How To Let Things Go
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
We are able to recall negative experiences. We can remember experiences of pain, hurt, shame, guilt, grief, rejection, disappointment, loss, heartache, regret, remorse, and failure. Our brains are hard-wired to remember negative experiences rather than positive ones. From an evolutionary perspective, remembering and thinking more about negative experiences allows us to avoid danger, survive, and be ready to respond quickly when we face challenges.
But when the challenge has passed, how do you let go of those negative thoughts and move on with your life? Holding onto negative experiences can breed an attitude of resentment, cynicism, bitterness, and distrust. These negative memories can become a weight that we carry, a burden, a psychological and emotional baggage, that hinders us from living fully in the moment and moving forward in our lives.
We can learn to let go of living in the past.
1. Give yourself time.
There is no specific set time frame for how long to process each life experience, but allow yourself some time to work through the experience that you want to let go of. For example, if something negative happened at work or school, give yourself a day to work through it. If you experience a romantic break up, give yourself 3 months to process what you went through. If you experience the death of a loved one, give yourself a couple years to work through grief and loss. Again, these are not set time frames to follow, but just examples of giving yourself time to grieve and process. How long you give yourself to work through each experience will be dependent on the intensity of each situation.
Set aside time to write down/type out your experience to process it. Writing prompts to consider:
What are the significant events that I have experienced in my life? Which memories do I continue to hold on to?
What happened? Write out the facts of the situation. Then write out your thought processes, feelings/emotions, beliefs, and desires that you had when you went through the experience.
How did that experience affect you? What are the consequences of this experience? How has it affected your identity and self-esteem? What do you believe about yourself, people, and life because of this? What decisions have you made in light of this experience?
What do you want to let go of? Write out the thoughts, emotions, unmet needs/wants , and core beliefs that you want to stop ruminating on and want to change.
Who do you want to be after you let go of this? Write out in what ways you may be different, if you let go of this negative experience.
3. Heal your hurt and pain.
One of the reasons why it is hard for us to let go of things from the past, is because it is marked with hurt and pain. We don't want to be hurt again, so we remember times we were hurt. Acknowledge your hurt and pain. Give it words, describe it, explain it. Provide healing to your pain. We provide healing to our pain through: Acceptance, love, compassion, validation, emotional release, trust, security, peace, generosity, self-worth, growth, support, encouragement, and to be listened to well, to be seen, heard, and understood.
4. Make the commitment to let go.
At some point of processing and healing your negative experience, you can make the commitment to let go of it. If you do not get to this point, you may have to continue processing the event over again. This is often the most difficult step of letting go, having to dig up old memories and past wounds, but it is more effective to do it intentionally than to allow it to continue ruminating subconsciously.
One of the most powerful benefits of acceptance is being able to live fully engaged in present reality. Baggage from our past has the power to distort our perspective of reality. It makes us prone to irrational thought patterns, sensitive to reactive emotions, and become stuck in unrealistic core beliefs. Acceptance is acknowledging the reality of what we experienced and how it has affected us, but it is also accepting the work we've done to let it go.
6. Stop blaming others.
When we go through a negative experience, our sense of justice wants to assign blame, and identify the offender and victim in the situation. It is important to hold people accountability, for perpetrators to be punished for their actions, and to provide restitution to the victims. Once these steps have been taken, we can let go of identifying as a victim. Yes, we were victims in that situation, but being a victim does not define our identity. While we do not want to invalidate the experience of being victimized, we also do not want to over-identify with being a victim. Holding onto a victim-mentality may lead us to be distrusting of others, to feel like people are out to take advantage of us, to feel like people owe us something, and a sense of entitlement because you have been wronged in the past. It may be helpful to work through assigning blame, letting go of your victimhood, and moving on from it.
7. Forgive yourself and others.
Another way our sense of justice holds onto past negative experience is our need for revenge. If we have been wronged, we feel justified to right that wrong. We often hope for karma, for people to get what they deserve. As you work through past negative experiences, practice receiving forgiveness so that you are able to forgive your offenders. Think of a time when you were at fault and the person that you hurt forgave you. Make the decision to forgive those who you have hurt you, letting go of your desire to get revenge.
You will also have to forgive yourself for past negative experiences. What faults and failures are you holding onto against yourself? Commit to forgive yourself, to let go of the punishment that you think you deserve.
8. Build a social support system.
Build a social support system of concentric circles to work through letting go of past negative experiences. In the smallest circle, identify 1-2 people you can confide in and ask to help you. In the next circle, identify a small group of friends you can reach out to for encouragement. Then beyond that, practice an "elevator pitch" to filter the negative experience from other relationships. Something like, "I had a rough childhood." Ask those in your inner circle to journey alongside you as you do this work of letting go.
9. Live your life.
As you overcome being stuck in the past, identifying as a victim, and the bitterness of unforgiveness, begin to make plans for you life. This may be baby-steps at first, but start small and start living a life that has let go of the past.
10. That was then, this is now.
As you continue to move forward in life, you will continue to remember these past experiences. When these memories pop up, practice saying to yourself, "That was then, this is now." Develop a mindset to see the work you have done to address the experience and let it go. "I am a different person now. I am stronger now. I have healed. I am not the same person that I was then. I am wiser. I have gained experience. I learned from it. I have matured. I've grown."