I have talked to people who are still bitter years after their divorce. I have met professionals who are having a hard time coming to terms with having been laid off. I know adults who still resent their parents.
Some well-meaning friends may be telling us to just forgive and forget. But that’s easier said than done.
We somehow know that holding on to the past is not allowing us to move into the future, where new possibilities and opportunities await us. But how do we move past our resentment?
I believe that the key to letting go of the past is to practice self-responsibility. If we see the event in the past as something that somebody did to us, where we were the victim, we make ourselves powerless. “He or she did this to me.” “There was nothing I could do.” We may continue to replay what happened and just continue the cycle of our negative emotions.
If we look for parts of the event that we can take responsibility for, where we have some control, something interesting happens. We have now empowered ourselves. We can look for other ways to respond and choose to do something different in the future. We can take action.
How do we take self-responsibility? Just ask yourself this magic question: What part of this situation can I be responsible for?
This is not about looking for who to blame. It is just looking for facts. (If you are blaming yourself for what happened, please see my article on self-compassion.)
For example, let’s say that a friend lied to you and when you finally found out you were furious and now the friendship is over. What part of the situation can you take responsibility for? Maybe you felt that something wasn’t right, but you didn’t ask further questions. Maybe part of you didn’t want to know the truth. Maybe you chose to let previous smaller lies slide. You can also take responsibility for your reactions.
Whatever piece you can find to take self-responsibility for, make a decision about what good can come out of this and what you want to commit to for the future.
What would be possible for you if you let go of the past and embraced the future?