Whether we had an argument with our family, an ex-partner that keeps popping up in our thoughts, or a co-worker that we need to forgive and keep working with, we all have parts of our past that we need to let go of.
I am betting that there are at least one or two things that pop up each week in our lives that cause exaggerated emotional responses. As we get older and we do not deal with these incidences, they compile on top of one another and we walk around composting years of bad emotions that been shoved down. We need to deal with these emotions and process them so that we can let go of the past and move on otherwise we can be ticking time bombs emotionally. Life has new situations that need processed each day and to be able to release the baggage of our past is a key to operating in peace for the future. Peace in our minds, peace in our souls, and peace in our bodies (which can sometimes be manifested as health), will allow us to keep moving forward in life with a hope that doesn’t have to record every wrong done to or by us.
When we REwind something what happens? We go back so that we can hit play again. We go back so we can go forward. When we REpent we are going back so we can change direction and go forward. Taking time to go back and correct our thought patterns is the only way we can ensure we are moving forward baggage-free and in total peace.
5 Steps to Letting Go
- REprocess the emotions so you can find the root
When our emotions seem exaggerated in proportion to the circumstance the first thing we have to do is step back and realize that those emotions are an internal alarm trying to tell us there is a problem. Even if something has happened many years ago, if we can’t seem to let go of it (an ex-partner, a dream we had, or something we feel was taken from us by someone else like innocence, education, or another traumatic occurrence) we still need to stop and think about how this makes us feel now. What triggers us to spiral into those feelings again? What reminds us of this thing that we are determined to get away from? Write down those feelings or make a mental list because they will come in handy as they are indicators to you about your thought patterns.
Once you have determined the way a situation makes you feel you can decide whether or not the problem started where you think it did. For example, if you are feeling very angry and frustrated because there are crumbs on the counter top, chances are the problem didn’t start with someone leaving crumbs on the counter top. More than likely that emotion of anger is a symptom of something you believe. Do you believe “No one appreciates my hard work of cleaning enough to pick up their crumbs”? Now, you are exploring the root belief of the problem so you can process and move forward.
If the root is not clear when you stop and think about it that is ok. Taking mental note of how you feel in a situation is extending grace to yourself. Tuck it in the back of your mind and pray about it. I have never asked God to help me find the root of something and not received an answer eventually. Give yourself the grace to ask “why does this bother me, when was the very first time I remember feeling this way”? Finding the root of the problem is very helpful. There have even been times when I thought I had reached the bottom of an issue and years later found an even deeper root or layer of the same issue. That is all completely normal! Making progress is a process and one that God will guide you through as you are ready for each layer.
- REcognize the root and your role and responsibility
Now that you have found the root of where this feeling and problem started it’s time to process and think about the way(s) this has impacted your life. In the root incident that happened there is often a role that we were to appropriately fill and a role that we perceive we should have filled. Review the facts of the situation: the characters, the ages,the timeframe, reasonable doubts, how the decisions were made, etc. One tool that helps me do this is when I step back and imagine a friend is telling me this story about him/herself. What would I deem my friend’s responsibility in that situation should be? Are there areas where I assumed responsibility that should not have been my responsibility? Are there ways that I maybe was responsible and could have changed the course of things but chose not to? What caused me to feel the way I did? Family systems and upbringings often set up the parameters and looking glass for our thought systems. It is ok to question thoughts we accepted before. A role we may have assumed as a child may not be the right responsibility or role a child should have. As an adult we can look back and decide what the correct response to a belief we have held is.
In the example of a toxic romantic relationship that you can’t let go of, recognizing the root of why you entered the relationship to begin with is key. Were you lonely? What do you believe about loneliness that would make you choose toxicity over being single? Do you believe bad company over no company is ok? Why does singleness have to mean loneliness? As a child did you strive to please one parent or another (or both) and felt unable to appreciate you? If so, perhaps there is a root there in the mind that says “I must make others happy and be loyal no matter how toxic and unsafe they are to me”. Or perhaps there is a thought system that believes you are unworthy and unlovable so you “take what you can get”. Our responsibility is not to make others happy but to grow and please God. Our responsibility is to keep ourselves safe and set boundaries that others must learn to respect.
Recognizing the root of things bothering us identifying our true role/responsibility is a key. It helps set us up to form new thoughts and walk through new doors of freedom.
This is an important part of letting go of the past. It is something we oftentimes do not want to take the time to do. We feel that if our emotions don’t send warm and fuzzy vibes towards someone that we can’t forgive them. That isn’t true. Forgiveness is a choice. And a choice that, in my experience, seldom lines up with my feelings for a long time.
We must take time to look at the root cause of why we have an issue letting something go and deciding who needs to be forgiven in the situation. Perhaps the toxic ex-partner needs to be forgiven for abuse, but if the root is people pleasing then perhaps the parents do as well for allowing a child to continue striving without making that child feel adequate. In the scenario of the “crumbs on the countertop” perhaps the person leaving the crumbs out needs forgiven but so does every other person that has left you feeling like they don’t appreciate your hard work.
Forgiving from the root forward is critical. Remember, we are REwinding here, going back to go forward. Start at the root situation and move forward in forgiveness and bring all of those situations to God and say “I forgive X for X.”
Oftentimes the person that needs forgiveness is you. Perhaps there was a time when you drove a car intoxicated and potentially placed others in harm’s way. Now, whenever someone mentions a car accident due to intoxication your emotions go haywire. You feel afraid, anxious, upset, and guilty. Your mind feels the shame of your own actions and fear of what others must think of you. After processing the emotions you realize that you believe what others think about you defines you. You find you believe that there can be no forgiveness for someone that makes a wrong choice. You may even believe your sins are too great and you deserve punishment (we all do, but thanks to Christ he has set us free from past shame). You have to forgive yourself too. Receiving forgiveness from Christ can only happen if we also forgive ourselves and admit that self-loathing is also rejecting God’s free gift. Yes, drunk driving was bad choice, a horrible one, in fact; but you must forgive yourself. Choose to forgive yourself and trust that God will help your emotions to line up with that.
- RElease (and possibly grieve)
So far we have processed our emotions to find the root of our problem, identified and recognized the falsities that we may believe about ourselves and others, and we chose to forgive all involved from the root of the issue forward. So we have all this baggage, what do we do with it? Now we need to get rid of it. We need to release and make the choice to let go.
That may look different for each situation. For the “crumbs” example that may look like a conversation with other household members that lets everyone know that you feel unappreciated when others do not pick up after themselves and ask them to start cleaning up after themselves and not assume you will. For a toxic relationship it may take removal of the relationship or at the very least some very strict boundaries. An intoxicated driver may look up scripture about forgiveness and condemnation and remind him/herself daily that our sins are removed when we ask for forgiveness, and accept that God indeed will turn all bad things around.
No matter what we are letting go of there may be a grieving process. We have held on to certain thought patterns for many years if not a lifetime. We have allowed ourselves to keep connections that we shouldn’t have. We believed lies that we were responsible for things we weren’t (or should have been responsible for things we chose not to) and now we see the truth. So we are free to grieve. It is important to grieve. That looks different for everyone but whenever we suffer a loss it is important to grieve. It is sad that someone was raised feeling unappreciated and it is now time to think about the ways that affected their entire lifetime. How has feeling unappreciated their whole life defined them? What ways has that affected their personality? Are they reluctant to make new friends or do they strive to please everyone they meet? Meanwhile, walking away from a toxic person will cause grief and an acute sense of loss as we lay down the hopes we had for reconciliation. Losing is tough. Let yourself feel the emotions because you have been affected by believing wrongly. A natural effect of grieving is release. If you do the former, you will experience the latter because you are letting go of any misconception that you are in complete control.
- REthink a new thought
Having allowed ourselves to feel the loss and fully process the emotions associated with the root of our problems we are in a prime position to receive a new thought. I love new thoughts! God always has new thoughts for us! It is part of the transformation to glory that we are privileged to experience. We are always moving and changing but with new thoughts we can be moving in the right direction. God always has a new way of thinking that is an upgrade from our past.
When something bad happens to us the neurons in our brains fuse together in our response. So if we have a wrong response to something, every time something similar happens in the future our brains are fused to automatically make that wrong response again. To rewire the grooves in our brain and to fuse new thoughts requires the power of the Holy Spirit to remind and help us consciously choose those new thoughts.
Take the time to write down the lies that you believed in the root of your situation. Take time to write down the wrong ways you were viewing life, relationships, and your responsibilities. Then cross them out the bad responses and perspectives and write new thoughts. If you aren’t sure what the new thoughts should be, seek scripture, seek counsel from a friend, or sometimes it is simply the opposite! I have a lot of these little lists in my journal and many are unspecific in regards to the details of the situation I was in at the time. Looking back over them is always interesting because I can see how my “new thoughts” really did replace my old ones over time. I may have no idea what situation I couldn’t let go of that made me write the list, but the proof is in the pudding when I think, “did I actually think that? What!”
Think about the new truth/thought and brainstorm ways that you can walk in that truth in the future. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you so that each time your mind begins to think in an old pattern he will remind you and bring it to your attention. This may come as a small “aha” moment in your circumstances, or he may use a friend that you are walking with to bring it to your attention.
Thinking new thoughts is where we find a final step in our freedom. There are times I never get too far in this section. Sometimes I will pray about it and tell the Lord “Jesus, I have no idea what that new thought will look like in my current life, but I give it to you and ask you to help me think this new thought in my entire life so I can be free from the past.” Sometimes it will be months later that I will then stumble across a situation and it will just strike me “Oh, I have responded the right way here, way to go!” A few times I’ve had a friend say “hey, you used to do x…but now you don’t!”
In closing, I want to reassure you that we all have a past. We all have had traumatic things happen to us. We all hurt others at one point or another and in turn have been hurt. We all have believed false things about ourselves, others, God, and the world around us. But why keep carrying around those burdens with us? The Lord’s yoke is light, His burden is not heavy. But we still walk around praising God, metaphorically “laying down our burdens” with no real victory or fruit to show for it. This is because as we “lay down our burdens” we are simply cutting off the weeds and not pulling them out by the root. We need to get to the roots of things. It may take time but time spent with God in this way is never time wasted.
I hope this article helps provide some guidelines and skills for you. I have followed this process as a guideline in my walk towards freedom for over 10 years and have found that God meets me in this every single time. It has given me skills for living in a world of wounded people, broken relationships, and sin. It has allowed me to truly lay down my burdens in a transforming way. It has helped me to not be offended in different circumstances that I had every right to be offended in. Through dealing with root issues I no longer am impacted and blown about by every stormy wind but am anchored in peace.
Below I have included a link to a worksheet for the above. Feel free to print this worksheet and use it to help you in the coming months/years of your journey.