Declutter Your Mind: How to Stop Worrying, Relieve Anxiety, and Eliminate Negative Thinking - S.J. Scott, Barrie Davenport (2016)


Relationship Strategy #2: Getting Unstuck from the Past

We talked earlier in the book about ruminating on the past, and how it can cause those feelings of being mentally overwhelmed. When you think about the past, you may notice that many of your thoughts relate to encounters with the current people in your life.

You replay conversations that were unpleasant or hurtful. You dwell on a broken relationship or a lost love. Maybe you reflect with longing and sadness about children who have grown and moved out of the house, friends who have drifted away, or siblings who seem disconnected.

Perhaps you encountered relationship pain that was so deep and wounding you have never really healed from it, and it continues to disrupt your life and sabotage your thoughts. Looping these memories can trigger unresolved anger, shame, guilt, fear, and sadness.

Because relationships are so integral to our lives, it’s not surprising that people from our pasts continue to cause us pain weeks, months, or even years after an encounter or relationship has ended. You replay these “mind movies” so often that you start to identify with them. Dragging the past around in this way is a heavy burden that drains you of energy and inner peace.

Sometimes we replay past situations in an unconscious attempt to resolve them, but ruminating only keeps us stuck in the past and miserable in the present. How can we break free from our thoughts about the past so they don’t continue to imprison us or bind us to people who should no longer be part of our lives?

Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now , says “We can learn to break the habit of accumulating and perpetuating old emotion by flapping our wings, metaphorically speaking, and refrain from mentally dwelling on the past, regardless of whether something happened yesterday or 30 years ago. We can learn not to keep situations or events alive in our minds, but to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making.”

Easier said than done, right?

It’s hard to just drop painful memories and push these thoughts out of our minds.

Hard…but not impossible .

And certainly worth the effort if you want to free yourself to enjoy positive, loving relationships in your current life.

If you want to be present with your family and friends today, you can’t remain stuck in your thoughts about past relationships and old hurts.

Here are some ways you can clear the clutter of negative thoughts about the past:

Resolve what you can.

If there’s an unresolved problem or hurt between you and another person, take action to resolve the situation . Rather than stewing about the past issue, initiate communication with the other person to talk through it, even if you feel you were “wronged.” It’s hard to reach out to someone who has hurt you, but the discomfort of doing this is far less than the slow torment of lingering on past pain.

Feelings of anger or hurt can make open dialog difficult, but learn more about healthy communication so you can have a productive talk with the other person.

Part of resolution might include sharing your feelings and pain, listening to the other person’s perspective, offering or asking for forgiveness, and discussing the future of the relationship. Break the “spell” of your internal story about the past by talking about it openly.

Having a productive conversation with someone from your past isn’t always possible, but when it is, it can be the best way to release you from feeling trapped by your memories and pain.

Challenge your story.

When you mentally replay a situation over and over, your perspective becomes the ultimate truth for you. It seems impossible to view the situation from any other angle.

You may believe your memories and interpretation of the relationship are correct, but the other person may have an entirely different perspective.

Challenge your own interpretation by stepping into the other person’s shoes. You can do this by answering these questions:

·                   How might they see what happened between you?

·                   What could you have said or done that they might have misinterpreted?

·                   Is it possible that your memories are incorrect?

·                   Does the other person have a valid point of view?

·                   Is it possible that things didn’t occur exactly as you believe they did?

When you empathize with the other person, it removes some of the pain or anger associated with the memory. By challenging your own beliefs and memories, you give yourself permission to view the situation from a less negative point of view.

Offer forgiveness.

The person from your past may never apologize, but offer forgiveness anyway. You don’t have to forgive them in person, but forgive them inside your own heart and mind.

Clinging to your anger and pain only prolongs suffering and mental distress. You forgive to set yourself free from this suffering so you can move on to live in the present with a clear mind.

Bestselling self-improvement author Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “Forgiving others is essential for spiritual growth. Your experience of someone who has hurt you, while painful, is now nothing more than a thought or feeling that you carry around. These thoughts of resentment, anger, and hatred represent slow, debilitating energies that will dis-empower you if you continue to let these thoughts occupy space in your head. If you could release them, you would know more peace.”

Forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily mean you reconcile with them. It means you let go of resentment and anger so it doesn’t further poison you. It may be hard to forgive, especially when the offending person hasn’t accepted responsibility for their behavior. But you can begin by recognizing this person is doing the best they know how with the skills they possess. When you find yourself ruminating about their past offenses, shift your thoughts away from them and to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings without blaming the other person for them. Ask yourself, “What have I learned from this? How can I use it to improve myself?”

As Dr. Dyer says, “Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much larger. Some are villains and others are good guys. But all of them are necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the play. Embrace them all, and move on to the next act.”

Offering forgiveness might require you forgive yourself for something you said or did in a relationship. Reflect honestly on your actions and how they might have hurt or offended the other person. You’ll likely come up with many reasons why you behaved as you did, and perhaps have some legitimate rationalizations for your actions. But if there is any part of your behavior that was wrong, you must accept it and forgive yourself for it.

It becomes easier to forgive yourself when you shift your perspective about past mistakes. Rather than beating yourself up over past relationship mistakes, try to honor the past and see your actions as a blessing. They were part of who you were at the time, and you needed to learn from them. Now you can move on and forgive yourself, knowing who you want to be and how you want to behave.