Inside: 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 the emotional pain of 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.
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 experiences are a part of who we are, and we can’t just sweep them under the rug and forget about it all.
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. When my son started walking, 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 old hurts. But we are making a conscious decision about what beliefs we’ll continue to carry as we move forward.
3 Steps To Letting Go Of The Past
Here are three steps that have helped me move on and let go of the past in a way that honours and respects my history.
These tips stem from my personal growth journey, and I hope they help you let go of your past as well—BUT if you are having a hard time, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. I went through a difficult experience last year, and therapy was a huge help.
1. Start by telling your stories
Before we can move forward, we have to understand what holds us back. What thoughts, beliefs, and stories are we telling ourselves about past events? We need to create a safe space to figure this out first before we can even begin thinking about the future.
I think one of the best ways to do this is with a pen and paper. Open up your journal and write about your past hurts, your past relationships, your past mistakes—all of it. Pour everything out and don’t edit or judge yourself.
You don’t have to fake positivity or try to put a positive spin on things if that’s not how you feel. Instead, the most important thing is that you give yourself permission to share any negative thoughts or emotions that you may have been suppressing. Just open up, release any feelings of guilt, and let it all out.
When you’re done, I’ve found the best thing is to take a little break. Get some fresh air, make a coffee, or go for a walk. Sometimes putting some physical distance between yourself and your journal can help you gain much-needed perspective. Then, once you’ve had some space, come back to your writing.
I find that doing this is a powerful way of gaining perspective about my own life. I have more self-compassion, and I can look at my stories objectively, without feeling overwhelmed by heavy emotions. It gives me a starting point—I can see the good things and the hard times—and it prepares me to take the next steps.
The Simply + Fiercely Show is a podcast for women who want to clear their clutter and create space for freedom and joy. If your life keeps getting bigger—but not better—then it’s time to declutter from the inside out. LISTEN NOW
2. Acknowledge your feelings
For a long time, I had the biggest 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 and you face past trauma head-on.
- 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 a family member 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. I’d been hiding my negative emotions because I wanted to be strong.
But at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. Feeling hurt is not only normal—it’s also an important part of the healing process.
It can be hard if you don’t have additional support, but I’ve since learned that we can hold space for ourselves. You just need to set aside time to sit with your emotions instead of turning away or shutting down.
Of course, if you have the resources to connect with a mental health professional, a support group, or even a trusted friend then those are wonderful options. But I know that’s not possible for everyone, so do the best you can and be kind to yourself.
3. Decide what to carry moving forward
This is where things started to shift for me, and I experienced massive change. Once you’ve dug deep and felt all the feelings, you can start deciding what to let go of.
It’s actually pretty funny because, as you might 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. It’s the lingering effects of past experiences that often make it so hard to declutter. When you can’t let go of past mistakes, it’s hard to let go of the physical manifestation, aka your clutter.
But regardless, there comes a time when we have to make a conscious choice about what 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 now you deserve a fresh start.
This was, admittedly, the hardest thing for me to learn. For years, I had let past pains define me, and trying to reclaim my identity without it was a difficult task. I had to wade through an ocean of strong emotions before I came out the other side with a new perspective on life.
We can learn from the past. 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.
Now to be clear, I know that when you’re struggling to let go of a past relationship, dealing with difficult family members, or suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, things get complicated. Of course, it’s not the same as decluttering your closet.
But at least, give yourself a chance to see things in a new way. If you’re struggling with old memories and the weight of the past, it might be a good time to let go and open your heart to new opportunities.
But at least, give yourself a chance. If you’re struggling with old memories and the weight of the past, it might be a good time to let go and open your heart to new opportunities.
Related Post: 4 Ways to Stop Letting the Little Things Bother You
6 More Tips For Letting The Past Go
If you’re struggling to move on, here are a few more tips you might find helpful:
- 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. Something can be a painful event and also one of your pivotal life experiences. Life is not either or, so embrace the many shades of grey.
- 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 and explore unresolved feelings. Here are some journaling tips you might enjoy.
- Practice self-care and self-love — The more you love and honour yourself, the easier it is to make tough decisions about letting go. Take care of your physical health, create supportive daily routines, and invest in positive experiences. This is an important step, so don’t skip it!
- Experiment with mindfulness meditation and being in the present moment. This isn’t about denying painful thoughts, but it is about learning to observe them without judgement.
- Be mindful about how you use social media — if certain accounts or pages trigger painful memories about past situations, you might need to set stronger boundaries. Unsubscribe or unfollow; it’s probably not a long-term solution, but it’s a way of buying yourself a little room while you work through painful feelings.
Related Post: The Long Road to Self Acceptance
Quotes About Letting Go Of The Past
Here are a few quotes that I find inspiring on those days when the past keeps haunting me. I remind myself that at any given moment, on any given day, good things can happen. But only if I open my heart to the possibility of new things and new experiences.
“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ― C.S. Lewis
“Be mindful that hurt happens, but so does healing. Learn from those not so good times and embrace the greatness to come.” ― Alexandra Elle
“Just because something made you happy in the past doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever.” ― Melva Green
“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.” ― Mandy Hale
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 cover in two thousand words. There’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes, and a blog post won’t make the pain of the past go away.
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. It’s about taking a step in the right direction, then slowly but surely, one foot in front of another, we walk forward towards a brighter future.
What does letting go of the past mean for you? Let us know in the comments! x
5 thoughts on “How to Let Go Of The Past (3 Ways To Move On)”
In letting go of the past, I realize that I was trying to let go of part of myself, a part of me that was the alcoholic. I hated her. I hated what she did with her life but I realize I can’t let go of her because she’s part of me, and what I really need is to forgive her and love her, and to bring her back to be part of who I am.
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.
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.
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!
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