Hanging on to old hurts, failed relationships, or other negative experiences just keeps you stuck in that emotional space. I have seen a few people in my life do just that, and it is very sad. Some of them could never move forward, forgive, and heal. I often wonder what their lives could have been like if they did have the ability to let go. We only have one life, I feel like it is our responsibility to do everything we can to make the most of it, which includes always looking ahead with hope. Today’s guest blog from author William Ury reminds us to accept the past in order to enjoy the present — and the rest of your life.
Written by William Ury, author of Getting to Yes with Yourself: (and other Worthy Opponents)
Heavy shadows cast by past relationships or events can create bitterness, resentment, and hatred. It is all too easy for us to get so caught up in the past that we can overlook present opportunities.
Holding onto the past is not only self-destructive because it distracts us from reaching mutually satisfying relationships in the present, but it also takes away our joy and even harms our health. And it affects those around us who are our biggest supporters in life. Watching us hold onto the past and poison our present takes away their joy and well-being. It is a loss for everyone. If we truly realized how much it costs us to hold on to the past, how self-destructive it ultimately is to our current relationships, we might not wait so long to let go.
Forgiving those who have wronged us does not mean condoning or forgetting what they did. It means accepting what happened and freeing ourselves from its weight. The first beneficiary of forgiveness, after all, is ourselves. Resentment and anger tend to consume us and hurt us perhaps much more even than they hurt the other.
As important as it is to forgive others, perhaps the most important person to forgive is oneself. Without doubt, at some point each of us has felt regret, shame, self-hatred, and self-blame for all the ways in which we have broken promises to ourselves and hurt ourselves as well as others. These feelings naturally tend to fester and take our attention away from the present moment.
Accepting the past is not only about letting go of accusations towards others and ourselves; it’s also about accepting the experiences life has given us, however challenging these might be.
If we don’t let go of our resentment and regret, we become prisoners of the past. To accept your past, it is helpful to reframe your stories and give a positive meaning to even the most difficult life events. We may have no power to change the past, but we do have the power to change the meaning we assign to it.
How have you been able to reframe difficulties and look at them as lessons — or even opportunities for growth?
William Ury is the co–founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, where he directs the Project on Preventing War. One of the world’s leading negotiation specialists, his past clients include dozens of Fortune 500 companies as well as the White House and Pentagon. Ury received his B.A. from Yale and a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Harvard. His books Getting to YES and Getting Past No have sold more than five million copies worldwide.