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You can’t let go of the past. Here is what to do instead.

By July 14, 2021June 18th, 2023Trauma Recovery

Does it feel like you walk through life with a backpack full of stones?

‘Let go of the past!’ – I’m sure you have heard this advice more than once. Probably you have also thought to yourself that it would be such a liberating thing to do- to let go of all the past hurt, resentments, mistakes that still make you shrink inside…

It seems like we often go through life with a backpack full of stones. These stones come from all the hurt we experienced from others, all our unresolved conflicts, unforgiven wrongs, and also from our own mistakes, ‘wrong’ decisions, disappointments, regrets or unfulfilled dreams. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to collect stones, doesn’t it?  And the backpack gets heavier and heavier as years go by.

We often try to do whatever we can to forget about the backpack. We constantly find ways of distracting ourselves from feeling the weight of the stones. We keep busy all the time, work too much, eat or drink too much, watch Netflix or scroll through FB too much or – pay attention to this one (!) – focus on others too much.  

There are also times when we become painfully aware of this burden we’ve been carrying for so long. We can feel how it drains our energy out, steals our peace of mind, and undermines our self-confidence. How it makes us feel small and worthless. We get anxious or depressed, and life feels like a constant struggle to stay upright in spite of all the heaviness that is pulling us down towards the ground. 

And sometimes we get so fed up with all this effort that we feel a strong impulse to let go of the past and get rid of the stones. Couldn’t we just take them out, one by one, place them on the ground, and leave them behind as we walk into the future light-footed?  Well, easier said than done. The fear of what life would be like without them is often much stronger than the longing to let go. But that’s not the only reason.


Letting go of the past is not only difficult – it is impossible. 

It seems like letting go of the stones, or even the whole backpack would be the most reasonable (and liberating) course of action. But the metaphor with the backpack works only to some extend.

Unfortunately, this works entirely differently in the case of our mind, body, and heart.

Letting go of the past is not just difficult – it’s also impossible. And …it is totally unnecessary. 

The past experiences you are still carrying on your shoulders have already happened. They shaped you into who you are today. They are not only taking space in your mind and heart but they are also deely imprinted in your physical body. 

And for the most part, they pull your strings from behind the scenes. They guide your feelings, thoughts and behaviours far more often than you are aware of. 

This is especially true of all the adverse experiences you have gone through in your life. 

We all know that sexual abuse, emotional neglect, early bereavement and loss, a serious accident or chronic health condition are ‘traumatic’. But these are just the most extreme examples. Thanks to the newest discoveries in neuroscience we know now that ‘trauma’ is a much broader term. 

Any event, situation, or interaction that was too difficult, overwhelming or painful for your system to process, is traumatic. Trauma is any situation we don’t have enough internal or external resources to cope with. Bonnie Badenoch, in her amazing book “The Heart of Trauma’, defines trauma as:

‘Any experience of fear and pain that doesn’t have the support it needs to to be digested and integrated into the flow of our brains’  



When you look at trauma this way, it becomes clear that each and every one of us is carrying some scars from the past. 

And these scars can be very powerful. They become the lenses through which we experience ourselves, others, and the world in general. 

These scars determine how we think, what we think about and even if we are able to think or not in certain stressful situations. They often determine how sensitive and emotional we are. And they determine how we see the world around us –  whether we are mostly focused on signs of danger and threat, or on connecting and cooperating with others.  

These scars are deeply imprinted in our bodies. Or, if you prefer a more neuroscientific way to put it – they have formed neuronal pathways, clusters, and networks that determine how your brain and nervous system respond to what is going on inside you and around you. 

That is how our past becomes an integral part of who we are and creates our present and our future. 


What you need to do to break free from the tyranny of the past

Does it mean that we are at the mercy of our past traumas and scars? Not at all. But the way to freedom doesn’t go through letting go. It goes through making peace

Fortunately, thanks to neuroscience we know that our brains are very flexible. Neuroplasticity allows our brains to rewire – to reorganize neuronal connections and networks. It makes it possible for new pathways to be developed thus allowing us to learn new, healthier, and much easier ways of being in the world. 

So, I imagine, you’re dying to know how to do that?

Freedom from the past starts in the here and now. 

You don’t need to let your past go. But you do need to have an honest and very compassionate look at what remnants of the past are still alive in your body and brain. 

And the best, the easiest, and most effective way to do that, is to become present and aware of what’s going on in you right now.  In your mind, in your heart, and first and foremost in your body. 

“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”

Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma


Embrace your now if you want to break free from your past.

You can’t let go of the past, but you can embrace your present.

Your freedom lies in learning how to embrace all of your feelings and emotions (even the most challenging ones!) and practicing being comfortable with the uncomfortable (weird or even painful) sensations they trigger in your body. Once you have build your emotionals strength and resilience you will be able to contain, resolve and tranform the old neuropathways and neuronetworks that keep you stuck in the past. (Download my free EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE CHECKLIST HERE to get the best start by learning 5 powerful ways to soothe and comfort your emotions)

Once you befriend your inner experience with curiosity and compassion you will be able to reclaim all the parts of yourself that got stuck somewhere along your life story. 

It will open the door to more kindness and understanding and this is just a step away from forgiveness and peace. And forgiveness and peace always bring freedom. 

This is a process that requires time, dedication, and practice. But it is the only way to stop going through life with a bunch of stones on our backs. You know they weigh you down, stop you from living and loving fully, and eventually make you emotionally frozen and physically sick.

I know it might sound daunting, but I promise it’s easier than you think. And I will hold your hand all the way through if you let m too 🙂 Book your free discovery session and let’s chat! 

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