Writing about the past can help you release the negativity while keeping the memory. It can help you let go.
When to let go
Connections to the past matter. A lot. But sometimes sadness, hurt, and anger about the past becomes baggage. Carrying those suitcases around make traveling forward more cumbersome and emotionally expensive. Sometimes we have to let go of past events to keep a healthy relationship with the present and future.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, writing about the past is a great strategy to keep our What-Could–Have-Been from overshadowing our What-Can-Still-Be.
Just so you know which body part I’m speaking from, I’ll confess up front. I’m not good at letting go.
But years ago, advice my son got during a goalie training made an impression on me. The coaches were talking to the twelve-year-old goalies about regaining composure after a goal was scored on you. The kids were asked to keep their left foot in one place to signify “holding on” to the emotions of getting scored on, and to try to defend the goal without moving that foot. Pretty soon, they all realized they had to move that foot–let go of that bad moment–to be a good goalie.
Writing about the past doesn’t only prevent you from bottling up your feelings. Writing can help process the past, enabling us to embrace the present and future. That’s especially true when we combine writing about the past with solid advice from professionals. Although I’m normally all about sharing, these techniques are also helpful when you keep your writing private.
Writing about the Past to Gain Understanding
Sometimes, it’s not so much a question of letting go. When you don’t understand a situation, it gnaws at your psyche. John M. Grohol, Psy.D. suggests “Express your pain — and your responsibility.”
He advises, “Express the pain the hurt made you feel … Get it all out of your system… Doing so will also help you understand what — specifically — your hurt is about.”
Dr. Grohol also recommends admitting any responsibility you have in the hurtful situation and turn that into deciding what you would do differently in the future. Writing with this emphasis on your own path in the future, releases the tension on those metaphorical tethers.
Writing for Acceptance
Shortly after my parents died, a grief counselor encouraged me to talk about my parents’ accident to anyone who would listen. Repeatedly telling the story, they said, helps you get to a place of acceptance. According to the experts at Navigating Grief, writing about your past is particularly healing. On Writing: Your Stories Can Heal Your Heart explains why writing about your memories is even more healing than simply telling your stories:
“We don’t forget, nor should we. In fact, acknowledging our loss and remembering is far more effective than burying our feelings with our loved one….Writing provides permanence and safekeeping of precious memories. Writing helps you reflect on important moments. Writing ensures a safe distance for difficult subjects. Writing opens conversations with a purpose. Writing measures time passing and distance in your journey without forgetting.”
Often, not surprisingly, I find that by writing about my memories, grief is balanced with gratitude. Laughter peeks in through the tears. The “tether” becomes a healing connection.
Nothing keeps us tethered to the past like a grudge. In Write Yourself Well , John F. Evans, Ed.D. suggests writing a letter, even if you have no intention of sending it:
“Focus more on the other person or people who are responsible for what happened. What do you think was going on in their life at the time? How do you think they feel about it afterward? What will it take for you to forgive them? Explore what being able to forgive them means to you and to them. As always, write continuously in an uncensored way.”
Of course, sometimes we’re the ones that need forgiveness. You can also write about that.
When has writing about the past helped you move forward?