It’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland.
I love the above quotation. It is so true and yet we often forget this and cause ourselves to churn over past mistakes or unforgotten slights from others. I wrote this post a year ago but I thought it worth repeating as I often forget to follow my own advice!
Problems from our past are responsible for a lot of the anxieties we suffer from now. Reminders of unhappy memories from the past can come from all manner of things. Perhaps a familiar perfume floating on the air, or a few bars of half remembered music from long ago is enough to have you catapulted back to a situation you would prefer to forget. At times like this it’s a good idea to stop and remind yourself that those days are in the past and although you may wish you could erase them, you can’t. You cannot change them either. You may not realise it but you can learn from those painful memories, even just by becoming a more understanding and empathetic person to others. Ask yourself if the memories are genuinely as bad as you feel they are. Can you try to look back and view them as an outsider and make an objective judgement? If you know it was something completely traumatic, have you ever talked it through with anyone? Until you release the pain and trauma you felt you may have difficulty moving on. Consider talking to a counsellor if this is the case. If you were badly hurt or abused in some way, remember that none of that was your fault. None. You didn’t deserve to be treated badly; you deserve to be loved. I don’t think many of us can totally stop ourselves from delving into the past in darker moments. We may say to ourselves: ‘If this hadn’t happened I wouldn’t be feeling like this now’ or ‘if I had acted differently/ taken the job/ moved here instead of there’ none of this would have happened and my life would be better.’ But how do you know that for sure? We can always find situations and people to blame for how we feel now. Perhaps there IS someone to blame or someone who treated you unfairly but that doesn’t bring a solution. The solution lies in forgiveness and moving on. You are a different person now and what happened or whatever choices you made in the past are just that. In the past. But you are here now and have a chance to move forward and be who you wish to be. No one can hurt you if you don’t let them but you hurt yourself if you cannot let go of past grievances. Buddha says: ‘Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die’. There is hardly a person on earth who doesn’t have some sort of mental scars from the past and maybe that is where a lot of the problems in our world stem from. If we can’t show forgiveness and love our brothers and sisters at home and all around the world then troubles occur and escalate. No one is perfect and our upbringing came from those who were doing the best they could from what they themselves had learned along the way.
’Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Wouldn’t we all like to have the above attitude!
I think most of us have made mistakes in our past. But however unpleasant these mistakes may seem, it’s a part of life that we need to learn from, accept and eventually get over. As we know deep down, the past is the past and no amount of thinking and worry will change that. If we acknowledge the past is outside of our control, we can more easily let go of these mistakes and stop beating ourselves up over them. Of course, it is completely natural to feel bad now and then. Guilt, anxiety and depression over past events can serve a positive function in our lives as long as we don’t get too attached to these feelings. Think of these feelings as part of a learning process – a prompt for us to make make amends or to try to avoid old pitfalls so we don’t make the same mistakes again. However, we don’t want to wallow in negative emotions. The main thing is not to let them dictate our lives as that is when these emotions become unhelpful.
Here are some tips to help you move forward:
Remember that everyone makes mistakes at times and you are no different.
Most of the time you have tried your best.
Honesty helps – admit it if you’ve made a mistake and learn from it.
Focus on now.
Life is always unfolding and changing – no single event can dictate what you do for the rest of your life.
Your past has shaped you to become who you are now but your future actions will shape who you can be in the future.
I try and remember this: If there is something lurking in the darkness, shine a light on it, deal with it and then move on. Then you are safe to turn the light off again.