Letting Go of Painful Past Events

Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC

Are you holding on to past emotional events and having trouble letting go of these painful feelings? You’re not alone. It’s human nature to relive past experiences in your head, but it’s not productive. Harvard Psychologist Susan David, calls this “Brooding” in her book Emotional Agility. She defines brooding as “stewing in misery, endlessly stirring the pot, obsessing over a hurt, a perceived failure, a shortcoming or an anxiety.” Brooding holds you back from living fully in the present moment and keeps you stuck in the past.

James Pennebaker, professor at the University of Texas developed a writing exercise that will help you express what you are feeling, learn from it and move forward. The idea is to get the thoughts out of your head and onto a page, so you can step out of your experience and gain some perspective on it. The steps are below.

  1. Set a timer for 20 minutes.
  2. Begin writing on paper or typing on your computer about your emotional experiences from the past.
  3. Don’t worry about grammar, punctuation, etc.
  4. Just go where your mind takes you without any judgment.
  5. Write only for yourself and not for someone else to read.
  6. Do this for a several days.
  7. Then throw it away, burn it or delete it from your computer.

Pennebaker’s research has shown that writing about painful past experiences helped people process their experiences and emotions, gain a new perspective, learn from it, and move into meaningful action. This is having emotional agility or resilience. People who are aware of their emotions, accept them, feel them fully, and consciously choose their response to them are better able to handle life’s ups and downs.

I used a similar process to let go of my experience of divorce in 2013. I knew that reliving feelings of anger and bitterness would only rob me of my future, and I didn’t want to waste another minute of my life thinking about something that I could not change. This made all the difference. Allowing myself to feel my emotions during the experience without judgment and understanding the lessons I was supposed to learn from it, freed me to move forward. It made room for a new relationship to come into my life. Now I have the best husband and partner I could ever ask for. This could not have happened if I held onto the past. May you free yourself from past pain by letting it go and living each and every day fully in the present moment.

***Disclaimer: This newsletter and/or writing exercise is not a substitute for therapy. If you need help getting over past traumas, seek the help of a licensed professional.

“When we show up fully, with awareness and acceptance, even the worst demons usually back down. Simply.” – Susan David, PhD – Emotional Agility

Heroism is the triumph of spirit over circumstance.” – Neil A. Stroul, PhD

– Amazon links in this newsletter are paid affiliate links.

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