18 Ways to Let Go of the Traumatic Past and Move Forward

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Letting go of the past is not easy, but it is crucial to moving forward. Whether it is a fallen relationship, a traumatic experience, or something embarrassing, you know that the past does not define you, yet it affects your everyday life. Here are some steps you should take to move on with your life and be free of the past. 

Behind trauma response


Trauma is an emotional and physical response to a negative experience. If it is disrupting your everyday life, it can be a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Despite knowing that you are no longer in the same situation, your body and mind can be triggered into believing they are experiencing the same event now, which means that a part of you is still stuck in the past. 

Moving forward by reflecting 


Reflection allows you to take a break and distance yourself from what happened to make more sense of it. It can be too painful in extreme cases, so speaking to a licensed therapist is best. However, if you had a lousy break-up, you can talk to your friends and ask yourself valuable questions, like “What is one good thing I learned,” or “How will this experience help me in the future?” 

Trauma and physical well-being 


Trauma survivors are approximately three times more likely to suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and chronic pain. Headaches, tiredness, sleeping, eating, and memory changes or dizziness are common when someone’s dealing with traumatic feelings. 

Trauma and emotional well-being 

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Painful memories can leave you drained, anxious, and angry. All this can leave you more vulnerable to more severe mental health issues, including PTSD. Strong feelings of shame or guilt might occur despite knowing that whatever happened to you was not your fault. 

Be kind to yourself


After an unfortunate event, many of us fall into the trap of negative self-talk and ask ourselves, “How could I’ve been so naive?” or “Why didn’t I listen to others?” These “what if” questions are useless, and criticizing yourself will only make you feel worse. You can’t turn back the clock, but you can treat yourself as if you would your best friend—with kindness and understanding. 

Accept your experiences and feelings 

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This might be easier said than done, but it is one of the best ways to eliminate painful memories. Let yourself feel instead of shutting down or pretending that everything is okay. Anger, sadness, or fear can be paralyzing if you suppress them for too long. Instead, accept that things happened, and you have the right to feel these emotions without criticizing yourself. 

Be present 


Practicing mindfulness can be a great tool that will help you whenever you feel you might get sucked into your past experiences. When you are in the present moment, your past has less control over you. Mindfulness also allows you to rest from thinking about the future and questions like, “Will I ever get over this?” or “When will this pain stop?” 

Put yourself first


You might not believe it now, but you are the most important person in your life, so taking care of yourself is your main priority. Implement self-care in your everyday life to gain a sense of control while focusing on things that make you smile. You are not denying your hurt but allowing yourself to experience more positive emotions, which can be empowering. 

Spend time with loved ones 

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You don’t have to talk about your trauma if you’re not ready. Many people feel the need to get isolated, thinking they are somehow damaged or that their hurt will only bring others down. But social withdrawal can only worsen your condition and make those who love you worry more. Instead, do what brought you joy, whether going to brunch with your best friends or having a movie night with your family. 

Forgive yourself and others


Resentment is poisonous, and the first step is to forgive yourself by accepting that you are not perfect and finding a lesson in what happened to you. Forgiving others can be exhausting, but remember why you’re doing it. You want your peace back, and despite possibly never hearing an apology, it is one of the most essential steps in moving forward. 

Try affirmations


Positive affirmations are brief statements that will help you avoid negative self-talk. Write them down and repeat them whenever you need them. They should be in the present, always positive, specific, personal, and short. 

Find yourself again


It is easy to get lost in negativity and painful memories. However, indulging in what made you happy or what might intrigue you now gives you something to look forward to while reminding yourself of who you really are. Perhaps your hobbies have changed, and you want something different, so take time to explore and make peace with the old and present you. 

Setbacks are expected


You might feel your life is back on track, but a sudden memory might sneak in, and you might think you are back to the beginning. Setbacks are common since healing is not linear. Let your setback be. Permit yourself to accept that you’re on a path of healing, and therefore, not all days will be great. Remind yourself how far you’ve come, and give yourself some extra self-love to get through a bad day. 

Try naming your trauma 


Sometimes, naming your trauma or extreme fear can make them feel less powerful. If you put a name on something as vague and scary as trauma, it can give you a sense that it is not a part of you anymore. By distancing yourself from whatever hurt you, you are leaving it in the past.  

Practice gratitude 

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Express your gratitude to yourself and to others who made each day better. Try writing down daily things that brightened up your day, even if you are struggling with a significant setback. It can be as small as being grateful for a warm cup of coffee or a text from your friend. Feelings of gratitude can regulate cortisol production in your brain and decrease anxiety and stress. 

Create “worry time”


Healing takes time, and you should allow yourself to live while working on yourself. One of many therapy techniques is delaying worries for a specific time of the day. For example, if you are struggling with a setback, and your worry time is 8 pm, tell yourself to postpone the response until then. At 8 pm, you can write down your feelings, and 10 to 15 minutes later, you can focus on solutions, mindfulness, or self-care. It is another way to take back control over your emotions and be in charge. 

Seek professional help

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Some experiences can be so overwhelming that you might not be capable of finding your way out without someone’s help. Seeking help is another powerful way to tell your past experiences that you are ready to leave them behind. Additionally, with a therapist, you can learn other techniques to benefit you while having someone you can talk to openly and without fear of judgment. 

Kate Smith, a self-proclaimed word nerd who relishes the power of language to inform, entertain, and inspire. Kate's passion for sharing knowledge and sparking meaningful conversations fuels her every word.