Releasing the Past to Move Forward

By | June 14, 2017

Why is it so difficult for us to release the pain of yesterday and move forward with our lives? It’s not as though we enjoy being stuck in painful memories. Rather, the longer we remain stuck in them, the more deeply they wound us.

Someone very close to me refuses to let go of the pain her ex-husband inflicted on her years ago. I admit it was a horrible time for her, and left very deep wounds. It is understandable that she would have trouble letting go of these memories, as they are a part of her. Yet, they are not just a “part” of her, they are the biggest part of her. Why? Because she chooses to make them so.

She has been divorced from this man for nine years now. She hasn’t laid eyes on him since, as they had no children together and have no reason to remain in contact. She is remarried to a wonderful man now, and generally lives a happy, contented life with him. But the very mention of her ex-husband’s name sends her into an instant rage.

This very thing happened not too long ago, while I was present. As she fumed and carried on about what a snake he was, I quietly asked her, “Why do you continue to let him hurt you?” This seemed to surprise her.

“I don’t,” she said defensively, “I’m talking about what he did in the past. I couldn’t care less about him now.”

Is that true, really? If she couldn’t care less about him, why does she still get so upset when his name is mentioned?

In my own opinion, it’s because she hasn’t fully let go of the pain from her past. She is still stuck in echoes of agony. She hasn’t allowed herself to fully embrace that pain and move through it. So it holds her prisoner.

There is also the issue of forgiveness. If she were to forgive her ex-husband for what he did, would that absolve him? Would that make it “okay” that he hurt and betrayed her? She can’t allow that to happen. So she clings to her hatred and bitterness.

Let’s be honest: it is NOT okay that he did what he did. It’s not okay that he hurt her like he did. But does it help anything to cling to the pain and refuse to forgive him?

Is he even aware that she still harbors such heartache over the past? I doubt it. She is not punishing him, she is punishing herself. But she’s afraid to forgive him because doing so might mean she condones what he did.

I tried explaining all this to her, but I don’t think she got it. I don’t blame her though, I have been there myself.

Haven’t we all? Sometimes we are too blinded by the hurt to see things clearly. I do believe she will work her way through it eventually. Most of us do.

However, if a person wanted to speed up the process, there are two things that can be done immediately (and on an ongoing basis) to take a more active role in releasing the past. Since my friend isn’t ready to hear it, I will share it with you. 🙂

Embrace the pain.

Ouch. I know. It’s not a fun process. I’ve done this, and it is difficult to say the least. But it is freeing too.

One of our most destructive habits is running away from pain. Denial. Pain isn’t fun; it’s, well . . . painful! It’s not surprising that we’d want to avoid it if we can.

Avoidance might work for awhile, but pain doesn’t go away unless we deal with it and work through it. It will continue to fester if left unacknowledged.

One of the simplest ways to work through old hurts is to relive them. Bring up a painful memory and allow yourself to feel what you avoided the first time around. Heartache, rage, horror, sadness, grief – let it run it’s course. Cry as hard as you need to. Scream into a pillow. Punch a pillow. Write out your rage in a notebook and tell that person exactly what you think about them. Don’t hold back, no one is going to see it but you.


Forgiveness is not a one-shot deal. You don’t just make a decision to forgive someone and then everything turns to roses. Rather, it is a process. It takes practice, just like resentment and anger do.

However, it does begin with a choice, and the realization that forgiveness benefits YOU, not the one who hurt you. By refusing to forgive the other person, you are keeping yourself where they put you: in the victim’s role.

Forgiving someone does NOT mean you are condoning what they did. It does not mean you absolve them of their guilt. It means you no longer hold yourself at their mercy. You release the hold their actions have on you.

Why do all this? The past is gone, why dredge it up again? Why not just let it go?

Because many of us really haven’t let it go. We trick ourselves into thinking we have. We squelch the memories deep down inside and pretend they’re not there. We don’t allow ourselves to think about them.

But if a memory can still cause you such pain and rage, it’s a sure sign that you haven’t healed and moved on. There is a big difference between avoidance and letting go. Letting go is a healthy, conscious decision. Avoidance is a subconscious act of fear.

Which do you choose?

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