Is the Past Haunting You? How to Find Peace and Freedom

No matter long you’ve been haunted by past memories, losses and regrets, you can start living in peace. Starting now! Here’s how I learned how to stop living in the past. The best part is that you don’t have to take my word for it. You can test and see for yourself. I’m not selling anything, I’m just a 50 year old writer who finally discovered how to find peace from my own thoughts and beliefs about the past.

“I have been struggling for years with deep guilt and shame for a mountain of poor choices that I made over and over while in the grip of deep addiction,” writes Mindwalker on 7 Practical Ways to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes. “I lost my career. Over and over I lost friends because I would drive friendship into the ground. It is those very personal mistakes and wrongs done toward people I care about the most. Past memories continue to haunt me. I get stuck in negative loop thinking that starts with an innocent memory or thought of an embarrassing or shameful mistake and through years of practice with associating thoughts I quickly spiral downward until I am drowning in guilt and shame.”

This reader also says, “I have been trying to set alarms to become aware when I begin to slide into a loop. I try to cut short the full spiral. It works sometimes, but there are triggers such as being tired or lonely that make the past harder to forget. How do I stop living in the past?”

Good news! I, too, struggle with painful memories, regrets, losses and failures. My past used to haunt me. And sometimes “the past” just happened yesterday. Other times the past was something I did, said or experienced 10, 20, or even 35 years ago.

How to Stop Living in the Past

In Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life Byron Katie helps you question your thoughts about the past. If you learn what is really true (reality versus your thoughts and beliefs), you can be free from the past memories that are holding you back. 

“A thought is harmless unless we believe it,” says Katie. “It’s not our thoughts, but our attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering. Attaching to a thought means believing that it’s true, without inquiring. A belief is a thought that we’ve been attaching to, often for years.” For instance, is it true that you don’t love your husband? Can you absolutely know for sure that it’s true that you have no love for him whatsoever? 

Is it True? Loving What Is

The following is not a real or complete example of how Byron Katie might use The Work to help you stop living in the past. These are just my own thoughts on how “loving what is” can help you become free from the past – and how I questioned my own thoughts and beliefs about my past. To see or read specific examples of The Work in progress, search the internet for Byron Katie, The Work or Loving What Is.

You can’t stop living in the past: is it true?

Byron Katie’s four simple questions and a turnaround will help you question your thoughts about the past. She calls it “The Work.” The questions are free on her website, which is thework.com. This is a simple but powerful way to question your beliefs about the past. You’ll quickly learn how to see the past – and your own self – in a different, lighter, freer way. I encourage you to listen to the audiobook version of Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life because there are real life examples of Katie and actual people doing the work.

This is a better way to overcome a haunting past because it helps you question and get rid of the memories. Remember Mindwalker’s comment? Continually fighting past memories, thoughts and experiences is exhausting! It’s a ultimately a losing battle – and you’ll lose quicker when you’re tired, hungry, depressed, bereaved or even just grumpy. It’s much better to question your thoughts and beliefs. Is it true that you are living in the past – and you don’t know how to stop? If you question your thoughts and beliefs, they lose their power. They start to dissolve and disappear. That’s you stop living in the past: you free yourself of the thoughts and beliefs that chain you down.

How do you react when you believe what you think about your past?

Take a deep breath. Imagine yourself in the situation you were in. What memory or experience is holding you back from being who you were created to be? What happened to you? If the incident isn’t traumatic, extremely painful, or too much to handle, pretend you’re back there. Who were you, what was happening to you, how did you respond? Why is that memory of the past so haunting for you? Close your eyes. How does your body physically respond when you think about the past? What do you feel in your heart and spirit?

Becoming aware of how your body and heart responds when you believe your thoughts can help you stop living in the past. Your own beliefs are causing this pain. The past is over. It is finished. It’s like a dream – or a nightmare – that you are allowing to haunt your days and nights now. Aren’t you tired of giving your past so much control over the present moment?

If you can’t stop living in the past because you did something you regret, read How to Forgive Yourself.

Who would you be without the memories that haunt you?

Now imagine how you’d feel without your thoughts and beliefs about the past. Who would you be without the thought that your past is painful, sad, horrible, disappointing, or tragic? Maybe you lost someone you love, maybe you were rejected or abandoned, maybe you made horrible mistakes or committed unpardonable crimes. Maybe you did something you’re ashamed of and you can’t forgive yourself. Or you forgave yourself yesterday but today your past memories are back to haunt you.

Imagine who you would be without your thoughts and memories of the past. Write it down. If your past defines you and you don’t know who you’d be without it, give yourself time and space. Get Loving What Is, or search for Byron Katie’s work. Just like your mind, soul, and psyche start to absorb the idea of who you are without your past.

If you’re wondering how much you should reveal about your past to someone you’re in a relationship with, read How Much Should You Tell Your Fiancé About Your Past?

Anticipate the freedom that awaits

It wasn’t until I actually did The Work that I realized how powerful it is – and how much joy, freedom and peace filling out a simple Judge Your Neighbor worksheet brings! I started by listening to Byron Katie podcasts. I had a fight with my husband the very next day, so I did a thought experiment. “Is it true that I don’t belong with his family?” (I told my husband that I didn’t fit in with his family, as evidenced by our big fight at his mother’s house). After questioning my thoughts I realized that I belong exactly where I am in any given moment. Freedom, bliss, joy, gratitude, acceptance! Incredible.

Try it. What do you have to lose? You’ve been looking for tips on how to stop living in the past for weeks – or even years. You don’t even have to buy the audiobook of Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie. Currently you can download it for free on YouTube.

How to Stop Living in the Past
Is the Past Haunting You?

Feel free to write in the comments section below. What’s on your mind and heart? You could start by writing about the exact memory or experience you’re struggling to let go of. The only way to find freedom and peace from a past that haunts you is to go back there and start dealing with it.

When I was studying for my Master of Social Work, I discovered a psychoanalytic or therapeutic method that counselors use to help people stop being haunted by past memories and experiences. If The Work isn’t for you, learn How EMDR Therapy Helps When You’re Stuck in the Past.

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13 thoughts on “Is the Past Haunting You? How to Find Peace and Freedom”

  1. I Can't do this any more

    “Trust that your life is meant to unfold exactly the way it is”….. a pretty difficult to believe statement, when your past has included suicide attempts.

  2. Just sad. When ever a relationship ends? I communicate to the other person (in the worst possible terms) just what a wretched lying evil person they are for hurting me. I suppose I won’t them to feel as bad as I do, but it never works. I only end up feeling worse, and they go on living their happy lives, knowing that getting rid of me was the best decision they ever made. I will never have the joy of these people in my life because I have been shown to be too toxic. And in the end? Because of MY stupid lust for revenge? I only end up hurting myself. I want to end this cycle. I want them to know I am sorry ~ but, they have all cut off contact with me. No letters of amends, no more I love you’s no more hope. And FEAR that if I ever fall in love again? It will all end in tears and me being a nasty sharped mouthed bastard, who will forever hate himself for the things that he said.

  3. Dear Natasha,

    You’ve made more progress than you think! I know it feels like you’re still in the beginning stages of healing, but I believe you have a long way. It may not feel like it because growth is slow…but it’s steady and gradual. That’s the best type of healing, because it’s really taking root!

    You ARE learning how to stop living in the past. You ARE digging in, and Blossoming into the woman God created you to be. Be gentle with yourself today, and keep moving forward. And remember that you are not alone.

    xo
    Laurie

    1. I feel I could have done so much more but because of a long history of abuse, I was willing to accept bare minimum and wouldn’t allow myself boundaries that defined who I was or what I would/wouldn’t accept. I endure much pain and feel I am always in thr beginning stages of the healing process.

  4. One word that describes my past: cheated.
    I have been cheated out of so much in my life by no fault of my own. How do you move on? I find myself frozen, angry, sad and unmotivated and most of all a failure to understand why. I am good to everyone.

    1. Hi Cathy… I’m sorry for the pain you are going thru, I too, feel all those same things. And I feel I am a good person, and never deserved the cards dealt to me. I try to stay positive,and know that God has a purpose for me. Most days I am sad for all I missed out on, parents, family , love etc. But I kept God close to my heart, and I know He got me thru all those terrible times.we are all worthy of love, and deserve love, and I found it begins within yourself, knowing you are a good person, and loving yourself. I’m still struggling too, I suppose we all have to work hard on being the best we can be, but in the end, it will be worth it. Just know that you are loved… God bless…..Susan

  5. “What is one word that describes how you feel about your past?” The first word that came to me was disappointed. It is so hard though to not live in the past. I have been in therapy for about 5 years now. I also spend lots of time praying and studying God’s word. I have been in the church all my life. I fully believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but I am far from understanding what He is doing or why it seems like He has never really done anything to help me survive my life. Maybe He has done things for me that I don’t even know. Without Him maybe I would be dead and in hell right now. So I thank Him for what He has done even though I don’t have a big fancy testimony to share with everyone about some great thing He has done to change my life.

    Right now I am studying (among other verses) John 15:7, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” really hard trying to understand what that verse really means as I have asked for Him to help me with the problems I face but it seems as though He is silent.

    My life first started going bad when I was a teen and was sexually molested and at that time 40 + years ago I had never heard of being sexually molested and I had no idea what to do so I decided just to keep it a secret and never ever tell anyone what was done to me. It tore me apart inside and in my life until I finally read something that made me see I needed to tell. Wow I felt so good and so bad both at once for telling. But I have been in therapy for about 5 years now and I am no longer a sexual abuse victim but now I am a survivor. I don’t blame my self anymore for it but the memories are still there so that is why I still go to therapy. And then without taking all your time my life from the time I was molested until now has really sucked.

    Married twice and I feel a lot of my life was screwed up by spending years fighting the demon of sexual abuse all me life. So I wish I would have taken care of it when it happened. Got through it and saw the man go to prison. He is now dead so I know that God has applied the final justice to the man but then I think about because I did not tell how many other boys got molested because of my silence.

    So to wrap this up letting go of my past is a major struggle and there are a lot of memories I want to go away. I just wish God would give me peace and hope over my past. I just want to live for Him without having to ask Him “why” all the time and not getting an answer.

    Thanks for your article and I will be reading it several times and hoping to see more from you that can help me.

  6. Hi Coco,

    I hear what you’re saying and understand how you feel, because I’ve felt the exact same way! My past mistakes were overcrowding and overshadowing everything, and I couldn’t enjoy my life. Worse, my marriage was being affected by my past.

    I wrote this article for you:

    How to Stop Past Mistakes From Ruining Your Relationship
    https://howloveblossoms.com/how-to-stop-past-mistakes-ruin-destroying-relationships/

    May you find hope and healing, and may peace and joy reign in your heart. Take care of yourself, and forgive yourself for whatever is behind you.

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  7. I love my husband but I can’t let go of the past. I made some bad mistakes before we got married, and I only told him part of it. I’m keeping secrets from my husband and it’s destroying everything! I can’t tell him what I did even though it’s not that bad, we even know a girl who did the same thing and he doesn’t judge her. So I feel like he could forgive me, but when I get up the nerves to tell him about my past, I get too scared and once I even had a panic attack at the thought. So how do I stop my past mistakes from destroying my marriage?

  8. A complicated question! Yes, some people who are poor have terrible, sad lives. Our world is messy, violent, and scary. It’s also beautiful, connected, and helpful. We human beings are the cause of our own complicated messy situations — our actions have social, personal, political, economic, and environmental consequences!

    I believe God gives us free will and freedom of choice. He isn’t a puppeteer, organizing us robots and creating perfect conditions for us. He loves us and wants us to love Him, to connect with His abundant flow of life, grace, hope, healing, spirit and energy!

    How we use His power to influence the lives of the poor is up to us….but He doesn’t create perfect worlds or automated robots. Real life is messy and beautiful. Bittersweet.

    Question for you: how did you find my post “How to Stop Living in the Past” – and what made you ask the God question?