Feel Upset by the past


-By Doctor Harmony, Psychiatrist
When we still harbour grief, resentment, anger, guilt or indignation about our past, it holds us back from moving on with our lives. Small triggers or reminders in life may then stir the old feelings, which could cause us to over-react to current events or people. It can make us feel angry, sad or hurt as it may feel as if the past is recurring, even though we may not make that conscious connection. I often see this in people with a past history of being bullied at school or at work. This also happens with reliving of sibling rivalry from childhood through other situations later in life. For example, have you ever felt jealous when others are being acknowledged or rewarded and you feel you have unfairly missed out or been overlooked?

Holding onto past pain can hurt our relationships and people round us. In some cases, many years have passed without having seen family or friends who have hurt us. Avoiding people who have hurt us may help our pain initially but longer-term there is a very high chance that we will encounter similar situations or people. There will also be reminders of the pain, such as Christmas, birthdays and Mother’s and Father’s Day. Ultimately we will need to face the issues or types of people again.

What can help us to resolve past pain?

ACCEPT THE PAST has occurred and cannot be changed. What we can change is the effect it has on us. The choice is yours. Holding onto emotional pain only hurts yourself and others who you love.

REMEMBER that we all make mistakes. If we reflect on the mistakes we have made in our lives and even how we may have contributed to a conflict or situation, our hurt and anger is more likely to dissipate. We are more likely to forgive. It takes a lowering of ego to admit we are human and are as fallible as others.

EMPATHISE. Try seeing the situation from other people’s perspectives. Often when we feel hurt and angry it is because we see it from our viewpoint only. We may feel wrongly treated or neglected. Often others are not aware that their actions or inactions have hurt us, as they may have been only thinking about their situation. Also we all have different backgrounds, cultures, personalities and coping styles. If we also take this into account, it may help to understand the situation from other perspectives, which we may have initially overlooked.

EMOTIONAL PAIN IS A CHANCE TO LEARN AND GROW. If we are trapped in a state of emotional pain and find it hard to forgive, it can feel we are imprisoned by it. It is difficult to move on. When we can use our pain constructively, it turns our hopelessness, helplessness, anger, despair and sadness into a hopeful, empowering and uplifting feeling. We are then more likely to forgive and let go of emotional pain. Ask, “What can I learn from this?” “Is there anything I could have done differently?”

To summarise:
Accept the past has happened. It is difficult to move forward until you do.
Forgive yourself and others. We are all human. Mistakes are inevitable. Many times, people do not mean to intentionally hurt us.
Empathise. Put yourself in others’ positions and you may see the situation different. This may change the way you feel about the past.
Use the past to learn and grow from. Past pain can make you a better person or break you. It is your choice.

If you would like to find out more ways of dealing with anger, sadness and other uncomfortable feelings, check out series one of my Building Resilience books series. Although it is marketed as children’s picture books, it has great tips for children and adults alike.