Struggling to stop endlessly thinking of the past? Whether you’re reeling from a rift or nursing a grudge, it’s important to move on from the pain of what was so that you can embrace the joy of what’s to come. To help you conquer those past hurts, we reached out to several experts for advice.
Discover hidden reasons.
“Being stuck in an emotion signals that there is a wound from your past that is unresolved,” says expert Arielle Schwartz, PhD. Ask yourself if there are other times in your life when you’ve felt this way. Maybe you were bullied as a kid, and when a co-worker was rude the other day, the pain from your childhood rushed back in. “Don’t shrug it off,” she adds. “Contemplate it, write about it — this ‘emotional excavation’ lets us begin to heal.”
Release these past hurts.
We often nurse grudges because they have an emotional “benefit” we’re not aware of, called a “secondary gain,” reveals expert Suzanne Degges-White, PhD. “A secondary gain from holding on to a disagreement may be that we like the feeling of being right,” she says. “I call grudges ‘treasured hurts’ because we cherish them without knowing it. If you repeat the story of how someone wronged you, rumination may be a secondary gain, giving you a sense of control.” Being aware of why you’re holding on to pain helps you let go.
Expand your story.
“It’s hard to move forward when we think we deserve to feel hurt,” says expert Gail Brenner, PhD. “If you find that you tend to punish yourself, flip the script by saying: ‘I did my best at the time. Remind yourself: ‘I’m stuck in the past,’ and bring yourself to the present by breathing deeply. This helps expand your story — we can only move on when we’re able to be in the ‘now.’”
Forgive someone for yourself.
When starting fresh, there’s no greater tool than forgiveness. “It’s not reconciliation, which is about reestablishing a relationship — forgiveness is something you do for you to let go of bitterness,” says Degges-White. “It can’t be forced, so if you’re not ready, ask yourself if you can take a small step by letting go of un-forgiveness, or the resentment holding you back. Once you accept that nursing this hurt only hurts you, you’ll be able to make peace with the past.”
Lean on ‘real’ optimism.
Turning a new page requires looking on the bright side, but blind optimism ends up making us feel worse. That’s why Degges-White encourages realistic optimism: “Tell yourself, ‘X experiences were painful, but I’m going to learn from them.’” That may mean creating healthy boundaries or prioritizing self-care. “Acknowledging pain doesn’t mean there isn’t hope for the future,” she adds.
Trust future wisdom.
Our ability to release hurt feelings improves as we age, reveals Degges-White, who suggests picturing your older self. “Ask yourself what she is grateful for, because gratitude is correlated with resilience. Your older self may be happy about the many friends you’ve made in life or the difference you will have made in your community. Looking ahead lets us put the past in perspective and clarifies all the joy we have to look forward to.”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.