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?
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.
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.