Why do we have such a difficult time letting go of things and people that hurt us? We seem to think that if we hold onto our hurt, our resentment, and our anger just long enough, it will eventually hurt the person who hurt us.
But guess what? It doesn’t.
Holding onto these feelings never ends in victory. But you know what does? Letting go.
But this takes courage.
We’ll look at how to let go of the past, how to let go of anger, and why learning how to let go of someone is so challenging.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- Why is it so hard to let go of the past?
- Why your brain can’t “just let it go”
- How do you let go and move on?
- How do you let someone go?
- 3 ways to let go of anger
Why Is It So Hard to Let Go of the Past?
Sometimes it feels impossible to let go of the past. Especially when that past haunts your every waking step.
You just can’t seem to help yourself. Your mind wanders back to what happened again and again. You replay the event, rewind, and pause over the most painful memories.
People tell you to just let go. They tell you it’s not worth it. Stop holding onto the pain. Just let it go.
But it’s not so simple, is it? Anyone that’s struggled with a painful memory can attest to this. So, why is it so hard to let go of the past?
Why your brain can’t “just let it go”
It might help you to know that an inability to let go of the past and move on is no personal failing. It’s something we all struggle with, and for very good reason.
Because the brain is literally hardwired to hold onto negative experiences.
We have evolved to avoid danger and chase pleasure. And while chasing pleasure certainly has its perks, it’s ultimately the danger-avoiding centers of the brain that trump our processing centers.
When something bad happens, our brain cements the experience into our psyche with powerful precision.
That was terrible, the brain declares. We don’t want that to happen again. That was upsetting and frightening. We need to make sure we steer clear of those types of experiences in the future!
Whether it be a terrible breakup, a bad work experience, or a personal trauma, your brain won’t soon forget it.
And you’ll be stuck reliving it again and again. Until you learn to let go and move on.
So, how do we override this intrinsic evolutionary mechanism?
Can we learn how to let go of the past?
How Do You Let Go and Move On?
Wouldn’t it be something if we could just hit a button and erase a bad experience?
But if you’ve ever seen the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, you know how dangerous tampering with your memories can be.
So, is there a healthy way to deal with painful trauma? How do you let go and move on from challenging experiences?
Well, one strategy suggested by a number of experts in the field of psychology is to work on processing the experience in a healthy, mindful way.
You don’t need to run toward your pain, but you also shouldn’t run from it.
Don’t be afraid to explore the feelings buried beneath the experience.
It might help you to write things down. Keep a journal or online blog. Or trying to speak to some of the other people involved in the experience.
Maybe your coworker can help you see things in a different light. Or maybe your sibling has another perspective on what happened.
Attempt to explore the experience in a way that’s comfortable and safe.
How do you let someone go?
Have you ever had difficulty moving on from a failed relationship? We’ve all been there.
Why is always the most challenging relationships that stay stuck in our psyche?
Well, we already know how the brain tries to cling to informative negative experiences. It wants to keep you out of trouble next time.
But when all you want to do is figure out how to let go of someone, this self-preservation mechanism seems a little counter-intuitive.
So, how do you let go of someone you love? Or rather — someone you used to love?
Here are a few quick tips to help you move on from a painful past relationship:
- Radio silence. It’s tough, but you’re going to have to cut off all contact. At least for a little while. You need time to heal, and the more space you can create for yourself, the better.
- Stop idealizing. We all romanticize our partners to an extent. We glorify their strengths and lovingly bypass their faults. But if you’re still idealizing an ex, you’ll never move on. See them for the person they truly are, and not the one you’ve built them up to be in your head.
- Allow love. This may sound strange, but if you’re still in love with a past flame, don’t fight it. Love is love. You can still love them and not be with them. Take time to send them good wishes and kind thoughts and then redirect your attention. You can’t help who you love but you can change how you approach the situation. Genuine love doesn’t require reciprocation. Love them for as long as you need to before you’re ready to move on.
How to Let Go of Anger: 3 Ways of Letting Go
Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.— Buddha
As always, Buddha has a valid point. Anger burns. If the coal is so hot and painful, why do we keep holding onto it?
Holding onto anger and hurt doesn’t make you courageous. You know what takes real courage? Forgiving.
Yep, forgiving is huge. Anyone can be angry, and stay angry. But it takes a true warrior to let go of anger and truly forgive.
To learn more about forgiving, check out our all-inclusive guide on forgiveness. And to learn more about how to let go of anger, try these three wholesome methods below:
1. Feel fully
In this article, there is one thing we would like to emphasize — feel.
Having the courage to rise above anger and let go does not mean becoming numb to the pain of anger. In fact, because many of us think this way, we tend to stay frozen in the same moment of pain (for sometimes our entire lives) because we don’t allow ourselves to fully feel it.
And what we resist, persists.
Stifling your emotions is like putting them away into an incubator, for them to grow and leak (or worst, burst) out at another time.
It’s also important to note that our emotions aren’t just stored in our minds. Sometimes, we believe we can think away an emotional wound. But really, these painful memories are oftentimes stored in our bodies (not just our minds).
So, what are some ways you can feel fully?
Cry it out
That’s right, we said it — cry. We are tying crying and courage together because they are not mutually exclusive.
In fact, according to biochemist at Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis, Dr. William Frey II, crying out your negative emotions releases harmful chemicals that build up in your body due to stress.
Crying is a great way to learn how to let go of the past and any pain that may be stored in your body from it.
Did you know that stress/sad tears actually contain different chemicals than any other type of tear we produce? Stress/sad tears release substances such as prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormones, the endorphin leucine-enkephalin, and most notably, the stress hormone cortisol.
Here are many other surprising benefits of letting go via tears. You don’t even need a “legit reason” to cry; just curl up with your most trustee pillow and bellow away.
Release, breathe, ahh….
Expressing your feelings via a creative outlet not only allows you to fully feel and let go; but also creates some of the most beautiful, touching art. Whether it is via writing, painting, or trance dancing in your room; a creative outlet can do wonders for letting go.
These creative outlets are a beautiful, physical manifestation of you releasing something painful. And when others witness you letting go, it inspires them to let go, too.
It’s a win-win-win.
2. Change perspective
It’s oftentimes easy to get caught up in our current train of thought. For that, it can be helpful to shift our perspective, even if we just do so slightly at first.
Imagine yourself in the future
Sometimes, it helps to imagine yourself in the future. What would your future self think about you holding onto this hot coal? What will the burn marks on your hand represent?
What type of person would like to look back on and be? It’s only in this present moment that you can change your future outcome.
Also, if you can imagine yourself at least 10 years in the future, it may help you with comparing your current worries to the grand scheme of things.
As Vishen Lakhiani, founder of Mindvalley and author of Mindvalley’s life-changing Becoming Limitless (where he teaches the immense power of forgiveness, among many other soul-opening lessons) program says:
Hack your past with forgiveness. Hack your present with mindfulness. Hack your future with ‘I AM ENOUGH’.
3. Practice compassion
Nothing dissolves anger like compassion.
Put yourself in the other person’s shoes
When we realize that the other person is most likely dealing with their own personal suffering, it can open our hearts back up.
When we breathe in compassion, we can breathe out anger.
If you’d like to understand this type of compassion for those who have hurt you deeper, read our article, How To Treat People Who Hurt You: Tapping Into Your God-Self. In it, we explore this beautiful quote by Neale Donald Walsch, beloved author of Conversations With God:
I have sent you nothing but angels.