You keep reliving it even though it was years ago. You wake up from a dead sleep, play the whole thing in your head and cringe. Why did you say that? What were you thinking? You shouldn’t beat yourself up over the past, but if you do, you’re certainly not alone.
Four in five women suffer from low self-esteem, the Dove Global Beauty and Confidence Report found. Low self-confidence can spill over into other areas of your life, causing nine out of ten women who suffer from it to avoid important activities such as socializing with friends when they don’t feel like they look good. This can breed anxiety and anger, making it difficult to forgive those perceived as contributing to your emotional distress. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to break this cycle. Here are five ways to and let go of past baggage that’s holding you back.
How to Let Go of Your Past
Accept How Your Values Have Changed Since the Past
One of the hardest parts of learning to forgive can be forgiving yourself. Often, we blame ourselves for our past, making it hard to forgive ourselves, which affects our ability to forgive others. Americans generally find it easier to forgive others than themselves, with 53 percent willing to seek help forgiving others, while only 43 percent are willing to seek help forgiving themselves, according to Fetzer Institute research.
One thing that can make forgiving yourself easier is realizing that your values have changed since the incident that hurt you. You probably thought and behaved very differently at that time in your life than you do now. Say, for example, you did something dumb and regrettable after drinking too much at a college party. Rather than beating yourself up over the mistake that happened years ago, learn from it. Faced with the same choice now, you’d likely do things differently. Accept that you’re a different, more mature person now and you don’t need to continue feeling the same way you felt then. If you have trouble reaching this point on your own, consider talking to a therapist who can help you work through past issues and give you advice on how to let go of the past and be happy.
Realize You Did the Best You Could at the Time
Another reason you may be blaming yourself for the past is that you feel like it’s your fault you didn’t do things differently. This may be blaming yourself for things that were beyond your control. It’s easy to look back and say “I should have done this or I could have said that.” Realizing that the way you behaved in the past was shaped by your life experiences at that time can be helpful. Give yourself some credit, and some leeway to make mistakes and grow up. It’s not always a graceful process. You probably did the best you could with the experiences and resources you had available then, which may have been limited. You may be evaluating yourself based on what you know now, without taking into account that you didn’t know as much back then. Don’t beat yourself up over things you didn’t have the experience to handle.
Turn Your Biggest Regrets into a Positive To-Do List
Dwelling on regrets from your past — about things that were done to you or things that you did — can trap you in a cycle of anxiety and anger or other negative emotions. But you can transform these negatives into positive motivation by using your regrets as learning opportunities. Make a list of some things you wish would have turned out differently. Use this to generate a to-do list of goals you’d like to accomplish. For example:
- If you wished you’d treated your past significant other better, make it a conscious priority with your next (or current) one.
- If you lost your cool when your best friend told you about something you didn’t agree with, make a point of listening first, rather than talking, in all conversations.
- If one bar tends to turn into four and a night of poor decisions, make a commitment to leave at a certain time. “One more drink” is almost always a bad idea.
Learn how to let go of the past and move forward. What a privilege to use your past experiences — good and bad — to make your future a more positive experience for you and those around you.
Accept That Your Life’s Experiences Have Made You Who You Are Today
To forgive past wrongs, it can help to accept that good or bad, your past experiences have made you who you are today. These experience have shaped both your positive and negative character traits. You can’t change the past, but you can move forward based on who you are now. By knowing how to let go of the past and live in the present, you’ll learn to accept your present self and use your past learning experiences to continue improving yourself from this point on.
Cut Yourself Some Slack: Mistakes Happen
A perfectionist attitude can contribute to low self-confidence and anger toward ourselves and others. If we expect ourselves to be perfect, we can never live up to our own standards and will have a hard time forgiving ourselves. It will also make it hard for us to accept and forgive others. Reminding yourself occasionally that no one is perfect can help you cut yourself some slack and relieve some anxiety.
Forgiving yourself isn’t an easy feat. It requires acceptance you did your best with the information you had at the time. It involves breaking the cycle of negative thoughts and learn how to forgive and let go. It means you have to cut yourself some slack and let go of the pain you don’t need to carry around. It’s hard work but is what you must do to grow.
If you need additional help to work through these issues, consider scheduling an appointment with a licensed therapist. ThriveTalk is a teletherapy service that lets you schedule appointments from any location using your phone or a webcam. To schedule an appointment or for more information, contact us here.