Clearing the Past

As a coach, I often speak with people who linger in the past. They let their past rule their present and dictate their future. And because of this fear of letting the past go, they feel as though they never move forward. They feel stuck. Lost. Abandoned. Forgotten. Unfulfilled. They often feel as though they’re running around in circles. They’re stressed out, exhausted and irritable.

Does this sound like you? If so, this article will give you tools to clear your past, learn to forgive others and more importantly, learn to forgive yourself.

First, let’s identify a couple of things:

  • What is fear?
  • Where is it coming from?

Fear can be many things. Though it’s often identified as something else – not having enough money, not having enough time, being too fat, too old, too young or any number of things. But these feelings of inadequacy are just a cover-up for the underlying problem – fear.

So what is fear? According to the American Heritage Dictionary, fear is defined as:

NOUN: 1a. A feeling of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger. b. A state or condition marked by this feeling: living in fear. 2. A feeling of disquiet or apprehension: a fear of looking foolish. 3. Extreme reverence or awe, as toward a supreme power. 4. A reason for dread or apprehension: Being alone is my greatest fear.

For the purpose of our discussion, let’s use 1 and 2. This definition tells us that fear, then, is an anxiety caused by danger or a state marked by this feeling. When we fear something, we’re feeling as though we’re in danger, that something is going to hurt us. It could be physical pain, emotional pain, or even psychological pain.

Many times this fear is psychological – it’s something we perceive might happen to us as a result of not having enough money, not enough time, being too fat, and all those things we mentioned earlier. Psychological or perceived fear is usually the culprit behind lingering in the past and those feelings of inadequacy that we talked about in the beginning of this article.

Now that we know what fear is, let’s explore where it’s likely coming from.

Often, fear is a result of negative or limited thinking. These thoughts, or beliefs as most experts usually call them, are ideas that you’ve learned from those around since you were very young. They are passed to you from your grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, teachers, siblings, friends, and any other person who has had influence in your life. These people are often called your circle or sphere of influence and they likely did not intend to create limiting beliefs in you – they’re simply doing and saying what they know, just as you are now.

It is possible to get passed the fear and in doing so, you’ll find that those other feelings simply fall away.

The first step to getting beyond the fear is to acknowledge it. Realize it does exist. Accept that it is there. You don’t have to accept the fear itself – just accept the fact that it is there.

Some experts will tell you to analyze the fear and try to discover the limiting beliefs that are holding you back and causing that fear. However, I have found it isn’t always necessary. If you feel it would be helpful for you though, go ahead and do it. I prefer to simply acknowledge those thoughts as they come up for me, giving them neither credence nor value nor second thought. I find that if I linger on them and try to analyze them, they continue to hang around because I’ve given them merit by analyzing them. So for me – and for many of my clients – just acknowledging the fact that those thoughts are there is enough.

The second step is acknowledging those in your past whom you feel have hurt you in some way. Include people who are still in your life as well as those who aren’t. Include people you care about and love as well as those you may dislike. Include family, friends, co-workers, employers, teachers, and anybody else. Even that guy who cut you off on the freeway last week. Acknowledge that they’ve hurt you.

Once you have done that, you’re now ready to move on to step three.

You will need a few pieces of paper and something to write with. There is no perfect length here, so just write as much or as little as you feel inclined to. It could be half a page or 20 pages. Write on both sides or only one side. It doesn’t matter. It simply matters that you write.

Now write everything you’ve acknowledged in the first and second steps. Don’t think in depth about it, again, unless you feel like doing so – just write it all down. Write until you can write no more. Write quickly, write slow. But write. Write everything behind the fear, everything behind the hurt, everything that you feel is holding you back or no longer serves who you are or where you’re going. Take as much time as you need and then move on to step four.

Are you ready for step four, then? Great!

Next, we’re going to write a couple more things. This time though, we’re going to turn it around and re frame all those thoughts. We’re going to open our hearts to forgiveness. This is a big step so if you’re not sure you’re really ready, wait a little while. If you can’t find it within your heart to forgive your past, it will be difficult to continue and reap the benefits of truly letting go.

If you’re ready to forgive, it’s time to write it down. Write down that you willingly and completely forgive every limiting belief, every angry thought, every ounce of jealousy, and discontent. Write down that you forgive those who have wronged you. And again, most importantly, write down that you truly forgive yourself.

Just as in the previous exercise, don’t think too in depth about it just write it all down until you can write no more, taking as much time and paper as you need to do so. Some people find it is helpful to write as though they were writing letters to each person or each fear, especially when they get the point of writing about themselves.

Move on to step five when you’re finished.

Finished? Ok then . . . on to step five.

Gather your paper or papers, a metal bucket (or something fireproof) and a match or lighter. You can go somewhere special to you such as the beach or the woods or wherever if you’d like but it’s not required. Just be sure you won’t disturb anyone else and that you are safe.

Take one sheet of paper at a time, starting with those from step three, and light it. Reflect for a moment and feel those limitations leaving you. Imagine the fire is taking those things out of you, turning them into smoke and then push them as far away from you as possible, somewhere out into the universe so far away you can’t see them anymore. Let the paper drop into the container and continue this exercise until you’ve burned each one.

Now, take the letters you wrote in step four and do the same. Only this time as the you’re pushing the smoke away from you, say in your mind or even out loud if you’re alone and feel like it, that you forgive whomever or whatever is written there. Feel the forgiveness enveloping you and them.

When you have completed step five, return and complete step six.

Great, you’re back! I hope at this point you are feeling better about yourself. Some people notice a difference right away and others don’t. It’s important not to get discouraged if you still feel like the same old you. It’s okay.

At this point, you’ve likely had some aha moments. You’ve gotten in touch with things you had no idea were causing problems for you. And you may be beginning to feel the spark of hope. I’m excited for you! You are a powerful being!

This next step is really just about feeling that hope, that excitement of what the future holds. Released from the chains of fear and limiting beliefs is a liberating feeling. You may feel an inner peace and you may still feel some fear but it’s a different fear – it’s a feeling that knows you’ll get beyond the fear when it rises again.

So step six is two-fold. The first half is reveling in the new feelings of peace and joy that you’re experiencing now. And the second half is creating some new beliefs, setting some goals and learning that whatever happens is for your benefit.

You were created as a unique individual. And it’s ok to be afraid – but realize that allowing the fear to stop you is where the problem lies. Instead of letting the fear grip you and control you and keep you in a little box, use it as a catalyst to change, to do great things, to be yourself.

Fear wasn’t meant to hold you back, it was meant to propel you forward.


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