We all feel guilty about something we did in the past. Some we can easily forget and move on, but there may be others we just can’t seem to get out of our heads no matter how hard we try.
In some cases, people would get eaten up by their guilt and regret that it affects their daily lives, how they deal with other people, how they interact with society, and how they function.
With that in mind, we asked 12 experts “how to make peace with your past?”
Let’s have a look at their insights.
RMT Certified Life Coach
The key is to forgive yourself
We all have regrets from the past. What we remember and hold onto creates a conflict within us, and we become our own worst enemy. There are two forces at play here – your conscious and your subconscious.
We’ll start with your conscious – memorable regrets. The key is to FORGIVE yourself. You can’t change the past, but you can change the future!
Who are you now? Are you the person who is still making those same poor decisions? Or do you have a new vision for yourself? Who do you want to be?
The subconscious is more difficult. I have a client who made a significant, lifelong change during our first session. Through a simple introductory conversation, I noted that she continually felt “guilt” throughout all areas of her life. She never realized it until I brought it to her attention. Through a simple and effective intervention we worked on guilt and she was able to watch as her guilt walk away from her forever.
Any life coach, therapist, or other mental health professionals can help you dig into the core decisions of your past that are still affecting your life today. Make those significant changes in your life today and your tomorrows will be forever changed!
Don’t forget, you can’t change the past, but YOU CAN CHANGE THE FUTURE!
Julie Fanning, LCSW
Clinical Social Worker | Owner/Therapist, Holding Hope Services
Accept your humanness
Being human is complicated and difficult. The expectation for being a human is that there will be failure, disappointment and bad choices. Remind yourself that you aren’t only made up of the experiences you would like to forget.
The tough stuff in your past teaches you and helps you move forward to enjoy your best life now. By accepting that you are human and that there is no way not to have a past, you can start healing.
Without allowing healing you will struggle to live fully. Tell yourself that you can only be a robust, alive human being by accepting all that comes with humanness which may include a thing or two in your past you’d like to forget.
Motivational Speaker | Author, “Borrowed Eyes and Feet: Finding Enlightenment After Rage“
“How to make peace with your past?” Hmm? Hmm! The f-word comes to mind. Stop right there! I am not talking about that f-word. I am talking about FORGIVENESS!
Tip #1: First we must forgive. Forgive yourself and this will begin paving the way to forgive others. Huh? How do I do that? Please continue reading.
Tip #2: Awareness. Pay attention to your thoughts, your actions, reactions, behaviors, and moods. Especially during the holidays! We are creatures of habit which is a blessing and a curse.
Leave your past hurts where they belong, in the past. If you carry past hurts from holidays years ago you are tricking yourself into believing the past hurt is a reality today! No wonder our holidays end up on the skids.
Ask yourself, “Who upsets me the most?” Listen to the answer. Don’t overthink it. (I know who that person is in my life.) Next, ask “Why does he/she upset me?” Once again, listen for an answer. Then ask, “Is this really true?” Listen for the answer. Breakthrough your past hurts and leave them where they belong….in the past. You now are on the cusp of embracing the power of present moment awareness which will allow love and forgiveness to come to you during the holidays and throughout the year ahead.
If this is still not working for you, let’s proceed to Tip #3: Expectations. What expectations do you have of the people in your life? Are they being fulfilled? If so, great!
If not, you need to ask yourself “Why?” and “What are my expectations of people in my life?”
What are your expectations of yourself? Are you meeting your own expectations? If so, great! If not, you need to ask yourself “Why?” and “What are my expectations of myself?”
If we are honest with ourselves we will find that our anger, our frustration, our annoyance comes from within. If you cannot make peace with yourself, how can you expect to make peace with your past or anyone on your life? Think about it.
Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, MS, LCPC
Certified Imago Therapist, The Marriage Restoration Project
Have compassion for those that hurt you
Having compassion for those that hurt you, realizing that they too are wounded from their own pasts, and understanding that they have limitations and tried their “best” will help you release the pain from not being able to get what you needed from that person.
“When you listen long enough, everyone makes sense“. Even in cases of severe emotional abuse or trauma, if you would have the desire or take the time to really go deep into that other person’s childhood, you’d realize why they did what they did.
It wasn’t right necessarily and no excuses should be made, but quietly moving forward with this self-understanding will help you heal.
If you are able to also learn non-confrontational “No Blame, No Shame” communication methods, and are able to dialogue with the person that you really feel the need to communicate with, go ahead and learn those strategies.
Communicating in a way that doesn’t shame or blame the other but lets you be heard and validated will go along way in making peace with your past.
Retired Marriage and Family Therapist | Author. “Finding Peace in times of Tragedy“
Look for the good in everything that has happened to you
Healing from trauma or tragedy is a complex matter. No one path to recovery is the best or better than another. Each person must find their own way. As a therapist, I learned to listen to each individual and offer support in the areas that troubled them.
The one takeaway idea that everyone who truly heals can come to know is that there are wisdom and strength and inner courage to be learned from the difficulties of our lives. Each of us must grieve our losses and come to see the added insight, sensitivity to others, and bravery we have because of the things we have suffered.
If we can reframe our trials in this manner, we may lay them to rest. Look for the good in everything that has happened to you. It’s there in the form of understanding and grit.
For instance, Gandhi was so shy as a young man that when he graduated from law school in England, he couldn’t take his first case because he was afraid to speak in court. Look how he overcame that problem.
Jackie Robinson was spit upon, booed and rejected by the fans and many of his teammates, but he had the wisdom to keep his cool. He became one of the best players baseball has seen and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of fame in 1962. But more importantly because of his courage, he opened the door to include all players in major league sports.
Author | Poet | Speaker
Making peace with the past requires breaking the silence and giving voice to the pain
Healing the past is facilitated by truth-telling, not story-telling. Many story-tellers never make peace with the past because the story becomes their identity. But, truth-tellers face the pain, shame, fear and other responses to the past that turned into dysfunction in some area of their lives.
They reconcile those experiences to create peace. Reconciliation can not occur if stories are told as victims. Victims are powerless or overpowered. Therefore, they can accept no responsibility for change. Story-telling about the past is embedded with cultural, family and personal scripts about the way things should have been.
Making peace with the past means creating new understandings of the world. Perhaps a person has to create a new definition of family, alter their concept of love, restructure their values, or question their understanding of God. Painful past experiences usually do not our expectations of the world. Clinging to scripts about how the world should keep you stuck in a cycle of pain as your primary relationship with the past. That is how you become a story-teller, seeking sympathy from the listener, instead of a truth-teller.
One way to tell if you are a story-telling is by your expectation of the outcome. Story-tellers fear how they will be perceived when they disclose. Disclosure feels like a risk because they are attached to the story. They want sympathy as the victim. Truth-tellers are much less concerned about the outcome because their disclosure offers an opportunity for understanding. Their truth does not change based on the listener’s response. Most truth-tellers start as story-tellers. They just did not get stuck there.
Disclosures should deepen your healing, not your pain. So, do not be afraid to decline intrusive questions about your past. Whether you are disclosing to an individual or a group of people, you can break your silence without letting go of boundaries.
Extend an invitation to others to understand your circumstance of pain and resilience without an obligation to offer details. For examples, if your child died by suicide, you do not have to discuss the method used to do so. If you are a survivor of domestic violence, you are not obligated to reveal every memory of violence. You might limit your disclosures to your age, the signs of abuse you missed and how long the abuse lasted. If your marriage ended, you do not have to disclose that your affair was the catalyst. You might simply state that it ended as a result of wrongdoing on your part.
Speak about your pain according to the context. Share truth that allows you to move forward rather than keep you stuck.
In spite of popular belief, forgiveness of others is highly overrated. It is neither necessary nor sufficient to make peace with the past. Silence can be camouflaged as forgiveness. Fear of confronting the past can convince people to claim forgiveness. Forgiveness is most valuable when a person forgives themselves, not someone else.
Often survivors blame themselves for not stopping the abuse, not preventing someone’s suicide, or not preparing for the catastrophe that changed their lives. Survivors may unconsciously savor the pain as punishment. Self-forgiveness soothes the conscious to live at peace. Only then can forgiveness of others authentically arise.
Even forgiveness of self is a process of healing. We heal into forgiveness by facing the pain of the past. Feeling pain does not mean you are living in the past. Instead, the trauma of the past is quite present. The past can do no more harm, so there is no need to run from it or hide it or be ashamed of it. You can confront it, embrace it, and build upon it. The healing journey will take you exactly where you are meant to be as you make peace with your past.
Transformation of past pain rarely occurs in isolation. So, finding allies in other people who share the experience goes a long way. Online support groups may be an excellent option to learn how to speak about your past in ways that empower you. Determine if the group is open or closed before you post. Sometimes people comment on a post assuming that a page is private. Do not make the mistake of regretting a comment because you believed none of your friends would read it.
Moreover, make sure the group is managed from a space of resilience and speaks life into you. Support groups should help you understand your experience of pain from research or professional perspective, not rely on emotional expressions of story-telling. Just knowing that you are not alone can support you in making peace with your past.
However impactful your past, what you are holding onto is not the only experience you have. Your life is holistic, and healing should be as well. Books on transformation can guide you to live a life beyond your past circumstance and make a great supplement to any support you use.
Two of my favorite books that help make peace with the past are “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. They address the mind and its effect on the rest of our lives. Books can never do the work for you or tell you exactly how the work will look in your life. Books describe the nature of the work.
Therapy may be the best option for people who desire direct support. Not all therapy or therapists are the same. Depending on the depth of pain you associate with your past, you may need a specialist in trauma. You at least need a therapist who has specific experience in the area that is keeping you stuck. You want a therapist that will help you tell your truth, not just your story. Of course, no matter how great the therapist, the hard work is up to you.
Will, desire, and intention are all required to make peace with your past. Fortunately, the desire to heal is embedded in the human psyche and is the most natural part of healing.
No one wants to feel miserable and imprisoned by their mind — everyone desires to heal. The will to heal happens at a deeper level than desire. The will drives behavior. Will pushes beyond obstacles and excuses to fulfill a desire. Intention strengthens the will through deep focus. Intention occupies the mind through constant conscious awareness to bring will and desire into alignment. Ultimately, healing the pastis intentional work.
Sabrina Acatrinei, B.S.W., CADC-1
Executive Director and Owner of Rebos Detox
Working in the treatment industry for some time now, I get asked quite often by my clients “how can I let go of the past“?
How can they make peace with the damage they have done and lives they have hurt and actually move on? We start by discussing the 12 Steps of AA and NA which have a specific method of doing this. However, there are 8 steps before the actual step where you go to make amends with people that you would have hurt in your past.
I fully believe one cannot make peace with their past unless they change the person they are today. Everything we have done in our past has contributed to making us who we are. Whether good or bad, we learned and we grew. In recovery, we talk a lot about personal growth and how necessary it is. We tell clients we have to fix the person they became in their addiction so they do not continue to make false promises.
As a “Normie” which is what I’m called because I am not in the program, I learn with my clients on a day to day basis. The Big Book of AA or NA is like the Bible. This piece of literature has been around for a while and tells a story. The story teaches addicts how to begin to live again. Not just to live but to be happy, to be humble, to give. All of which contributes to making peace with their past. It teaches people how not to beat themselves up anymore and how to simply acknowledge their mistakes.
I feel forgiveness is probably one of the most important things that need to happen in recovery. I tell my clients when they are admitted into my facility that “today is a new day“…”Forget about what happened yesterday“…”You are safe, you are alive.”
Being safe and alive are two important things when it comes to recovery. I hear it all the time, “I can’ t believe I’m still here after that OD… I really should be dead.”
This is where the therapy kicks in, the introduction to the 12 steps and the constant affirmations begin. People need to know they are loved and that in life, things happen. If we continue to beat up people emotionally and mentally they will never begin to forgive themselves and start living again. Once one can forgive himself, he/she can begin to rise and conquer.
As we learn to forgive ourselves, we can begin to make peace with our past.
And so begins time to humble ourselves and take direction from others. AA and NA meetings are a MUST, obtaining a sponsor, working the steps and reaching out to peers in recovery. This will help to learn not to resent oneself or others for past issues. This is also where spiritual action must occur to shift one’s mindset when it comes to forgiveness. The work becomes a commitment and commitment has a lot to do with responsibility. We have to push through our demons and our discomfort to gain personal change. Only then will one be able to move beyond a past that has haunted us.
Recovery lets us rediscover ourselves. The problem is that we don’t have the map to get there. In order to find the path to personal growth, the addict or alcoholic must take direction from an outside source. Our own ideas always fail us or lead us back to our drug of choice. And so the beginning of our journey in recovery has to start with surrender. We have to learn how to get out of our own way, to truly let go, if we want to move forward.
So, how do we make peace with our past? Whether you are an addict or a “normie”, it all starts from within where we surrender and accept the things we cannot change.
Psychotherapist | Relationship Coach | Divorce Mediator
As a psychotherapist, I work with many people who are seeking help finding closure related to past events and experiences that continue to haunt them.
One thing I tell everyone is that when the present is working well for them, the past is much easier to put in the rearview mirror. This is true because the process of moving on and having a happy and successful life is a healing experience that informs the person that they have indeed, moved on.
Therefore, much of our work is focused on finding, building, sustaining a life that adequately meets their needs and wants now and going into the future.
However, triggers are everywhere and when someone is going through a rough patch, they are much more susceptible to setbacks. I emphasize that these don’t mean they have gone back to where they were and all their progress has been erased. They are just powerful old feelings emerging due to triggers that can be managed and dealt with successfully.
This is where learning effective coping mechanisms and using meditation and relaxation exercises to deal with the related anxiety and other negative feelings and thoughts become the focus of counseling. I emphasize the important truth that it’s not what happens in our life that makes the difference, it’s how we perceive and deal with it that matters.
Bad things happen to everyone, everyone has regrets and occasionally travels the road of what might have been. It’s how they manage their feelings and behavior during that time that makes all the difference.
Co-creator of Self-Esteem-Experts | Author “Heart Healing: The Power of Forgiveness to Heal a Broken Heart“
The starting place to make peace with your past is to know that at every moment each of us is doing the best we can base on the programming – the beliefs – we have at that moment. With this in mind here are proven steps to make peace with your past:
- Acknowledge and allow your feelings, all your feelings about the past. Write them in a journal or share with a trusted family member, friend or professional.
- Forgive yourself for anything you have done that you feel guilty about, angry about, betrayed about toward yourself or others.
- Forgive others for any harm they have caused you in the past that continues to plague you.
- Use my Cutting the Strings Guided Visualization, as often as necessary.
- Create a Make Peace with the Past Ritual:
-Give yourself some quiet time – you may want to light a candle, go to a special place.
-Write what you are ready to let go of, forgive, and make Peace with from your past (the distant past and the recent past)
-Do The Cutting the Strings Guided Visualization.
-Burn what you have written and use the ashes to fertilize a plant as a symbol of transformation.
- Write your new story as you step into a present and future free of the pains of the past.
- Read your new story aloud (allowed) for 30 days. Read it when you need the reminder. Update your story as you continue to evolve.
Rosalind Sedacca, CLC
Author, “99 Things Women Wish They Knew Before Dating After 40, 50 & Yes, 60!“
Step up and be honest and authentic about your part in the situation from your past. We can’t change what we don’t first acknowledge.
That means admitting errors, accepting the consequences of those mistakes and take responsibility for what you can do, change or accept moving forward.
This not only gives you a sense of peace, but it’s also empowering. You no longer feel like a victim but as an active change maker — doing your part in improving circumstances for you as well as others involved.
We cannot undo the past. But the past can undo us unless we first make peace with it and then make proactive decisions that show compassion and caring.
Taking this step is crucial to experiencing the peace we all desire.
Author, “The Happy Medium book series” | Intuitive Coach LLC
Your past is your teacher. Recognize this and find peace.
Know that nothing happens for nothing. A change in your perspective truly could change your life. Stop beating yourself up and keep moving forward. What you are meant to know will be presented. Just be open.
What we see, what we say, and what we think is what we get to keep your focus on the good stuff.
The mind is like a stage, so shine the spotlight on something that makes you feel good. Create a file in your head titled, THE GOOD STUFF and fill it with memories that make you feel hugged.
Fall in love with your day, one moment at a time. Smile at your face in the mirror and know how dearly loved you are.
Health & Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics
You first need to pinpoint exactly what is bothering you. If you feel guilty about something, think about what you did wrong and what you should have done differently.
Accept that you can’t go back in time, but you can avoid making that same mistake again. If you’ve hurt or offended someone, you should make amends.
If you feel ashamed about something, you should tell your most trustworthy friend what it is. Shame is something that won’t go away until it’s brought out into the light. It grows and gets stronger the longer its kept inside of you.
If there’s something that you regret, remember that the past is for learning, growth, and enjoyment. Every regret you have was just a learning experience and you wouldn’t be the person you are if you didn’t go through it.