Recently while having a discussion about letting go of past mistakes, I suggested that “letting go” is often confused with “forgetting” or “pretending mistakes did not happen” and simply moving on with life.
Some of us believe that letting go of our pasts and the mistakes we’ve made is about living without giving any thought to them. I don’t believe this is helpful. Instead, I believe that there is usefulness to remaining aware of our past mistakes.
Some may struggle with guilt and shame of their pasts, hurling them forward into unhelpful thought stopping techniques or into destructive behaviors such as drinking and drug use to try and control these thoughts and get rid of the uncomfortable emotions they might experience. What’s problematic about these kinds of attempts at trying to stop or forget thoughts of our pasts and mistakes is that they usually make matters worse while depleting us of energy and creating new problems in the present.
The energy and effort put into trying to forget our pasts is energy misused. Not only will it not produce the desired outcome, but it drains us of the energy we could be using to make the most out of the new opportunities, clean slates, and new chances we’ve been given. Each day that we are gifted with life is a new opportunity, clean slate, and another chance to spring into action and work toward bringing about the kind of positive change we truly desire in our lives.
What if we viewed our past and whatever ugliness we believe to be associated with it, as a valuable resource rather than a dark spot of which to be ashamed? What if we considered that our ugly pasts may not be quite so dark and were actually the light we needed to help illuminate our present and future paths? What might happen is that we start to let go of the struggle to control thoughts of the past, or to numb ourselves from feelings associated with the past. How so? Well, because thinking differently about the usefulness of our past and mistakes allows us to view them with “new eyes” and experience them differently. This means that our relationship to our past becomes different and we are liberated in ways that allow us to move forward in positive, peaceful, more comfortable ways.
What I have suggested from the beginning is that “letting go” is not synonymous with “forgetting.” The other part to that is there is also is a difference between “holding an awareness of” our pasts and mistakes and “dwelling on” them. The first is about understanding that our past mistakes can be guideposts for our continued growth, while the latter is an unhelpful preoccupation with our past mistakes. What we can notice here is that in the first idea, we are able to move because growth is movement. It is transition and change. However, in the latter idea, we are stuck because we are in a struggle with a part of our experience that cannot be erased or undone. There is no movement, only exhaustion, and continued shame, guilt, and regret.
Let go, but remain aware. Be encouraged.
Contact columnist LaTonya Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org.