How to Let Go of the Past

Written by Dr. Eric Perry

“There’s an important difference between giving up and letting go.” ~Jessica Hatchigan

1. Recognize that we have a choice
Whenever we get stuck in the past, most likely it is because we are being bombarded by intrusive thoughts. These intrusions appear as regret, anger, hatred, resentment or sadness. When we get caught by this web of negativity, it is extremely difficult to remember that we have a choice. We can choose to break free from this cycle by realizing that each thought has an energetic value. Negative thoughts chain us to past memories only to weaken us.

2. Understand why we hold on
Dwelling on the past can actually feel good to us. Hating someone because they wronged us can feel very satisfying because we feel like we are getting back at them through hatred. In reality, we are the ones adding to our own suffering. We hold on to the past because we find comfort in what is familiar. If we are content in holding on then most likely it is because at least it is consistent. We need to recognize that holding on to the past only keeps us stuck. Your most beautiful life is waiting.

3. Focus on now
It is important to bring yourself to right now, even as you read these words. Pause for a moment. Look around you. Notice the colors that you see in the room. What shapes do you see? A strategy that is commonly used for people with PTSD is to look at the details around them. By doing this, they can shift their focus away from the bombardment of thoughts. You can use this strategy anytime you feel like your thoughts are taking over. You can also imagine a safe place in your mind. My personal favorite is to imagine that I am sitting on an airplane with all of the windows shades down. It is peaceful, and I am enjoying a movie; most likely a thriller or comedy.

4. Get rid of the reminders
Anything that re-triggers you to think about the past needs to go. Lock it up, throw it out or set it on fire. There is no need to keep these reminders. It is common that we unknowingly keep reminders around us. Take a few moments to study your space. Do you have reminders around you that re-trigger you to thinking about the past?

5. Redirect to something productive
One of my favorite concepts is sublimation. My basic definition of sublimation is to take some negative feeling and turn it into some positive action. If you are feeling angry, channel that energy into extra sets at the gym or an extra mile on your run. If you are feeling sad, go out of your way to lift someone else up. If you stay where you are, you can’t go anywhere else. We need to keep moving! Good luck!

The thoughts expressed in this blog post are my own and are not meant to create a professional relationship with the reader. This blog does not replace or substitute the help of a medical professional. Please note, I am unable to answer your specific questions as I am not fully aware of all of the circumstances.

Dr. Perry

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107 responses to How to Let Go of the Past

  1. Cezane & Michelle says:

    I just wanted to say, this is so my kinda site! I really love psychology. Some of my posts are psychology related in some lines so far. I am really happy to have come across your blog! I look forward to reading more of your posts! Cheers 🙂 – Cezane

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am so glad you are finding my posts helpful. It is always motivating to hear from my readers!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Pratyusha says:

    I loved your post. I guess, I needed to hear this right now. Moving on or letting go your yesterday is difficult. There are others ways to channelise the energy like taking up hobbies that make you happy and divert your thoughts. This keeps you busy and happy. Also, the thinking negatively about a person, only to move on doesn’t help. As you rightly pointed out, it only increases our suffering. Maybe forgiving yourself and others helps to move on. This always helps me. And I don’t curse or have any Ill feelings for the counter part. I still hope and pray that they lead a peaceful life. Lovely post again !!!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I see many other articles suggesting forgiveness as a main approach. In reality, that is such a hard thing to do. I wanted to write a post that included more immediate and practical things we could do to move forward from our past. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It is very rewarding for me to hear from you!

      Liked by 5 people

      • Pratyusha says:

        Well actually it is very difficult to do that. But have practiced it over years. And I guess, dealing with move on ‘s has made it a bit easier for me. And likewise, rewarding to read your posts which are very practical and relevant 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  3. Nina Trema says:

    Thank you for this post. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. Thanks as well for the likes on some of my posts. I think this is the first time that I actually read your blog and now I appreciate your likes even more. I will read your blog faithfully 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Miriam says:

    Thank you for this. I’m at a point in my life where I need to shift the focus and I’ve been finding it hard. You’ve shared some useful advice here, now I just have to remember it and use it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I appreciate your comment! It always motivates me to hear somone found my post helpful

      Liked by 1 person

  5. hoppernomad says:

    It’s a really good, well-written post. I liked the part about pausing and focusing on what’s around you. It seemed (to me) a more useful approach than repeating phrases such as be in the moment, stop and smell the roses.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. Oh wow! Such a relatable post.. This post has inspired my thoughts, sometimes you need to read posts similar to this and boost the focus up more on to yourself! Love the thoughts you’ve shared, it’s really interesting! Sometimes moving from the past is so hard.. Once you think you’ve let go it echoes back to you a few times.. and once your finally over it, you turn out to be a stronger person more focused. Written posts like this is really nice to read once in a while as it maintains, reminds and strengthens your focus. Loved reading through this looking forward to your future posts! Very motivating!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Oh gee! I could stay here and keep reading all day. I must get to sleep though.
    Loving what I’m reading here. Thank you. I’ll be back to pick up where I left, when I’m able to. 👍

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Sylvia J. says:

    “We hold on to the past because we find comfort in what is familiar. If we are used to holding on to the negativity, we are content in holding on, because at least it is consistent. We need to recognize that holding on to the past only keeps us stuck. Your most beautiful life is waiting.”

    WOW. Exactly what I say when I describe how hard it is to let certain things go.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Dr. Perry says:

      I am so happy our paths have crossed. I believe we are all like comets. One touch can send us in an entirely new direction.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Wendy says:

        What a lovely comment! I’m definitely finding the inspiration I need to make the changes I need to make. I’m on an exciting new path… x

        Liked by 1 person

  9. makupsy says:

    I loved this post. I can relate to it because it was only a few weeks ago that I finally managed to forgive and let go off someone who I had been holding hostage in my head for the past 5 years. He hurt me so bad each day I kept looking back wondering what I could have differently but it only made me feel bitter by the day.
    It’s only now that I realised that forgiving him and myself was the only thing I could do to be at peace with myself. We share a daughter and before I would be so upset that he didn’t love her or make time for her but I have accepted that you can’t force an individual to feel a certain way. It has to come from them.
    Life is good now, I am happy, I have no more emotional baggage, I have channeled my energy into blogging and running. Yes, I have bad days here and there but over rally I am a happy being 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  10. yllama says:

    this would have been very helpful to me those times i was breaking apart…😀 but im glad in fine now…i hope those people struggling to be free from pain will be able to read this…what a great eye-opener.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. thirtynwordy says:

    The idea of us hanging on to negative thinking because it is “consistent” is a very powerful thought; something I’ve never thought of before. Thank you as always for your insightful post.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Woah! 😍👌🏼 This is so beautiful and relatable.
    I’m taking psychology for my IGCSE subjects and reading this makes me so happy that I took that.

    – Sania

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Patricia says:

    This is number one on my need list! I have held on to so much. I beat myself up constantly with all the wrong things said, mainly. Also I have hung onto moments or experiences that I built up in my mind to have more meaning than they did. I now realize that I forced many of these situations and that makes for a different obsession. Just this morning I found myself reliving an old experience and facing the reality of it which resulted in negativity towards myself. I had to stop and say to myself, “That was then and this is now.” I realize that dwelling on the past causes me to miss out on today but my brain still goes there. Your suggestion to divert my attention is a good one.

    I believe that I have lost friends due to my living in the past by reminding them of past experiences they have moved on from. Its not about bad feelings on my part, it is more a need to build up my importance in their lives.

    Thanks for this post, it was most helpful!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. This is excellent, and provides of reminder of things I may have already known, but certainly forgot somewhere in the dark corners of my mind. ❤

    Thank you for following my blog by the way! It was such perfect timing for us to connect in such a way.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Izrael says:

    Letting go of the past is much more difficult to do than say. I felt that it is much more effective to completely rid of the reminders. From personal experience, I remembered how I managed to get out from it. I had deleted all of my social media and changed my number to not let reminded of my own past. I know how extreme it sounds but I felt that it was the best decision I had ever done to this day. Thank you for the great post and much love.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Your post is very informative and I needed it! I have had a very difficult time letting go of yesterday since we lost our son in an accident several years ago. And yet…I think we should try to keep his memory alive. After all, we had a wonderful son for 26 years! However, I do need to live in the present and not let sadness enter. Since I retired at the end of the school year, I have realized just how much joy the children gave me. At school, I could move forward. At our home, I seem to move backwards. There are too many reminders, too many pictures. I really do need to find joy in what we have now…a daughter and son-in-law who are smart, ambitious, kind-hearted…future grandchildren…the time for us to travel. Thank you for making me think!

    Liked by 2 people

  17. sargondorsai says:

    I’ve gone through several waves of this over my life. As a survivor of two divorces and now happily on my third (and final) marriage, I’ve had a lot of baggage that I’ve had to rid myself of over the years. Letters, pictures, journals. Records. Even tax records from years and years ago. All entered the shredder or fireplace over the years. Very liberating… not to mention saving space in my filing cabinet.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. judithreid says:

    Thank you. Such a fab post and so relevant for me at present. Letting go of my Mum’s passing last year has been one of the hardest things for me but I know I have to for my health and sanity !! I remember seeing a film once (no idea what it was called) where a self-help group of people (ranging from bereaved to betrayed) got together and were told to put away reminders for a year. Having that year to focus on the now and with no triggers around, made such a difference.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Wonderful post.

    Right now I’m actively changing my life by letting go of the past. It isn’t easy. For me, letting go of those negative emotions from the past means letting go of the people. That’s the hardest part. It means any hope for resolution is gone. It’s taken a long time to become okay with that outcome. For so long I held the emotions hoping, one day, to be heard.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Jasmin says:

    That is a very good and helpful post…and blog in general. Some of the tactics suggested in this post I am already doing automatically, like getting rid of triggering reminders. Just today I have put a note with a telephone number of a person I don’t like (but who I have to call from time to time) that was taped to my computer monitor into my drawer; because every time I saw that persons’ name, I got angry again. Tada! Problem solved. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  21. liveconnectpeace says:

    Much needed for me. Could relate to the second point. I want some connection to the person so I hold on to the anger. It is tough to let go.
    I also practice sublimation. That is a good technique but when that is over, I go back to thinking about the past.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. dianaed2013 says:

    whole new philosophy emerges as you get older and one is acceptance – accept friends as they are and accept that it not always possible to do what you did when younger but looking for a replacement activity I think is the key

    Liked by 2 people

  23. paulkensettblog says:

    excellent and informative – I have PTSD and the grounding techniques are very helpful ..

    Liked by 2 people

  24. spudbudette says:

    Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) has allowed me to let go of much of my past without physically doing it. But this is good especially since different methods work for different people at different times.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Really useful. I used to be terrible for rumination about the past. It ruled my every waking minute – I used to work on my thoughts, over and over, until they became completely toxic. It took a lot of training and will power to spot this as it happened, and block the evil thought patterns in their tracks. It changed my life to be able to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

  26. ladycoetzee says:

    Stumbled across this at a fitting time. My chiropractor, who is also a weird and wonderful woman with her crystals and strange natural remedies, looked me square in the eye after our second consultation and said: “You’re imbalanced. I can straighten your body, but as long as you are angry, you will always be imbalanced. You either need to forgive, or you need to start speaking up about things.”
    It was a poignant moment, one I’m thankful for.
    I don’t hold grudges, but I do swallow my anger and pain, and then I become super-sensitive to those things, only to swallow it again next time. Hugely destructive. Not sure how to put years of hurt behind me, start on a clean slate… These are really constructive ideas. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  27. darie73 says:

    I don’t usually read Blogs like this one. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. After seeing many Psychologists and Psychiatrists with little success until my diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 7 years ago, I was left with mixed feelings about the Mental Health System as a whole. I like your approach and suggestions. I have a hard time with the past. When I’m in a “Depressive Episode” every horrible thing ever said or done to me plays like a record on repeat in my head. There’s no stopping it. I have tried some CBT with no success. I also have Conversion Disorder, Celiac Disease, and went into kidney failure a year ago leaving me with one kidney. No one can answer my question if this affects how my medications work. My family and I have noticed a huge change in my behavior since my kidney failure. I feel like I’ve talked to everyone I can and now I have to just take it day by day. And I realize I do find the pain and negativity comfortable because I’m afraid to know what it is to be happy. I was happy once. The rug was pulled out from under me. I’m afraid of that happening again. It’s been a breakthrough day. Thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Dom says:

    Thank you for this post. Sometimes it seems you can find answers where you don’t expect them.

    Thank you for this sentence: Your most beautiful life is waiting.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. bluertide says:

    Great post. I’m in the middle of a “letting go” battle and this really touched me. Anger grief and regret all boiled up into a destructive stew. Why am I hanging on? I try to get rid of triggers but lately it seems everything is a trigger. I dive into new projects for distraction and it helps, but only for a while. It’s a struggle but I keep working at it. Thank you so much for the inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

  30. quandarysite says:

    Oh My God!! This was really inspiring and helpful. I could actually connect it with my own life. I always ask people to move on, there’s so much ahead but I am like still stuck somewhere in the past. But ya the good thing is I try to come out of it. And now I am a lot better. I think of myself and my goals and don’t waste my time thinking about something that does not even matter. Keep writing and inspiring. You are really good at it.

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Kevin Howard says:

    This is a very interesting post. I’m definitely using these tools the next time my OCD acts ups. It’s funny really. Mental disorders are so complicated but the tools to manage them are so simple. Thanks for this. I enjoyed reading this. =D

    Liked by 3 people

  32. 'Funke says:

    This post Is very realistic and I can relate to it 100 percent. What I have learnt in life is that letting go might not be easy but its worth it.

    Liked by 2 people

  33. J. says:

    My comment might just show up a few times, I kept getting an error message 🙂 Beautiful website, great content, very inspiring messages! Than you!

    Liked by 2 people

  34. sharonchyy says:

    Reblogged this on Inspiration and ideas on creating your dream life and commented:
    That’s right! Express your pain, focus on the present, stop blaming others and forgive them!!

    Liked by 1 person

  35. mswithmsalex says:

    Being someone who was trapped in the past for several years, I can relate to this read. I was a widow and stuck on all the past good times we shared. I had to get used to a new normal. This was a lot easier said than done. I had to get outside of my own head and look at things from a different angle. This is no easy task. We don’t truly move on until we’re ready. It took me forever but I’ve finally arrived.

    Liked by 1 person

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