Ever notice how some people seem to face difficult times and move on. While others seem to get stuck in the painful past event. Never able to recover. 

I know many of us have that friend or acquaintance that always wants to talk about how they were wronged. Or want to rehash old relationships and spend the time blaming the other person. At the same time there are those that handle the hard time and move on without looking back.

And then there is where most of us end up. We have let most of our past emotional wounds go. But there are those remaining bits that are stuck and we can't seem to let go of. And they are now blocking us from doing what we want.

How to Let Go of the Past

I am going to share with you what I have found successful in moving past old pain. But first let's look at why we even get stuck in the first place.

Why We Get Stuck in The Past

There are many reasons that we can get stuck in the past. Depending on the situation itself, our own personality and many other factors.

But from my experience these are some of the common ones.

  • The stories we tell ourselves. We all have stories we tell ourselves, and it’s easy to want to keep our story. If we don’t, then that means we have to change. And change is not easy.
  • Feeling you are helpless in the situation. That you have no control.
  • Habit. Habits are more than just physical like turning on a light switch. They can also be emotional. So we get stuck not because we want to be, but because we haven’t re-wired our emotional habits.
  • Attached to drama. This can be intertwined with habit. If you are only used to drama and chaos in your life. It can be hard to even see that it is happening. Our bodies and minds like the drama on some level.
  • Have not fully processed and accepted the emotions that came with past events. For example, you have processed your anger from a past relationship. But you have not handled your own role in the relationship. As long as something is still on going with that relationship, you will be stuck on some level. It will get smaller and have less impact with each part of the relationship you heal.

Ways to Let Go of the Past


It is hard to get yourself unstuck when you don’t even realize you are stuck! It is a catch 22, because without knowing you are stuck you can’t get unstuck. But we tend to be wired to only see what confirms our beliefs. So, we don’t see we are stuck because we believe everything, we are telling ourselves!

Luckily there is a tool to help you see this. And that is paying attention to your thoughts.

How do you do this? As you go through the day, anytime you notice a negative thought, write it down. Later when you have time you can go back and journal about it to understand it.

For example, this week I was reviewing some marketing. After looking at the good things, my immediate thought was “but I won’t be able to replicate that in the future.” So, I wrote it down and the next morning explored why that was the first thought.

Some tips to help you recognize when you might need to write something down.

  • When you have negative judgmental thoughts about someone else or yourself.
  • When you begin to make excuses.
  • When you are doubting yourself.
  • When you are ruminating on past events.

This will take some practice to catch the thoughts, as they become part of our habit of thinking. But once you train yourself to catch those thoughts, it speeds up the emotional healing process.

Understand Where You Have Control

It is easy to get stuck in the past when we feel helpless and have no control. Understanding what you can control will help you to focus on what you can impact. And at the same time release what you can’t change.

How to do this?

Grab your journal and pick a situation you are struggling with. Then write down everything you control and everything you don’t control. Then start working on releasing the one you can’t control.

What are You Getting from Being Stuck?

This often makes no sense. Why would you want to be stuck in something painful? But the reality is we gain something from the pain.

Perhaps you get the attention you have been craving. Maybe it stops you from having to face your fear of success.

Start by creating a list of everything that you get from staying in the past pain. Then you can take the list and go through it to identify what you can do to receive the benefits of in a healthy way.


Gratitude forces us to pay attention to what is good in the here and now. Making us leave behind the past negative thoughts even if just for a moment. There is research showing that gratitude will help change your time focus.

When we are past focused, and future focused it can create emotional health issues. But in the now, it is easier to be happy.  If you want to learn more about this, I recommend the book Time Paradox. It was one of those books I read 13 years ago, and still reference it!

A simple gratitude practice is to write down three things you are grateful for before bed each night. Try to keep them to things you are grateful for that happened that day. The more specific the better! And it can be as simple as “I am grateful for the extra five minutes I had this morning.”

Physically Move Your Body

This is great for when you are ruminating about past events. Stand up and start moving. This doesn’t have to be a full exercise session. You can walk around your office, or your yard. The goal is to just move!

This does two things:

  • Shifts your focus and energy from your thoughts to your body. You may still be thinking about the issue, but it will be less. Helping to ease the negative feelings.
  • Helps move trapped trauma in your body. Our bodies hold on to emotions when they are not fully dealt with. Moving can help them be released. (For more ways to release trapped emotions.)

Go to Counseling or Get a Coach

As we have touched on before, it can be hard to see where we are stuck. Sometimes you need outside help to see what you can’t see. Having someone help you process what you are feeling and fully heal the pain is the best way to make progress forward. 

Journal Prompts To Get You Unstuck From Past

Journaling is a great way to get a different perspective on your past. When we journal, we allow ourselves to discover more about ourselves. Thus, helping us move on. Use these journal prompts to help you explore past situations that you may still need to get over.

  • What might I not be seeing? The goal here is to try and change how you interpret the past events. You could also ask this as: what do others see that I am not seeing or what am I interpreting wrong?
  • Where am I stuck in habit? Think through everything you may be doing tied to this event. Then ask yourself is this a habit reaction or is it still valid.
  • How can I change my situation? When we start to feel helpless then it is beneficial to explore what we control. Even if that is a small thing. Taking control where we can help us move on.
  • But what if... (create a list of other options)

Remember to be gentle with yourself during this entire process. There is no timeline on overcoming past hurts. Allow yourself to feel the emotions and heal the right way. Then you can confidently move forward and not worry about the past coming back to get in your way.

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