Letting Go of the Past
Three Practical Techniques
Introspecting upon how we are in life, the times when we really feel alive, and the times when really don’t, we may come to the conclusion that we are being held back by our past.
Perhaps we know that there are people out there that we “can’t forgive.” Or situations that we can’t seem to let go of. There’s a sense that the unresolved events of our past are blocking us in the present.
It is a big chunk of the business of therapy to support people to overcome the restricting situations of their past. But how actually do we do this? What needs to happen for someone to feel like they are now free from the effects of the constraining events of their earlier years?
In my own life, and in working with people, I have developed a three-element approach to this issue. My experience is that doing only two, or only one, will not lead to the result we seek. The three elements are:
Let’s briefly go through each of these.
What’s characteristic of trauma, or any event in our past that still constrains us, is a physical component. Our nervous system, when overwhelmed, goes into a mode where it locks energy into a “holding pattern” in our body.
(For some people, instead of developing holding patterns, their nervous system “evacuates” muscle groups, leaving them unresponsive and floppy. But the effect is the same.)
The experience we had was too much for us to process at the time and so our nervous system engaged this “emergency mode” to put it on hold for now. It found a way to hold energy within our body as a kind of “charge.”
What role does this charge play in our life? It tends to “hard-wire” our mind to avoid situations where it might become triggered.
People learn perhaps to avoid any form of conflict, because they have anger repressed within and they are concerned it might get out of control. Or they learn to avoid situations where they might feel vulnerable, because they have pain repressed within and fear the loss of control that vulnerability represents.
I refer to these avoiding behaviours as “hard-wired” because pretty soon they become unconscious and we just do them automatically. They simply become a part of our personality.
To heal, we will need to work on our body, such that the muscles can become naturally toned and filled with free energy again. This is what physical therapies seek to achieve. They may be techniques that we do ourselves, perhaps guided by a therapist. Examples would be Bioenergetics, TRE, Breathwork or Reichian Therapy. Or they may be hands-on techniques which a therapist does to us, such as Rolfing or Myofascial Release.
Once this charge of repressed energy is out of our body, we simply have more choices in life. It’s no longer cementing our avoiding behaviours in place. We can become more open.
Once we have at least a chunk of that charge of repressed energy out of our body, we can set to work on our mind. Many of us will have adopted a low self-esteem posture of “I can’t do it,” to go through life with. This is a defence strategy that comes about because, as we saw above, it helps us to avoid contact with the charge held inside.
With low self-esteem, we don’t take many risks. We habitually say “no” to new opportunities. We keep our head down and whilst this helps us to feel safe, it also severely limits our quality of life. Staying safe all the time, we don’t create great friendships, find the partners we deserve or create a role that develops our potential.
But now that we have released some of that charge from our body, we can start to say “yes” more often. We can push ourselves to take more risks and to meet new people. We can open more deeply to life. We feel more confident now that we can be with all the new emotions that arise in this state, and we know that we can still put our foot down with a “no” if a situation turns bad.
We start coming out from the shadow of low self-esteem and take responsibility for nourishing ourselves, getting our needs met. It’s a time to take more risks and to see what happens.
The first two steps underway, it’s time to start working with presence. By focussing more on that which is actually happening right now in front of us, we harness this force to liberate us still further. The ghosts of the past disappear in the face of simply living more in the here and now.
Practice really being present with yourself. That means feeling your body as much as you can, taking in what’s going on around you, and being aware of your breathing. You don’t need to necessarily sit in meditation to achieve this. Whilst performing simple daily tasks, such as getting a cup of coffee, you can aim to be present with each moment of the experience. Over time, this opens up an inner dimension which liberates us still further. And, of course, in remaining really present with our life, we also become aware of still more of the opportunities for growth that constantly surround us.
Thank you for reading