In high school I dated a guy who I thought would be my “forever”. He was the guy that most of the girls wanted to be with, a football player, a smooth looking charmer, outwardly kind and funny. The first months of our relationship were enveloped in the honeymoon phase, still getting comfortable around each other, still trying to impress one another and ultimately understanding how to navigate this youthful time in our lives, together.
Somewhere mid-way through our relationship shifted. I’m not sure which came first, if I became quick to retreat or if his condescending harsh words lead me to feel like I couldn’t speak my mind. That same year I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I was incredibly ill and felt that he was the only person there for me. Yet his actions and words were counteracting to those feelings. His verbal abuse began to deeply manifest inside of me and for the next few years I felt trapped in a relationship both by threats and by fear of life without him. When I finally left the relationship I was at peace with my choice but still hurt deeply inside by things he had said and done. A few years later I went back to him, again and it wasn’t until he was unfaithful that I was able to completely sever the ties.
So I did, I completely stopped any type of communication, any feelings, and I promised myself that I would never go down that path again. I’d have told you then that it was the hardest thing I’d ever done to let go of someone that I loved so deeply. I know now it was never was about just how much I loved him, though I did, it was mostly about not loving myself enough. For years after our second break-up I analyzed what I had done, spoke to myself negatively, and relived over and over the experiences I had with him. I became bitter, closed in and retreated deeply into myself. My arthritis worsened, I became sick constantly with sinus infections, I ate and drank terribly and treated myself just about as worse as he had treated me. I had not forgiven him for all that he had done. The toxic relationship I thought I was in with him was actually now a part of my relationship with myself.
“Holding anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” – BuddhaClick to tweet
1. You Cannot Move Forward If You’re Reliving the Past
For years I held onto what happened between us. When I’d talk to my girlfriends he’d sometimes come up in conversation and if there was any question of me ever dating someone again he was the one reason that I wouldn’t open up even in casual conversation. I had encapsulated the memories and in doing so keeping them alive and fresh.
You’re going to be reminded of the past experiences that you’ve had, both good and bad but when you do remember that they’ve allowed you to exist where you are today. This moment you have now would not exist without those. Instead of internalizing the feelings about those times or speaking negatively about them simply acknowledge them in your mind and let them pass by like a cloud. On to the next positive thought.
Once I realized I had the power to change the way I thought about him and the experiences I actually began to think about them less.
2. Holding Onto Anger Only Hurts You
For years I carried feelings about the words he said, even saying them at times to myself. Think about it this way, if you’re constantly yelled at and told damaging things you’re going to start saying them to yourself and then you’re going to believe them as true. “I am fat”, “I am worthless,” “I am sick”, “I am a bitch”, “I am nothing”. This was me for a long time. I was continuing to attack myself, just as my autoimmune diseases attack their own body.
Time provides the space to help wounds mend, but they won’t ever fully heal if we’re constantly picking at them by feeling angry towards a person. Though I thought I’d left the relationship the abusive aspect had carried over into my self-perspective. Because I was so angry that I had let myself go back to him, that I put myself in that position, that I tolerated and accepted the treatment as what I deserved I only did further harm to my self-image.
By holding on to the anger we feel about past traumas we hurt no one but ourselves. NOTHING happens to the other people who hurt us. In fact I am probably sure they don’t give two thoughts to the situation that you’ve probably been harping over for years. When you finally let go of the anger, your body will thank you because it’s a tiring process to stay in a state of angst towards someone or a situation.
3. You Prolong Suffering When You Don’t Let Go
One evening after years of dating, I thought that he, yes he was going to leave me. I’ll never forget looking at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t stop crying, it felt like there was a rush of air coming up through my lungs but I was choking on the words that he had said to me. My mind repeated steadily, just breathe, just breathe and in the same sentence you stupid bitch, his words had become my own. It wasn’t until my mom came home, found me on the bathroom floor and held me until I stopped crying that I began to feel in control of my own body again.
At this point I was not able to let go of him or of the image I had created of myself. For years later I shlepped this same hurt around and lived in what seemed like a perpetual dazed panic attack with self-loathing and tears as the driving force. I continued to allow those feelings to go on living inside of me instead of letting them go when I left the relationship.
It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and actually feel them of course, but then after that you let them pass and move on. You don’t rehash them, you don’t over analyze them you simply say “It’s okay for me to feel these, I freely and easily release them.” By holding onto them you’re only extending your own pain and suffering. Sometimes suffering is a choice and if you have the choice to let go of it, you need to.
4. Forgiveness Opens Up Space For Peace
When I finally realized I hadn’t fully put to rest the hurt of these experiences with him I also knew I had not forgiven him. I was sitting in my bed one night, reading, and writing when I had the thought, “Have I forgiven him?” The answer was a hard NO. At first I felt this tremendous sadness which then turned into annoyance that these experiences still after years held so much space in my life. In that moment I said out loud “Fuck it. I forgive him.” I let go of everything I held against him and truthfully I let go of everything I held against myself.
Not forgiving continues to make yourself a victim perpetuate your own problems. When we continue being angry, hurt and resentful we don’t forgive. Even if you say “I forgive, but I don’t forget.” I am sorry to say that it’s likely you still haven’t forgiven.
Mostly though you may not have reached the point where you realize that forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook for what transpired. Forgiveness is about your heart, it’s about opening up space in your life to love yourself by valuing your present moments greater than the haunting past traumas. By laying those to rest you can move freely and easily into the light of what really matters.
5. The Only Thing That Matters is Love
Past experiences really don’t matter in the now. Most people who battle depression are living in their past, for many who struggle with anxiety the future captivates them. All that matters is your present moment. What’s most important is how you feel about yourself, how you talk to yourself, that you love who you are and all that matters is that the love of yourself radiates to loving other people.
Continuing to let past circumstances be a part of the now is basically allowing your present to be contaminated by shit, and no one deserves to have to clean up the poop of their past every day! When you come into a space of understanding that you are worthy of your own love and that love in the end is all that matters, it will feel both liberating and easy to let go of whatever you’re holding on to. By forgiving your past you fully acknowledge your own self-worth.
“The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward.” Dr. Steve Marboldi