How to Let Go Of The Past (A Compassionate Guide)

If you’re struggling to let go of the past, here are some heartfelt tips that will help you move forward.

Like most people, I’ve faced a lot of challenges in my life. There’s been the “normal” stuff, like losing loved ones and the breakdown of relationships. 

There have also been …. a few curveballs, like a parent with acquired brain damage. This meant I didn’t have much stability growing up, and I certainly didn’t have a very traditional childhood. 

Now, I’m sure that I’ve had it harder than some and easier than many others. No one gets through life without a few bumps in the road. 

The question is: how do we find the balance of honouring our past and history—without letting it limit or hold us back from moving forward? 

I will attempt to answer these questions by sharing what I’ve learned from my lived experience. These are things that have helped me with letting go, and hopefully, you’ll find some value in these lessons as well.

"How to Let Go Of The Past (A Compassionate Guide)" in a white box with an image of a woman wearing all black walking along a balcony in the background.

What Does It Mean To Let Go Of The Past?

First and foremost, I want to point out that “letting go of the past” doesn’t mean that you just move on and forget about your history. Our past is a part of who we are, and we can’t just sweep it under the rug and forget about it. 

Instead, I think that “letting go” is more about being intentional and deciding what our past means for the future. 

Here’s an example that might give you some perspective. My son recently started walking, but of course, he spent a lot of time falling over before he took those first few steps. 

Now, those falls are part of his past, and nothing can change that. But what does that say about his future? 

On the one hand, falling over 30, 50, or a hundred times could be seen as evidence that he’ll never walk and he just can’t do it. After all, that’s probably what you or I would think if we tried something and then failed repeatedly. 

On the other hand, each fall could also be seen as proof that he’s trying. As parents, we celebrated every single stumble because we knew that he was getting so close. And now he can walk—in fact, he’s running all over and destroying the house.  

So let’s think about this for a minute. Obviously, we all know that a baby falling over a few times doesn’t mean that he’s a failure. 

But how often do we tell ourselves stories like this about our own lives? How often do we choose to view a little stumble as evidence of our incompetence instead of an act of perseverance? 

This is what I mean by letting go of the past. We aren’t ignoring our history or forgetting about our painful stumbles—but we are deciding what beliefs we’ll continue to carry as we move forward.

Life isn't meant to be lived perfectly, but merely to be lived. Boldly, wildly, beautifully, uncertainly, imperfectly, magically lived. - Mandy Hale
Letting go of the past means embracing that life is messy and imperfect—and also beautiful.

3 Steps To Letting Go Of The Past

Here are a few steps that have helped me move on and let go of the past in a way that still honours and respects my history.

1. Start by telling your stories.

Before we can move forward, we need to understand what holds us back fully. What are the thoughts, beliefs, and stories that we’re telling ourselves? We need to figure this out first before we can even begin thinking about the future. 

I think the best way to do this is with a pen and paper. Open up your journal and write about your past. Share your stories, your hurt, your fears—all of it. 

When you’re done, take a little break. Get some fresh air or make a coffee, and then once you’ve had some space, come back to your writing. 

I find that when I do this, it helps me gain perspective. I can look at my stories objectively, without the powerful emotions that overwhelm my writing. I’ve done this many times, and it’s almost always an eye-opening experience.

2. Acknowledge your feelings.

For the longest time, I had massive fears about seeming weak or needy. I didn’t want to acknowledge all the hurt that I felt, so I often covered it with anger, resentment, or indifference. 

I used to think it was empowering to pretend not to care, but I’ve since learned that your past always catches up with you. You can’t decide how to move forward until you’re honest about your feelings. 

  • If someone broke your heart, allow yourself to be heartbroken. 
  • If you made a mistake, allow yourself to feel the pain and regret. 
  • If you’ve ever felt abandoned, it’s OK to wish you’d had someone there for you. 

Years ago, I lost someone very close to me, and one of the things that helped me the most was a neighbour. I barely knew him, but he knocked on my door and told me that his little sister had died a few years before. He didn’t say anything else, but he hugged me, and I cried. 

What was so powerful about that moment is that, in the presence of someone who understood, I was finally free to feel everything that was building inside of me. 

It can be hard if you don’t have someone to support you in this way, but I’ve since learned that it’s possible to hold space for yourself. You just need to set aside the time and space to sit with your emotions instead of turning away or shutting down. 

(If you have the resources to get professional help, I’m sure it would be beneficial, but I know this isn’t possible for everyone. So do the best you can and be kind to yourself.)

A woman wearing all black walking along a balcony in the background.

3. Decide what to carry moving forward.

This is where things start to shift. Once you’ve dug deep and felt all the feelings, you can start deciding what to let go of. 

It’s pretty funny because, as many of you know, I’m a minimalist, and I write a lot about decluttering. And honestly, there are so many parallels between letting go of the past and letting go of our stuff. (In fact, I’m a firm believer that the two go hand in hand.)

But my point is that sometimes, we have to consciously decide when something no longer serves us. Like an old, beloved t-shirt that’s been relegated to the rag pile—sometimes it’s simply time to say goodbye. 

It doesn’t mean that we never loved that t-shirt or that it didn’t serve an important role in our lives for many years. But perhaps it’s time to start a new chapter. 

We can learn from the past, and we can mourn for what was or what could have been. But eventually, there comes the point where you must make a decision. 

Not to forget where we came from but to choose where we’re going and what we’re packing for the journey.

Related Post: 4 Ways to Stop Letting the Little Things Bother You

More Tips For Letting Go Of The Past

A few final tips:

  • Embrace duality — for example, you can feel angry or sad about something that happened in the past while also feeling grateful for the lessons the experience taught you. 
  • Be patient  — letting go of the past isn’t something you sit down and check off your to-do list. It’s complicated, and it takes time. Sometimes you need help, especially if you’re dealing with trauma or mental health issues. 
  • Try keeping a journal  — journaling is a powerful tool that can help you heal your relationship with the past. Here are some journaling tips you might enjoy. 
  • Practice self-care and self-love — The more you love and honour yourself, the easier it to make tough decisions about letting go.

Related Post: The Long Road to Self Acceptance

Final Thoughts On Letting Go and Moving On

If this blog post makes letting go seem overly simplistic, it’s because there’s only so much I can convey in a thousand-ish words. There’s so much work that goes on behind the scenes. 

Still, I’ve found that taking the first step of having a conversation with yourself—about who you are and where you want to go—can be powerful. Slowly but surely, one foot in front of another, we can walk forward towards a brighter future. 

What does letting go of the past mean for you? Let us know in the comments! x

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4 thoughts on “How to Let Go Of The Past (A Compassionate Guide)”

  1. Thank you for this beautiful piece! I’m dealing with my father’s sudden death of 6 months ago. So many feels . . . thanks for these thoughts.

    Reply
  2. Thank you for your touching article. My current problem is that I have demystified bad persons I encountered and, I think, forgiven myself for meeting (etc.) them. But I am now stuck in a daaark vision of people ; those persons, sure, but I also get angry at/fed up with some others, “newer” persons I run into. If something bad happens to me (=I’m hurt or I realise that I have been fooled), I throw my mental arms in the air and roll my actual eyes clockwise, thinking that people are not worth it. Sooo yeah, I guess I’m good to myself, but that doesn’t help me living an optimal, calm and soothing life.

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much! I so needed to hear it! I’m currently in the process of selling my childhood home which I abandoned decades ago and I never realized how painful it could actually be. Parting with all that long-unused stuff is literally heartbreaking. Every scrap of waste paper on the floor feels precious. Your article has really given me wings, allowing me to see the process in a whole new light. THANK YOU!

    Reply
  4. There is something I did that I had trouble letting go of but I am making progress in forgiving myself. I cannot believe I did it but I have to accept that I did! It helps me to forgive others when I can’t see how they could have done something terrible that affected me. I know this is cryptic but bear with me. lol

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