THE BLOG
12/12/2014 04:04 pm ET Updated Feb 11, 2015

5 Steps to Letting Go of the Past

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Another year is almost over, and a fresh, new one is just around the corner. The past is behind us now, and with it goes its triumphs and its trials, its errors and its learnings.

One thing is certain: Each one of us has a past, it's part and parcel of what makes us the person we are. It is there to instruct and inform, but it doesn't really need to define us. It is we alone who have the power to do that.

As that wonderful psychologist Carl Jung pointed out: "I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become." And each of us chooses the person we are, the person we will be.

Sometimes our past, or aspects of it, can weigh heavily on our shoulders, holding us back and preventing us from living the freer, more joyful life we really deserve.

It may not be the easiest thing to do, but letting go of the past may well be one of the wisest things we can do.

Here are a few steps that may help you let go of the past.

1. Recognize It's Time to Let Go

Making the decision to face and then separate your self from the past may be the most difficult part of the process. The past, after all, is something you've paid for, something you own. And because you own it, you can do whatever you like with it -- and that includes letting it go.

Your past may be filled with pain and heartache, but the longer you keep suppressing it, the longer it will keep haunting you in one way or another.

2. Acknowledge the Emotions

We humans are feeling animals, sentient beings. When we feel bad emotionally, it can be as if a knife turns somewhere deep inside us. That pain is there to inform us, it is a message sent from our profound, inner self urging us to do something about it; to heed its message, learn its lesson, and then let it go and get right on with the business of living.

Anxious, panicky, or stressed; heartbroken, depressed or angry, all are messages sent from within telling us to act, to do something about the uncomfortable feeling.

Yes, healing can take time, but it cannot begin until we acknowledge our feelings, cease our avoidance, and then decide to work our way forward into a better, wiser future.

3. Let Go of Anger and Resentment

This may seem like a very big step to take, but it is perhaps the most essential in letting go of the past. Anger is the name of the emotion produced when we feel that someone has been unfair or unjust to us or to someone or something that we care about.

Anger may masquerade under various other, more genteel labels such as "annoyance," "irritation" and "upset." But holding onto it for too long fills us with resentment -- and resentment is toxic, it is the spider's web that traps us and keeps us enmeshed in the past. So often it hurts us far more than it hurts those who have hurt us.

Anger has tremendous energy that has a powerful kinaesthetic element to it. For some of us, it may be necessary to vent our anger, to scream at a tree or punch a pillow, while for others anger can be processed in a quieter, less physical way, perhaps using meditation or mindfulness strategies to help us release it. Still others may benefit from working with a counselor or therapist in order to work their way through things.

It may well take time, but when we leave our anger and our resentment behind we free ourselves to move on into a fresher, freer existence.

4. Let Go of Guilt

If anger is the name of the emotion we feel when we perceive the unfairness of others, then guilt is the feeling we get when we perceive our own unfairness. It's the emotion we experience when we sense we have violated our own inner ethical code, gone against our 'conscience' -- hurting another, or perhaps even our self.

Without this emotion we might well be heedless of others, causing endless harm as we weave our way selfishly through life. Guilt, like every other human emotion is feedback, something there to inform and instruct, and when its lesson has been learned then we need to let it go, and move forward in a wiser, kinder way.

5. Forgiveness Is The Key

Finally we come to the greatest step of all; the key to a more peaceful, balanced and meaningful future: Forgiveness. In truth, it really is in our own best interest to forgive - ourselves and others - so that we can move on with our lives as better, more rounded human beings.

When we pause to consider it, we might just find that forgiveness does not necessarily benefit those who have hurt us -- in fact, they do not even need to know that we have forgiven. It may well be that forgiveness is really for our self; something that wipes our slate clean, clearing our vision and allowing us to again breathe freely.

Perhaps that great Danish statesman Dag Hammarskjöld put it best when he said: 'Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, and what is soiled is made clean again.'
Forgiveness is the eraser of anger and guilt; it is the key that opens the door to a better future where we can leave the past behind and at last live our life, not as the victim of the past, but as the chooser of our own destiny.

Your new year, and your new life await. There is no better time than now to draw a line under the past and move forward into a better, fresher and freer tomorrow. Follow these five steps and you will do just that.

Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist and board certified hypnotherapist. His hypnotherapy Birmingham and London clinics provide hypno-psychotherapy services for a wide range of issues. His new book The Chi of Change focuses on the fascinating world of hypnotherapy.