William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is not dead. It’s not even past.” Philosophical musings aside, it’s all too common to feel like you can’t escape from past events and feelings—particularly the negative ones. Letting go of your past hang ups isn’t easy, but it’s absolutely necessary to live your best and most productive life. These 5 strategies can help you escape from past trauma and reclaim your sense of self.
Make Time to Dwell, but Don’t Overdo It
If you’re grappling with a recent traumatic event, such as a breakup or the death of a loved one, thoughts of the past might fill up your entire day, making it difficult to concentrate on anything else. It might seem counterintuitive, but embracing those thoughts and addressing them is the first step toward overcoming them—you just can’t let them overwhelm you. Early on, try setting aside a half hour each day to dwell on those thoughts and work them out in your head. By designating certain time for reflection, you can challenge yourself to put negative thinking aside for the rest of the day.
Stop Blaming Others
In serious emotional situations, it’s often easier to play the victim or look for others to blame. Unfortunately, blaming others puts power into their hands, and does little to help you move forward. Instead, you need to take responsibility for your own wellbeing. Sometimes it can be satisfying to feel like the victim, because you can point to something else that someone factually did wrong. However, the fact that someone wronged you is precisely the reason you shouldn’t dedicate mental and emotional energy to them.
Forgive People for Past Mistakes
Forgiving other people is the next step to take after you stop blaming them. It’s not easy, and it takes time, but forgiving someone who has wronged you is one of the most overt ways you can let go of lingering negativity. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to agree with what they’ve done—in fact, it means you acknowledge that what they did was wrong, but you empathize with them nonetheless. Exercising that kind of compassion for someone who has hurt you is one of the most powerful ways to reshape your perspective.
Write it Out
You don’t have to be a skilled author to express your feelings in words. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) is an excellent way to help yourself process feelings and let go of resentment, regret and unhappiness. Writing out your thoughts can help you assume a more detached perspective, viewing your circumstances as a sort of outsider through the lens of the written word. If you have particularly strong feelings wrapped around a specific person, try writing a letter to them expressing how you feel, without holding anything back. There’s no need to send the letter; just getting the feelings out is often enough to help you begin moving past them.
Define Who You Are Now
Your past experiences shape who you are, but they’re not inescapable. Regardless of what’s happened to you previously, you always have to power to define your identity. By choosing who you want to be, you create a narrative for yourself that’s not rooted in past trauma. This might mean finding an emotional or creative outlet that gives you fulfillment. It might mean making peace with longstanding feelings of shame, guilt or resentment. It might even mean finding ways to help others cope with their pasts. Regardless of how you choose to define yourself, asserting an identity that goes beyond your past is an empowering way to move forward in life.
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