How to Let Go of Past Hurts & Move Forward – 11 Proven Tips


let go of past hurts past future picture middle class dad

Almost everyone has some old issues stemming from our childhood or previous relationships. So I’ve wondered how to let go of past hurts.

Here’s what has worked for me:

Acknowledge your past issues. Then choose to not be defined by them. You won’t forget the past, but you don’t have to be controlled by it. Forgive those who hurt you; this helps let the pain get released, but you may need to cut them from your life. Lastly, don’t use the past as an excuse; take ownership of your life!

But that’s just the beginning! So let’s keep exploring.

We all have a past. Childhood abuse or neglect. Maybe a parent with addiction issues. Or perhaps an abusive relationship.

All of these and more can cause damage to our present and our future. Past issues can sabotage relationships. It can lead us to addiction or other destructive behaviors.

But how can we learn to let go of the past and move forward? 

Can we move forward despite immense neglect, trauma or abuse? How do we allow ourselves to not be defined by our past; to get over the pain?

In this article, we’re going to identify and explore some of the things that can create these issues.

But more importantly, we’re going to look and simple and actionable ways to learn how to let go of the past and move forward.

We may never forget our past but we don’t have to let it control our future.

Why is it hard to let go of the past?

In short, fear and pain are what holds us back.  Facing our past is often painful.  It’s far easier to push those feelings down and pretend they aren’t there.

I have friends who were raped as kids. Others had parents who died from drug overdoses (1 in their presence). Still, others just had parents who blew the rent money on drugs and got evicted.

But even if your past isn’t that traumatic, there are still things from it that are scary or painful; things you’d rather not think about.

So many of us choose not to think about those things, hoping they go away.

But even beyond that, mental trauma gets stored in our body the same way physical trauma does. If you’re in a bad car accident, it may be weeks, months, or years, before your body works through the physical trauma of the accident.

Why? 

Because of how that trauma gets stored in your muscle tissue. When we have significant mental trauma, like abuse, neglect, or otherwise, that pain can get stored in our muscle tissue the same way.

If you’ve ever done yoga, you may have noticed that certain poses can elicit an emotional response. That’s because the pose released some stored pain or trauma.

So in short, healthy physical activity is a GREAT way to release stored tension and trauma caught in our bodies. Those healthy activities include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Yoga
  • Martial Arts
  • Pilates
  • Getting a regular deep tissue massage
  • Cryotherapy

But even meditation can help significantly even though it’s typically not done in motion.

What does childhood trauma lead to?

According to a recent study about adverse childhood experiences done published by the National Institutes of Health, survivors of childhood abuse, trauma or neglect are:

  • 5,000% more likely to use drugs
  • Much more likely to attempt suicide
  • Suffer from eating disorders

But the study even found correlations to physical health issues in addition to the mental health issues.

Past hurts have such a significant impact on us because it rewires our brains. In short, like the character Dexter in the TV show of the same name, we undergo significant mental changes from how our brain responds to that childhood stress.

Many of us learn to medicate those feelings away with drugs, alcohol or prescription drugs. Other folks may lose themselves in self-destructive sexual behavior trying to make those feelings go away.

For some, they may simply become workaholics and work crazy hours to avoid dealing with those feelings; pushing away their families in the process.

Many will engage at different levels in ALL of those behaviors.

I can tell you from personal experience and in observing others that those things don’t work; at least not in the long term.  They don’t bring happiness or make the pain go away.

While it can work in the short term to self-medicate the pain and pretend it doesn’t exist, what are you really gaining?

How is it helping?  It’s like trying to patch a hole in your car’s gas tank with a piece of duct tape; a temporary fix at best.  One that may lead to worse things down the road than if you just fixed it now the right way.

Aren’t you worth being the best you can be?

The answer to that question is, of course, yes.  You are worth it.  You deserve to move forward.  Your family deserves for you to move forward.

You can learn how to let go of the past and be happy. 

I have seen it and I have done it (and continue to work on it).

My past issues and how they affected me

My mother and father divorced when I was 6 months old.  By the time I was 2, my mom had remarried and we moved over 1000 miles from my dad who was just coming to terms with being gay.

If growing up with a gay father is something that impacted you, you can read my story in a recent article (click to read on my site).

My step-father was an alcoholic who beat my mom.

I cover what it’s like growing up with an alcoholic father in another recent article (click to read on my site).

I never doubted he loved me, but he had a hard time showing it.  He had an even harder time showing it to my mother who eventually left him after he knocked her teeth out.

Many a night was spent crawling out my bedroom window to run away into the nearby woods to escape him on a drunken rampage.

I don’t want to disparage his memory though. Despite those things, he means a lot to me and unfortunately has been gone for a long time.

Then by age 10, we left and moved 1000 miles away from my step-dad; the man I called father.  Also, I changed schools every 2 years up until high school, so I was also constantly changing friends.

In brief, almost everyone of importance in my life left me at some point.

I was subconsciously learning to fear being left. But I also was learning to sometimes leave before the other had a chance to leave me; a preemptive strike!

This innate fear has affected every romantic relationship I’ve ever had. So learning how to let go of my past and move forward was crucial.

How do you move on and let go?

I’m fond of saying that awareness (with any issue or addiction) is half the battle.

Once we identify an issue, we’re well on our way to learning how to beat it.  But conquering an issue doesn’t mean it goes away never to be felt again.

Conquering simply means we control it rather than the other way around.

Lots of things can trigger an old feeling or issue. The difference conquering makes, however, is that we can recognize when those feelings come up.  We understand why we are feeling what we are feeling. 

We can make a conscious choice to NOT let those feelings control us or our actions and reactions.

But beyond simply making a conscious choice to not be controlled by my past, I’ve also:

  • Seen therapists
  • Read self-help books
  • Listened to podcasts
  • Watched videos

In short, the world is full of brilliant people and I love to listen to great thought leaders expound on ways of bettering oneself.

I refuse to be defined by my past because I don’t want to be limited. 

I don’t want some distant memory telling me how to feel or making me react a certain way under certain situations!  I’m too stubborn to be trapped by the past.

I would rather work and sweat, screw up and try again than simply wallow in my own self-pity thinking “this is as good as it gets” or “that’s just how it is”.

There may always be people, places or things that trigger feelings.  But do you want to allow those to control you? The choice is ALWAYS yours!

Wondering if you should Use Free Counseling? Check out that amazing post to learn more.

How do you move on let go and leave your past in the past?

As I mentioned above, the first step towards healing is acknowledging an issue.

An alcoholic who says to themselves “I have a problem with alcohol” is now 50% of the way towards not being defined by that issue.

I first came to terms with my past many years ago.

However, it’s only been in recent years that I began to realize the impact of my childhood on the romantic relationships I’ve had.

In fact, it took my wife and me almost breaking up in 2013 before I really began to understand my past and how it was affecting my present and future.

I go into greater detail on that in a well-received post about my infidelity and how I saved my marriage in a recent article (click to read that on my site) and why saving a marriage in the aftermath is so important.

One misunderstanding out there is that we somehow eventually get to a place where we check “done”.  I don’t care what you’re referring to; you’re never done.  There is always more to learn.  You can always grow more.

If you stay observant and present you will ALWAYS be better in every way a year from now than you were before

Thus, learning to let go of past hurts and learning how to let go of the past and move forward is not something you just do.

It is something you will always be aware of and focus on.

The impact will diminish over time as you do the work, but your past doesn’t go away.  Most importantly though, you get to a place where your past doesn’t control you.  You CAN refuse to be defined by it.

Where I’m at now is I’m very acutely aware of my past.  I’m aware of my tendencies and insecurities. I even addressed my insecurities in a previous article about how to be less clingy in a relationship.

If you struggle with relationship insecurities or neediness, check it out my post if you haven’t already.

But now, let’s review my . . .

11 Powerful Tips to Let Go of Past Hurts & Move Forward

let go of past hurts middle class dad blue bridge

1. Face your past

Acknowledge the issue(s) you haven’t wanted to face. What was the event or events that created the trauma?

It may be painful or embarrassing. It could also be that someone in your extended family hurt you (and no one else knows). But you can’t move forward until you’ve acknowledged it and talked about it with someone.

2. Identify the issues

How are those issues from your past affecting your behavior in the present?

Dig deep and think about all the aspects of your life now that were potentially shaped by that early trauma. It could be bad habits, but it could also be relationship issues or something else entirely.

3. Understand the issues

Why are our past issues creating destructive behaviors? How are your actions now tied to those of your childhood? Are you recreating the destructive habits of a parent or going 180 degrees in the other direction?

If you’re going in the other direction, are you going too far?

4. Visualize how you would like to behave

If you could wave a magic wand and change your situation, what would your world look like? How would your relationships function and how would you act?

Visualization also called the power of positive thinking or the law of attraction is simply a way of programming our brain to manifest what we want. When we are constantly saying things like “nothing ever goes my way” or “this always happens to me!” we are literally programming our brain to do more of that.

But you can do the opposite and see those results too.

5. Seek professional help;

There’s no shame in asking for help.

We aren’t born knowing everything and no matter what your issue, there’s someone out there who’s experienced it, worked through it, and can help.

Therapy, religion, meditation, yoga or other mindful physical practices can all be GREAT things for reshaping how you see yourself and the world. Dive in deeper and see if therapy is right for you at BetterHelp.

6. Do your best to avoid the destructive behaviors during your healing

Remove yourself from places, people and things that are preventing you from moving forward.

That may mean changing friends if they all drink heavily or do drugs. It may also mean distancing yourself from family members as they may have been part of the problem, to begin with.

You can’t focus on being the best version of you surrounded by people who bring out your worst.

7. Confront people from your past if you must

Forgive and move on (leaving them in the past if they continue to be a destructive force). When we hold on to anger, fear, or hate, we’re giving someone else power over us.

Don’t do it. They aren’t worth it, and you ARE worth it.

Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting. It also doesn’t mean you have to have them in your life. It just means the anger and pain is no longer stored inside you.

8. Engage in a daily focus of moving forward

Slow progress is still progress.

Don’t beat yourself up for not making as big a step as you wanted to. Move forward slowly, taking baby steps and being kind to yourself and others.

9. Forgive yourself

Forgive yourself if you take a step back.

We are all human beings and all fallible.  We all make mistakes. There is no shame in making mistakes, only in repeating them or not learning from them.

Depending on the level of past trauma or hurt you are trying to overcome, it may be VERY hard to move forward without the occasional slip-up. So be kind to yourself, but keep pushing on.

10. Take responsibility

Inevitably, before, during, and even after getting over past hurts, we hurt those around us in some way. So as part of our recovery, it’s important to take responsibility and ownership of it 100%.

Apologize to everyone you’ve ever hurt. Rather than making you appear weak, apologizing actually makes people think more highly of you as that represents real strength.

11. Be Patient

Understand that healing will take time and patience is your friend.

You WILL get to a better place but it may not happen overnight and that’s OK. It’s also not a destination you’re trying to find. My journey has no end. I simply move forward, a little bit every day.

 

Have you learned how to let go of past hurts and move forward?

In this article, we dove deep into the past.

We looked at how the past can affect our present and our future. Then we explored some of the negative ways it impacts our lives and why we have those tendencies.

Specifically, though, we looked at how we can let go of past hurts and find ways to move forward. We may never forget the past, but we don’t have to be controlled by it.

What do you struggle with?  Do you find yourself unable to let go of past hurts?


Photo credits (that aren’t mine):

Looking into the past – take 2 by Nomad Tales is licensed under CC2.0
forward by paul bica is licensed under CC2.0

Jeff Campbell

Jeff Campbell is a husband, father, martial artist, budget-master, Disney-addict, musician, and recovering foodie having spent over 2 decades as a leader for Whole Foods Market. Click to learn more about me

2 thoughts on “How to Let Go of Past Hurts & Move Forward – 11 Proven Tips

  1. I struggle to let go of the past when it becomes a pattern in my romantic relationship. My ex and I have broken up recently, and as much as he told me to let it go. It was hard when he kept doing the same thing. For example: he breaks our conversation to actively search for a co worker that passed us by 5 minutes ago, and stares at her butt. And turns to me and greets me. A month passes by and he does it again. How are you to let go if the behavior is reoccurring?

    1. Hi Lynn

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. If you and your ex work together then, unfortunately, it’s not really in the past yet. Also if he’s actively eyeing other women while in conversation with you, that’s just flat out rude, whether you’re together or not. He may even be doing it intentionally to get a rise out of you, or maybe to make you jealous, like some sort of power manipulation.

      If moving to another job isn’t an option, then I would suggest setting clear boundaries with him. At the very least I would stop talking to him. I wouldn’t be rude, but I would just let him know you need some space & distance in order to move forward and that from here on out, you don’t want to engage in conversation unless it directly and exclusively relates to work.

      Once you’ve done that, were he to continue to approach you about personal matters, then I would complain to HR and that “repeated and unwanted behavior” is the definition of harassment and they are legally obligated to step in.

      If he has to talk with you about work matters and he does this while having work-related discussions then when it happens I would stop him and let him know you find it inappropriate to be staring at other women while in discussion with you and if it continues, I would again go to HR.

      If he happens to be the boss, then I would most certainly look for another job and take that at the nearest opportunity. Otherwise, it could be very hard to heal.

      I hope that helps and would love to hear a follow-up.

      Thanks,

      Jeff

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