“Where the heart is willing, it will find a thousand ways. Where it is unwilling, it will find a thousand excuses.” – Arlen Price

If your past still plagues you, it will show in stressful relationships, squashed dreams, a distorted view of yourself, and everyday sadness and frustration.

What an unhappy, limiting way to live!

What I can tell you is this: it is absolutely possible to no longer be affected by your past. That doesn’t mean memories disappear or you never feel emotions again. It means that you make a choice to support your own happiness, to free yourself from the trap of challenging thoughts and feelings.

Healing happens when you’re willing to see how you’re stuck, and you do whatever it takes to be free. That’s the first smart choice that lights the inner fire for ending this unnecessary pain.

And you can make it over and over, in any moment.

This I know from personal experience. For many years, I had a challenging relationship with my parents that was filled with anger and conflict. In a moment, I saw that the one who was hurting most from this disharmony was me. I wanted happiness more than anything and discovered the way to be completely free – which I am thrilled to share with you.

Ready for more? Consider these 10 smart choices to heal the pain of the past. And here’s what’s amazing: they’re always available to you. You don’t have to do anything or go anywhere. They’re right here waiting to show you the way to your lovely, vibrant, magnificent self.

1. Get fed up.

You’ve probably been gripped by your reactions to past events for a long time. So it will take your focus and pure intention to engage in this process of healing.

How to keep it going? Get fed up. Be thoroughly sick of the emotional pain, the discord in your relationships, and the half life you are living. Vow to see your way to freedom.

2. Give up the victim role.

If you’re stuck in stories from the past, you will see yourself as the victim. Here are some clues:

  • They shouldn’t have…
  • If only it had been different.
  • It’s his (or her) fault.
  • I’ve been damaged by others.

This mindset does not serve your happiness. Replace it with openness, curiosity, and the willingness to see things in a new and fresh way. Take full responsibility for your happiness.

3. Be willing to shed old identities.

An identity is a fixed idea that you think describes who you are. If you’ve been living in the pain from your past, you might see yourself as wounded, needy, lacking, or broken. You might think you’re incompetent or that you need to prove yourself or that you’ll always be sad.

All of these identities limit you from seeing your natural brilliance. It’s like you’re looking at yourself through a window covered in smudges.

Be open to shedding these identities, to clearing away the smudges. See yourself as you actually are, not how your conclusions from your past experiences tell you you are.

Now you’re out of your own way, and unchained from your past. No longer needing to figure it all out, you’re available to the natural unfolding of the flow of life.

4. Neutralize the story.

If you are stuck in pain about the past, you are repeating the story of what happened in your mind and taking it to be true.

These stories don’t serve, as I’m sure you already know. Take a breath, and find a place of neutral, friendly aware presence that is beyond the story. Lose interest in this thinking so you can free your own mind and heart.

Keep saying “no” to the storyline, and it begins to lose its power.

5. Learn the intelligent approach to emotions.

Avoiding your emotions with compulsive behaviors or indulging them with drama don’t support the discovery of your natural wholeness.

Instead, let the story go, and you will discover that your emotions live in your body. Find the place of the deepest love and acceptance in you and allow these physical sensations the space to be.

Any time the story grabs you, return to meeting what’s happening in your body with the most tender heart. Keep doing this whenever your emotions have grabbed you. Because love wins every time.

6. Don’t know.

When you’re caught in reactions from the past, your whole world view is limited and inflexible. And when you’re no longer stuck, you’ve just entered the unknown where anything can happen.

When you feel a familiar reaction arising, stop and don’t know. Don’t know what you’re going to do next. Don’t know how to be in the world. Don’t know how you’re supposed to feel.

Let your mind be open like the sky and imagine your body free of familiar tensions. Be a blank slate for a fresh, unfamiliar, spontaneous way of being. See yourself and others with fresh eyes.

7. Be realistic about what healing is – and isn’t.

Healing from the pain of the past doesn’t mean your memories are erased or that you’ll never have those difficult feelings again.

It does mean that when these experiences visit you, they don’t get to be in charge. They stop defining you. They no longer direct your actions.

When a memory or emotion appears – and it will, don’t touch it. Don’t feed it with your attention, and it will float on through like a cloud in the sky.

This is real, effortless freedom. Any experience can arise, but you remain stable, undisturbed, free of its influence.

8. Forget forgiveness.

Forget forgiveness? Yes, you heard it right.

Forgiveness of others may happen, but for now you need to focus on yourself. Discover in every moment how attachment to thoughts and feelings makes you unhappy. Then let these go for your own well being.

Some of your thoughts may have to do with regret about your own actions. Lovingly meet the feelings of guilt and shame, and know that you are so much bigger than them. Wherever you are stuck, keep at it to find your way to peace.

9. See through the beliefs that keep you stuck.

If the process of healing hits a roadblock, you may hold some hidden beliefs that are hijacking your happiness. Consider these:

  • I feel justified in staying stuck because I was wronged.
  • They did it. It’s their responsibility to make this better for me.
  • If I let go, I’m approving others’ bad behavior.
  • I need an apology.
  • It was so bad that it’s not possible for me to heal.

These beliefs have only one purpose – to keep you a victim of your past. Identify them, see them as unhelpful, then reconnect with your truest heart’s desire for peace.

10. Live fully now.

The past is gone. And if it’s still a problem, that problem is happening now, in this present moment.

You can’t rewrite the past, but you can absolutely learn to relate to it differently so that you’re no longer triggered. After all, the “problem” is actually some thoughts and emotions. These may arise, but they can’t touch the vastness of your shining presence.

Live only according to what’s true, and let the rest go. Put aside any self-imposed limits. You’ll be amazed by the potential for happiness and fulfillment that’s been here all along – once you’re free from the pain of your past.

Have you been able to heal from your past? Where are you stuck? I’d love to hear – please share in the comments.

Photo by Magdalena Roeseler

Gail Brenner

Gail Brenner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author who joyfully shares insights about discovering that suffering is optional. Find more from Gail at her blog, GailBrenner.com and on Twitter. Her work offers a bridge between psychology and spiritual understanding and brings clear seeing and compassion to everyday human challenges. She is the author of the forthcoming book, "The Way of Yes: Finding Peace and Happiness Right at the Heart of Your Messy, Scary, Brilliant Life."

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