the consequences of your mistakes, it’s never too late to atone and do better. After all, it’s up to you to decide what are you going to do after the mistake.
It’s not wise to go out there to seek pain, but painful memories are sometimes necessary for us to become better human beings. In addition, mistakes are meant to happen, and most of the times, they are lessons in disguise. Therefore, think about it the next time you make one: it might’ve been an opportunity to learn something new or to shift your current set of priorities.
Reckless behaviours often lead to dire outcomes. However, mistakes can happen at any time (even when we plan ahead). Every action has a consequence and we might not get always what we want. But isn’t it more torturous when we fill our minds with “what ifs”?
Sometimes, it might be easier to forgive ourselves for something that we did, than something we didn’t do (but could have done). The regret of not doing something is far more painful than making amends for bad decisions. In that case, it’s better to make a “mistake” than live with regret.
The past is unchangeable, the future is unknown and the present is a gift. Having said that, make the best out of your past (the good and the bad) and do better in the present. In addition, getting out your comfort zone requires a lot trial and error. In others words, you’ll make mistakes along the way. So, cut yourself some slack and learn from your less proud moments. There’s something really scary about dwelling in the past: the longer you live in the past, the less future you have to enjoy.