Oct. 10, 2013 at 6:28 PM ET
We've all been down the road of hurt and disappointment. Whether the wounds stem from a bad breakup or betrayal from a friend or relative, many people find it difficult to heal from old injuries making it next to impossible to walk into the future without baggage. “It comes down to taking action in small steps, one day at a time,” says Deborah King, spiritual teacher and New York Times best-selling author, her latest book being Entangled in Darkness: Seeking the Light. Here, King offers ten steps on how to face the past and leave it behind you once and for all:
“You must start by doing things to clear the decks so you can begin to think straight,” advises King. She suggests first acknowledging any ongoing unhealthy behavior. For some people, it may be drinking or taking sleeping pills, while for others it can be the less obvious habits, like overeating, running 25 miles a day, shopping excessively or even Facebooking for hours on end. “Many of these ‘obsessions’ may look acceptable on the outside, but we’re doing them for the wrong reasons,” she explains. “And having some type of addiction tends to be a problem in almost everyone’s life who is bogged down by a past issue. It’s very simple: We look to something to make us feel better in order to hide our real feelings. It’s our way of coping.”
“It’s surprising that many of us are unaware of our true emotions,” states King. “We know we don’t feel good, but we may not know that we’re frightened or angry—we tend to band-aid it.” She believes that journaling each day can help reveal your inner feelings. When dealing with her own previous emotional wounds, King, a former attorney, used to write down her feelings every 15 minutes on a legal pad. “I would pause for one second, ask myself, ‘What am I feeling right now?’ and jot down one letter. J would mean jealous, T for terrified, and so on. And after a while, I began to actually know how I felt—this was a huge step in the healing process!”
Closing a door from the past can be tiring, which is why King suggests taking inventory of your health and lifestyle habits. Along with eating a balanced diet, she advises to exercise a few times a week (to release stress), get seven to eight hours of sleep per night (to balance hormones, which will help maintain emotional equilibrium) and take in 20 minutes of sun each day (since light deprivation is a common cause of depression). “It’s difficult to move forward if you’re not feeling up to it.”
During this process, it’s equally important to keep your thoughts positive, as well. King suggests limiting the negativity in your life, such as turning off violence in the media and turning away from complainers and naysayers. Instead, make it a point to read uplifting books, listen to upbeat music and watch inspiring or feel-good shows and movies. “The healthier your mind, the easier it will be to tackle the past.”
If you feel that your thoughts and emotions dwell on the negative, (a.k.a. “I will never get over my divorce” or “I think every person will abandon me like my mother”) you may want to consider what King calls “energy medicine”—which can include alternative practices, such as meditation, Reiki or acupuncture. “These ancient healing systems can clear emotional blockages and help re-balance energy flow
King suggests taking the time—even just one session—to speak with a qualified person, such as a counselor or a religious or spiritual teacher. “The goal is to talk it out with someone who is detached from your life,” she says. Many people not only feel more comfortable opening up to a “stranger,” but sometimes the words from a professional will hit home more so than from a friend.
Whether it’s a 12-step program, a weight loss meeting or a Zen workshop, find supporters who have either been in your shoes before or who share the common goal of wanting to feel better. “It’s always good to have fellow travelers on your path to healing.”
Make it a regular practice to list the people and things you are grateful for in your life. Acknowledge everyone and everything that brings happiness into your world, from your health to your pet to your best friend. In fact, researchers from University of California, Davis, discovered that people who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (including emotional goals) compared to those without a list.
King suggests relying on a simple three-sentence exercise: “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you live with ease of heart.” As you repeat these words to yourself, think about those people you love, and eventually the person or situation that caused you the hurt. “Sometimes the hardest part of this practice is learning to forgive yourself,” states King.
Do you need to confront someone? Do you feel it will help you move forward if you send someone an email? Or perhaps you’d like to write a soul-baring letter—and then shred it. “Whichever strategy suits best, the point is that you must take action in order to leave the hurt in your past,” states King.
Amy Capetta is a contributing writer at iVillage.com. You can follow her on Twitter @amycapetta.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.