You cannot let go of what you don’t realize you are hanging onto.
Perhaps this is why so many of us appear to be attached to negativity in the past. It’s a difficult thing to acknowledge.
Most of us want to deny any effects that the past have had on us. We say things like:
Oh, that’s in the past. I’ve let that go.
I’m just focused on the future.
I can’t let the past bog me down.
Or, if we refer to how the past affects us, others tend to make comments, such as:
Hey, that’s the past. Don’t get hung up on all that stuff.
You’ve got to put yourself together and move on.
Stop complaining about things you can’t change.
Now, it’s true. We do need to let go. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get hung up complaining about the past. Yet, at the same time, we need to reconcile ourselves to the past. Otherwise, we could spend a lifetime as a slave to it.
Do you need to let go of the past? First, acknowledge how it is affecting you now. Here are 10 signs to look for.
1. Repeat mistakes over and over, and over.
Making the same mistakes or bad decisions repeatedly is a red flag that something negative in your history could be influencing you. When the past is not reconciled within you, it tends to manifest in decisions that keep you stuck in those negative feelings.
2. You refuse talk about the past.
If you are at peace with the good and the bad in your personal history, then talking about it (when and where appropriate) should be fine.
Your romantic partner, therapist, spiritual adviser, good friends and relatives who care about you…these are all people with whom you could be sharing your past and the lessons learned.
3. You experience those old, familiar feelings often.
Vague feelings of pain and grief, resentment and fear still haunt people who are attached to the past. These unresolved feelings can appear anytime, in response to an outside situation or to your own thoughts.
You’re probably very familiar with these feelings, as they have been with you for a long, long time. They won’t go away until you emotionally square yourself with the past.
4. You can’t be yourself around your family of origin.
Do you feel like you can be yourself around your family of origin? It is very, very common that people can’t let their guard down. This could be a sign that you are still attached to fear of disapproval, childhood expectations, criticism and so forth.
This is a particularly difficult yet common scenario. And it’s why so many of us have a distaste for family gatherings.
5. You treat your children poorly, like your parents treated you.
All too common, we treat our children in the negative ways we were treated. Amazingly, we can even recognize it when it happens, know it is wrong, and still do it. This is how influential the past can be.
6. You fear disapproval in general.
Sometimes the family of origin criticism generalizes to life in general. When it does, you project your fear of disapproval onto other people; friends, romantic partners and even strangers.
This general fear of disapproval has roots in the original family dynamic.
7. You married someone who reminds you of your parent of the opposite sex.
People often get involved romantically with someone who acts like the parent of the opposite sex. If dad was emotionally unavailable, a young woman marries an emotionally unavailable man.
If mom was cool and distant, the young man marries a cool and distant young woman.
These are signs that you are still trying to resolve the old family situation through your present life. So often, we justify this choice by telling ourselves, “I can change him/her.”
8. Suppressing emotions.
Human beings are emotional creatures by nature. When those emotions are uncomfortable, we tend to block them from expression, thinking that we can avoid the pain.
This strategy backfires. When you repress emotions, you hang on to them. When you express them fully, it is easier to let them go. Denying, ignoring, and repressing negative emotions actually creates a psychological attachment to those emotions and keeps them alive.
9. You can’t control your impulses.
Impulses come from emotions. When you have repressed emotions lurking under the surface, you still react to them. It’s like carrying around a reservoir of fuel that is just waiting for a spark to set it off.
Out of control tempers, anxiety and other impulsive reactions stem from unresolved emotions. This leads to poor decisions, addictive behaviors and regret.
10. You feel limited in some way, but can’t explain why.
When the family of origin is emotionally overwhelming, sometimes we set hard rules for ourselves that create limitations.
I am never getting a divorce, no matter what.
I’ll never speak in front of a group.
I’ll never trust anyone.
I’ll always keep a low profile.
I must play it safe in life.
We intend these rules to protect us, but they can end up cutting off the healthiest choices as adults. Interestingly, these rules can determine our choices whether we are consciously aware of them or not.
Do you need to relive the past in order to heal?
No. Yet, acknowledging and accepting the influence of the past is a key to letting it go.
Don’t allow denial to keep you from recognizing the negative influence of the past, or you may never move beyond it.
Mike Bundrant is author of the new book, Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage.