In my role as a Counsellor and Mindfulness teacher in Birmingham, I see people struggling with the question of how to let go and move on after a hurt, trauma or loss. Letting go is a difficult thing to tackle. If successful in doing so however, letting go is hugely powerful and is a must if you want to move on and live life as fully as possible.
So how do we ‘let go’?
In my experience there are a number of things we need to do in order to let go of the past.
– Express your hurt
– Take responsibility
– Apportion blame appropriately
– Focus on the here and now
– Forgive yourself / others when and if you can
Express Your Hurt
This can be done in a number of ways. Talking with people that you trust can be one of the most successful ways to understand your own feelings and have your hurt acknowledged and validated. If you don’t feel able to speak with somebody that you know, counselling is an effective way to have your experiences, thoughts and feelings listened to in a confidential environment. Expressing and organising your thoughts and feelings does not have to be done through talking if this is not for you, or you are not ready. Get creative; write, draw, paint, dance, sing, run out your feelings. Allow yourself time to really and truly focus on what has happened and truly express your feelings about it. Take out the hurt and examine it so that you can understand it and the impact it has on you now.
Taking responsibility is vital to allow yourself to move on. What was your part in the situation that caused you hurt? Was this a situation that you had some control over? How did you respond at the time, and would you do anything differently in the future? These are all really important questions to ask yourself. Sometimes we take responsibility for things that we are unable to control, and it is important that we are honest with ourselves about what our part in the hurt really was. We can not control other people and therefore it is important that we do not take on responsibility for other people’s actions. Again, other people can not control us and it is important that we take full responsibility for our own actions. Take responsibility for your responses and behaviours now. Notice the stories that you tell yourself about the event. Do you repeat these stories over and over allowing yourself to ruminate and overthink the event, therefore keeping yourself in the past?
Taking responsibility is also about recognising your resistance to moving on and understanding what you are gaining from letting go. There is a certain pleasure we can take from seeing ourselves as, and being seen as, a victim. However, whereas we may have been a victim in the past, are you able to recognise how you have survived, and the strengths you have gained from the difficulties in your past? Are you able to shift your perception of yourself from this role of victim to a role of survivor, or even thriver? Allowing yourself to take charge and shift from the feeling of powerlessness to one of powerfulness is hugely healing. Take responsibility for how you feel and react now, then make a decision to bring about some changes in your life.
Apportion Blame Appropriately
Blame is rarely black and white. Often we can blame ourselves for things that we have absolutely no control over. At the same time we can blame others for things that aren’t really their fault. Often, although not always, blame cannot be truly attributed 100% to one person. Just like taking responsibility, it is important that we are really honest about who is truly to blame. If we are a person that often blames ourselves for things, we need to reflect on this honestly, and recognise when we are truly to blame, or if we are allowing ourselves to feel guilty for things that are not really our fault. Are you a person that says sorry when somebody walks into you, or feels guilty about other people’s pain, even when it is not your fault? If blaming yourself is a tendency you have, then spend some time being really honest and do not allow yourself to apportion blame to you for things that you have no, or little control over. Again, this is about taking responsibility, and apportioning blame to the right person, so that you can fully move on with honesty and integrity. If upon reflection you are able to recognise that you have been at fault, apologise and make amends if need be. Feeling guilty about our actions can anchor us to the past. Accepting your part in the event can free you from the chains of the past.
Focus On The Here And Now
Focusing on the here and now is not about forgetting the past but more about not allowing yourself to be consumed by it. Remembering the past is important as we can learn so much about ourselves and how we are in different situations. The past can also help us to understand what changes we want to make to ourselves and our lives in the future. However, when we spend a large proportion of our time overthinking the past, we miss out on so much that is happening right now. Having an acceptance that the past has gone, and we can’t control or change what has gone by can help us to learn to focus our attention on what we can change and control – the present. There is a big buzz around Mindfulness at the moment for precisely the reason that it can help us to control our thoughts and feelings, help us to stay anchored in the present, rather than being always drawn away to the past. If you feel you would benefit from help with staying in the here and now, I would recommend a Mindfulness group to begin with and then using apps or books, with access to Meditations, to maintain your practice.
Forgive Yourself And Others (if and when you can)
Forgiveness is not about forgetting or saying that what happened was okay, but it is about making a choice. Forgiveness can happen if there is a full understanding of what needs to be forgiven, who is to blame and if full responsibility is apportioned appropriately. Reflect on how these negative feelings of anger, resentment, guilt are impacting on your life right now. What are you gaining from feeling this way? What would be gained by forgiving yourself or the other person? The act of forgiveness is not for the other person, it is for ourselves and is the ultimate act of letting go. Letting go of the anger, guilt, hurt. Forgiveness is a choice you can make to allow yourself to heal and move forward.
If the hurt has come from another person and you are able to make the choice to forgive let that person know if possible that you have forgiven them. Speaking to them in person if you can, writing them a letter or email. You don’t have to send it if you feel that you can’t, but the act itself can be a cathartic experience. If the person needing forgiveness is yourself because you have hurt another person, apologise and make amends if need be. Feeling guilty about our own actions can stop us from being able to move forward. Remind yourself that you, like everyone else, are human not a robot and all humans make mistakes. Not everything is black and white and there are lots of events that can lead us and others to certain actions. Forgiveness is a process that can take time, so be patient with yourself. Free yourself from the chains of judgement, guilt, anger and choose forgiveness.
Once you have made the choice to begin the process of letting go as shown above, it is important to make some positive changes.
Firstly, give some thought to the clutter in your life that holds you back from making positive changes. Take some time to reflect on unhelpful habits and behaviours, clutter in your home, items from the past that are no longer useful. All of these can hold you back and keep you in the past. Look at your life, look around you and begin to declutter. With every change you make you close a door and bring into your life the potential to open new doors, having new space to fill with new potential.
Once you have focused on decluttering, give yourself some time to think about what you want to be different and how you want your future to be. What would you like to achieve in the future? Think about both big and small, short and long term plans. Then make a plan about how you can make these things happen. What can you do right now to begin your journey on this new path? Experiment, be curious and approach your new life with excitement.