Feeling free and unburdened by past difficulties would be awesome, right? Letting go of our past and finding this liberation is surprisingly easy, yet so few of us actually work on letting go. This self-empowerment comes from taking responsibility about how our past has affected us, which means owning the emotions we now carry. This is where so many of us get stuck.
In order to really let go and find this freedom, we need to take responsibility for our present emotions. But, don’t worry, this is actually a lot more empowering (and less intimidating) than it sounds. At the end of this blog, you’ll have an understanding of how to transform your past into something that fuels your current dreams and goals. It will no longer hold you back.
Why Letting Go is Difficult
Letting go is something we view as notoriously difficult. It’s also essential to every healing journey we’ll embark on. When we know it is this important, why is it so hard to let go?
It goes back to the idea of taking responsibility. In many cases, it’s easier to blame circumstances or people from our past for our current problems. This is understandable! Of course no one wants to do the really hard emotional work of letting go, when we didn’t ask for the hardship in the first place.
It’s always important to recognize and validate the impact our past had on us, but when we continue to blame it for our present feelings, we are actually disempowering ourselves. We are giving up our control to something that will never actually help us. The past is gone and it can’t cure us, just because we stubbornly want it to.
Maybe you’re hearing a voice say “but my past is what caused all of my current problems!” or something like that as you read this. If so, definitely keep reading.
Empowerment versus Disempowerment
All of us carry some baggage. All of us wish we didn’t. Life would feel lighter and more free if we didn’t have bad memories, strife, and perhaps even trauma from our past “holding us back.”
Let’s digest that phrase a bit. The idea that our past “holds us back” paints a picture of how binding we view our baggage as. We are giving it a consciousness, a force to literally hold us in a place we don’t want to be. When we work on letting go, we are no longer held back, because we reclaim this power from our past.
The difference between empowerment and disempowerment is this. We all carry some baggage, but some of us have chosen to take responsibility for its current impact even when it’s uncomfortable or unwanted. Others, those of us who have disempowered ourselves, have chosen to give our power over to the hardship and become passive victims to its impact, even when we do actually have the power to overcome it.
Empowering ourselves is all about deciding to reclaim the power we once lost. There are infinite ways of doing this and each will be individual for us and only us, but it’s this simple choice that matters.
Additional reading: Use the Power of Choice to Create the Life of Your Dreams
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Trauma and the Messy Stuff About Letting Go
When it comes to past trauma and letting go, there is a distinction that needs to be understood. Most hardship and trauma was out of our control at the time. Taking responsibility now, in the present day, does not mean we blame ourselves for this trauma. It still wasn’t our fault. The past happened and it’s not our fault that we live with the memories.
It can seem more intimidating to take responsibility for our recovery when we didn’t control what caused us harm in the first place. There are many layers to this and I’ve experienced a lot in my own recovery from abuse. But there’s one key thing to remember:
In the past, trauma took control away from us. Now, in our recovery, we can reclaim this control.
This is what taking responsibility and letting go means. It’s about empowering ourselves with our current circumstances and resources by making a choice to live the best life possible now. It’s not about blaming ourselves for a past we couldn’t control.
Letting Go Does Not Mean Forgetting
There’s a common misconception that letting go means we have to forget and no longer be affected by our past. It’s understandable where this idea comes from, but it’s also totally irrational. How can we completely detach from something that impacted us, still influences us, and helped shape how we see the world?
As someone with PTSD, I’ve been told countless times “oh, so you just haven’t let go of the trauma if you still have PTSD.” Comments like this (which many of us hear in some capacity) miss the point of what letting go means.
Letting go is about accepting what happened. It also means accepting the current impact of what happened (PTSD, stressful memories, unresolved emotions, things like that).
It’s not about repressing, forgetting, or dismissing. Letting go means holding our arms wide open to hug our past self. It means reminding ourselves that we can now transform this past into something that fuels our dreams.
Why We Have to Take Responsibility Before Letting Go
We can’t let go of something we don’t take ownership of, so the first step is to choose to own the impact of our past.
Let’s say you were handed a red marble in your past and you always have to carry it in your pocket. It irritates your leg, makes it harder to fit your phone in your pocket, and is uncomfortable to sleep with.
If you ignore this marble and pretend that you don’t have it, you’re not going to be able to let go of it. Likewise, if you pretend that the person who gave it to you needs to take the marble from you by coming back into your life, you’re also not going to have a high chance of being freed from this object.
Now, if you look into your pocket and accept that this marble is here, you’ll be able to lift it up and toss it away. But you have to look at it first, recognize that it has bruised your leg while you slept, and think about how you got the marble in the first place.
Letting go of our past works like this. We are still impacted by it and we should validate that (just like noticing the bruises from the marble), but by looking at what our past left us, we can also let it go. Usually, we still have some healing to do even as we let something go. The bruises from the marble won’t disappear overnight. Fortunately, the act of letting go has started the healing process.
The Past is Now the Present
All memories of our past are now present experiences. This means that anything from an icky emotion to an intense flashback are experiences of this moment. Even though we may feel transported into our past, we are still actually in the present. Reminding ourselves of this is an empowering way to begin the process of letting go.
It’s also okay to be temporarily swept away by memories of our past. Without a doubt, I’ve had flashbacks crash over me like a tsunami. I’ve been overwhelmed and my mind and body have felt like I was literally reliving the trauma.
Our past can powerfully influence us even when we have let it go. Again, it’s just like the marble. Even after we tossed it away, we still have some bruises to mend. Maybe we even developed a fear of marbles that will take time to work through!
Letting go of one large thing frees up the room to let go of these smaller things. We become co-creators of our lives, rather than just passive observers.
Changing such strong and powerful symptoms takes time and that’s not really what letting go is about. These symptoms are like the bruises from the marble. We need to nurture them and let them heal over weeks or months or years.
When we’re not completely overwhelmed, that’s when we can do the work of letting go. We can choose to say no to toxic relationships, walk away from a bad partnership, move to a new location, go to therapy, or read books to help us find strategies that will help us let go.
Expect to Be Uncomfortable
Here’s something we all can’t deny. Letting go is uncomfortable. At times it’s even painful, vulnerable, or frightening.
Almost everything we do that is genuinely helpful is uncomfortable at first. Having a healthy conversation about boundaries is uncomfortable. Asking for a promotion is uncomfortable. Demonstrating our own skills is uncomfortable. Exercising makes us sore and is often uncomfortable too. Going to therapy is uncomfortable (at least at first). Even mindfulness is often uncomfortable. Yet, all these things benefit us and ultimately increase the joy, health, and freedom we experience.
This means we have to run full force into the discomfort of letting go, even when we want to high tail it back in the opposite direction. As we push our mental, emotional, and even spiritual limits, we’ll learn to handle more. Letting go will become easier. We’ll understand the process better and we’ll become more empowered.
An Exercise to Start Letting Go
Using an object to symbolize letting go can be a powerful way to begin.
If you’re hesitant to take that first step, try this. Go outside after reading this blog and pick up a small rock (like your own symbolic marble). Place it in your pocket or somewhere on you and keep it with you all day, perhaps even overnight. When it is with you, imagine this rock representing something you’re struggling to let go of.
Later in the evening, or the following day, go outside again and hold the rock in your hands. Imagine it represents this entire hardship that’s on your mind. Most likely, you’ll feel a little resistance at the idea of tossing the rock aside.
That’s your first step, though. Once you feel a connection to this stone, let it go. Toss it onto the sidewalk or throw it far into a field. This symbolic gesture, even though it may have it’s own discomfort, can help you trust that you have the ability to begin letting go.
The Beauty of Letting Go
Letting go is an act of self-love. We are choosing to walk away from harm-inside or outside of ourselves. We are making an executive decision about where we want to go with our life. The power we lost in the past is something we can now start to reclaim.
As vulnerable as it is, letting go is one of the most beautiful and transformative journeys we can embark on. Choosing to face this discomfort for the sake of our dreams, joy, and happiness is the most empowering thing we can do for ourselves.
The scariest part is taking the first step, so this blog is here to help you with this. Take a second and say aloud “I am willing to journey into discomfort for the sake of my healing and wellbeing right now.” Then leave a comment telling me what part of your past you have struggled to let go of. Then share how you’re going to take the first step of letting go.
Recommended reading: Self Love is a Process, and That’s Okay