Most of us spend a lot of time diligently planning for our future, trying our best to create positive outcomes down the road while we avoid any unnecessary pain or problems. But, what happens when we also try to control what’s already happened to us in our past and let it take control of our present and future?
Seems like a lot of wasted effort, right? We can’t change what’s already happened to us or what people have done to hurt us, yet most of us struggle to put that past behind us, purposefully holding on to those painful memories for years, even entire lifetimes! If we let it, they can block our ability to lead the happy and productive lives we all strive for.
But why do we hold on to pain we’d rather not have experienced in the first place? Well, for many people, it’s because of two things. First, it’s because they haven’t allowed themselves to fully process the experience and may be using avoidance as a way of dealing with it.
Second, if they feel they’ve been wronged and the person who hurt them has never been held to account for their actions, they are often still hoping for a different ending with either a sense of vindication or validation.
Also, many people are unaware that they carry pain from the past until something triggers it, often years after the first experience, and even THEY are surprised by the level of emotions that come flooding to the surface like an erupting volcano.
It seems like it’s coming out of nowhere, but it’s been there all along, simmering in their subconscious, well beyond the reach of their day-to-day thoughts.
Trying to avoid it though, only makes the issue worse. Every attempt to ignore a bad memory only lengthens the healing process and intensifies the emotion. Sort of like an infection left untreated and ignored only to grow unchecked into something much more serious than the original injury.
In addition, if you haven’t had the courage yet to share the truth of the damage that was caused or hold the person who upset you directly accountable, they may have no clue that they’ve done anything wrong and may be completely blindsided by the eruption of emotions that surface years after an event occurred.
This kind of strong emotional reaction, especially if it comes from an unexpected trigger, also makes it harder to connect with the person you hope to resolve the issue with, because they may feel confused or feel they’re being attacked right out of the gate. This usually results in them defaulting into defensive mode where they may not be as receptive to being open to hearing your side of things.
Often the person who feels they’ve been wronged or victimized feel blocked from sharing what they really feel because they are also afraid of being rejected or hurt again. I’m sure we’ve all been there. I know I have.
They’re caught between a rock and a hard place because they want (and need) to speak their truth, but they don’t want to make a bad situation worse or hurt someone they love, even if that person was the one, knowingly or unknowingly, who created the situation in the first place.
But, here’s why trying to control an ugly experience, instead of dealing with it head on, can backfire on you. Ignoring the reality won’t make it go away. As I just mentioned earlier, it’ll only build upon itself and you’ll make a bad situation worse with no outlet for healing.
So, here are three ways to help you face an ugly past and put it firmly in your rearview mirror where it belongs.
First, don’t get stuck in the story.
Ever catch yourself re-winding and playing your greatest hits of hurtful memories over and over again? Often we share these stories with friends, spouses, family or co-workers who we feel safe with. Sometimes we ask for advice, but often we are really telling the story to feel some sense of vindication. We crave that sense of approval from others that confirms our right to being angry, resentful and upset.
But, it’s a treadmill to nowhere and it has repercussions you may not be aware of, such as the damage it’s doing to your energy and health. Did you know that when you are re-experiencing an unpleasant memory, your body doesn’t know that it’s in the past. It’s giving you all the physical responses as if it’s happening right now, in the present moment.
The sick feeling in the pit of your stomach, the migraine or racing heart. Your body is reacting to the intense biological processes that negative emotion creates. Over time, this can promote serious health issues, like heart disease, cancer, digestive or long-term sleep issues.
You can’t change history, so there’s no value in continuing to re-live the experience through storytelling.
Which leads me to Tip #2.
When you’re finally ready to deal with the prospect of facing a person about a past wrong, don’t go in like a bull in a china shop demanding vengeance. Instead, step back and get really clear on what it is you need from them in order to move on.
Is it a simple apology or an acknowledgement of their wrongful action? Do you want them to repay you in some way? Once you have that identified, then ask yourself if it’s truly realistic for them to provide it to you? Because if it’s unrealistic, it may only frustrate you more.
Bottom Line: They can’t erase the past. But, what is it that you need to hear from them or what action do they need to take, that will allow you to release the frustration and anger that’s been simmering for such a long time.
The final tip is to try and stay unemotional when the time comes to confront your nemesis. Staying unemotional can go a long way in defusing further damage being done. Just stick to the facts. Let the person know that you’re addressing a past issue because you’re ready to start the healing process. Let them know why you’re hurt and what you are hoping to receive from them to help that process along.
But, regardless of how that discussion goes, the most important thing is this.
Whether the person takes ownership of their part in the experience or not, it doesn’t dictate your ability to heal and move on. You can never control another person’s actions, emotions or intentions; you can only control and take responsibility for your own.
If the person is unable or unwilling to accept responsibility for their actions, stay in a place of empowerment, not victimhood. There’s never anything more powerful than speaking your truth when your setting the past to right. That’s all it takes to release the past, along with a healthy dose of forgiveness of course, so you can move on and truly be happy.
There is such a powerful beauty to letting go of whatever, or whomever, is holding you hostage to an unhappy past. We all have the power to make the choice of healing over pain. It’s not always an easy process, but as long as you choose healing over holding onto old pain, your life will positively change in ways you could never have imagined.
So, my friend, as I always say….stay safe, stay healthy and stay strong!
If you’re struggling with letting go of the past and think working with a coach might help, I encourage you to take advantage of one of my free 20-minute introductory coaching consults (by phone) or schedule a full regular session online.
All sessions are done by phone or via Zoom for the health protection and safety of my clients. To schedule, go to: