Life is a mixture of positive and negative experiences. Over time, these experiences intertwine with each other to create a balance. In this give and take scenario, the negative experiences allow us to more fully appreciate the good in life. Secondly, they often serve to strengthen our character by providing us with new opportunities for personal growth and development.
In most situations, our negative experiences are simply painful bumps in the road. We can often bounce back from them with relatively few scars. However, in rare cases, these adverse experiences may keep us stuck in an endless cycle of painful memories. They can cost us our happiness, health, and relationships. When this happens, it can become difficult to get out of our whirlwind of negativity.
So, how can we successfully let go of a trauma that causes us substantial pain and suffering? What steps can we take to move on from the past to a healthier, happier, and more productive life?
Acknowledge your emotions.
After going through a trauma, it is quite common to experience a wide range of negative emotions such as hurt, anger jealousy, revenge, betrayal, sadness, hatred, shame, guilt, anxiety, depression, self-doubt, fear, loneliness, hopelessness, revenge, and others. To identify and openly express your emotions will help you get these emotions out of your system. Try writing down your emotions, venting to people you trust, or speaking directly to the other person to more fully understand the catalyst and magnitude of your pain. The trick here is to feel your emotions then release them before they begin to gnaw away at you.
Make the choice to move on.
The decision is yours. Until you make a conscious commitment to move on from your negative past, you won’t. You must be willing to leave the past in the past and to forge ahead. Unless you make this commitment, you will end up self-sabotaging your efforts and reliving a situation you can essentially no longer control.
Learn from your experience.
Positive effects can come out of a traumatic situation if you are open to learning. Take a step back and determine the following:
- The Trauma: What happened? Why was it traumatic? How did it make you feel?
- Gains/Losses: How much did the trauma cost you in terms of time, money, self-esteem, lifestyle, energy, relationships, future opportunities, and physical well-being? Did your gains ultimately outweigh your losses?
As an example: Over a three-year period, Barbara worked for a manager who constantly belittled and treated her poorly. Most days, Barbara left work feeling stressed and unhappy. When she finally got fired, Barbara was hurt, embarrassed, and angry. Despite quickly finding her next job, Barbara kept fixating on her past work experience. Point of fact, Barbara’s new job was in the same industry (a positive), closer driving time to her home (a positive) for less money (a negative) but with a supportive manager (a positive) and more potential for growth (a positive). Barbara’s gains were overall greater than her losses.
- Key learnings: There are lessons to be learned from every negative situation. Be proactive. Make it a point to learn from the past without dwelling in it. What were your important takeaways from the trauma? And how can you apply these learnings to benefit your present and future endeavors?
Focus on the here and now.
To successfully move on from the past, focus on your present. You have no power to undo what has happened, but you have lots of power to make the best of your life today. Concentrate on the joys of each moment and quickly dismiss any memories that might creep into your consciousness (of which they will do from time to time). Remind yourself that the past is the past and release yourself from any inclination to stay there. Embrace the positive of living in the here and now.
Create new successes.
While the past makes up our history, it does not define us in the present and future. Use the rest of your life to build upon your successes. This cannot be accomplished if you are constantly looking back at closed doors. Take your wisdom from the hard knocks of life and put it into good use. Design your awesome tomorrow!
As part of your process, always be thankful for your blessings and the many positive people and opportunities that have come your way. Be at peace with yourself.
Written by: Patricia K. Flanigan, Executive Director, Smart Strategies for Successful Living