Making Peace With Your Past: Letting Go of Emotional Baggage

posted: 01/24/17
by: Katie Morton

"Freedom is what you do with what's been done to you." - Jean Paul Sartre

As the calendar resets to a brand new year, you may find yourself looking inward to reflect on future goals, dreams, and aspirations. It's a difficult paradox of human nature that while looking toward the future, many of us mentally dredge up our past.

Your past--no matter how twisted, sad, or scary--doesn't have to define you as a person for your lifetime. Once you unload some of that bulky emotional baggage, you may find yourself mentally open to achieving a healthier, fulfilling future.

Here are 6 tips for helping make peace with your past.

1. Accept Your History

One of the first things you must do to unburden yourself from emotional baggage is accept your past. Acceptance allows you to free yourself emotionally from those people and events that have hurt you.


Tell yourself that you will no longer let past events define who you are. By mentally shifting the power to accept what you cannot change, you'll free yourself from anger and resentment.

2. Reflect on Your Role in Past Events

For better or for worse, you've played a role in your past history. As you envision your future, reflect on past experiences that influenced you negatively. What situations, patterns, or people in your life created stress and conflict? How did you react to those situations? What did you do right? What do you wish you could have done differently?

We are all human and therefore we are all fallible. Your part in responding to stressors may not have been the best way to handle it at the time. Perhaps you let a spouse control you until you got a divorce. Or, you let your parents undermine your self-worth through criticism. You may have let your teen push your buttons until you lost your temper and said things you regret.

Understand the motivations behind your reactions to each situation. By exploring your triggers and looking at patterns of behavior, you can learn to avoid reactive situations. Make an effort to recognize your role in destructive patterns so you don't repeat them in the future.

3. Share the Burden

One way to guarantee that your past continues to haunt you is to ignore the impact your past has had on you. Experts say that holding on to negative feelings is not only bad for your mind, but also bad for your physical health. Dr. Edmund Bourne, author of The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook, says that bottling negative feelings leads to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, headaches, and high blood pressure.

Find a safe way to unload about your past--that may be journaling your history, confiding in a close friend, or even speaking directly with the person who hurt you. Putting your feelings into words, whether written or spoken, can help you mentally process your experiences so you may heal.

4. Forgive (Yourself and Others)

According to Dr. Wayne Dryer, "Forgiving others is essential for spiritual growth." We know it's easier said than done, but one of the keys to letting go of your past is learning the art of forgiveness. Forgive yourself first. Whatever you've done, you're not perfect. Allow yourself the grace to grant forgiveness for your role in past emotional trauma.

Now, forgive others who hurt you. This is a tough one, because when you've been deeply hurt, forgiveness will not come naturally. If you're not sure how to start the forgiveness process, Dr. Dyer shares his fifteen steps toward forgiveness.

5. Set New Goals

Focusing on the future can make the past seem like a distant memory. Now is the time in your life to set new goals and take action to achieve those goals.

Looking for inspiration for this year's goals? Check out MindBodyGreen's rituals to help you manifest your dreams. It's never too late to envision a rosy future, so don't let your past hold you back from the life that you deserve.

6. Ask for Help

There are certain situations in life where it's helpful to work with a professional. If you've experienced abuse, trauma, addiction, or other painful life experiences, working with a counselor can help you better cope with these issues.

Don't be afraid to admit that you need help. The strongest people are those who know when to ask for a helping hand. If you're not sure where to start, the American Psychological Association (APA) has information for how to locate mental health resources in your area.

Your past is part of your life experience. No matter how painful your past may be, you can break the hold it has over you. Transforming your emotional baggage into a springboard for a healthy future won't happen overnight. That said, it is possible to accept your past, forgive those who have hurt you, and learn skills so you can begin moving forward. Why not start today?