It is a common saying that “you can’t change the past” and I agree. I’m sure we all do. But I do believe there is a way to change how you feel about the past, which, in a way, does change it.
So, here are my thoughts on how to change the past…
Get some perspective
Sometimes, when the past feels hurtful and we beat ourselves up, it’s because we’re looking at it from one perspective. We are zoomed in and focused on one aspect or one side of the story.
Obviously, I can’t speak for all situations or experiences, but in many cases, there is a new way to look at things from the past that could free us from the bad feelings surrounding it.
For example, I have beat myself up a lot about my decisions around university. (This shouldn’t be a new story to avid readers of my blog!) I sometimes feel that I could have made better decisions back then; that maybe I was wrong; what if this and what if that?
But with a different perspective, I realise that I made the decisions that I thought were best for me with the information I had at the time. From this, my life is not bad. I did not doom myself forever.
And since, I’ve realised that the reasons I was beating myself up for weren’t really where my focus should have been anyway. It’s not that I was a loser for dropping out after a week due to panic attacks. It’s not that I was making a mistake for dropping out again after a year on my Psychology course.
My only real “mistake” was not in choosing what I truly wanted for myself, which was to study English and Creative Writing. That is the only what if I have now. And this isn’t as huge a mistake or failure as the other things seemed to be for so long. Plus, it’s something I can correct now, should I wish…
Taking this new perspective on a situation that bothered me from the past, has helped me to feel better about what happened.
Fix the mistake
As I say, correcting a misstep is a great way to change the past. You’re not going back in time and doing something different, but you can choose to do something different now and not make the same mistakes.
So, maybe you don’t choose a boyfriend like the terrible Ex you had before.
Maybe you go back to study and do it your way regardless of what anyone else thinks or says.
Maybe you take the job with less pay but more fulfilment this time.
Making better choices than the past means you learned something from that experience. It’s given you perspective, knowledge, and retrospective insight. Now, it’s time to use it.
“When you know better, you do better,” – Maya Angelou
Rewrite the narrative
If something happened in your past that you can’t get over, it’s likely that there is a story about what happened that keeps playing on repeat in your mind. A story about what happened, what you did, who you are/were, and how awful it was for you (and others).
This story, this situation, is likely to be a false memory. A false narrative. We are imperfect, with imperfect memories. It is proven that our memories are affected by our emotions. There is a likelihood that what we think happened, didn’t actually go down that way.
I’m not saying it wasn’t awful. I’m saying there is a way that we can rewrite this narrative that we have in our heads about what happened.
We can choose to see it from a new perspective, as I said before. We can choose to get more information about it from other people, to get clear on the truth rather than our emotional fabrications.
You can choose to see the positive in that situation (if applicable). You can choose to see what it taught you. You can choose to forgive. You can choose to see that it wasn’t due to bad luck, personal attacks, or anything like that; that you’re not doomed in life.
Whatever it is, you can choose, even a little, to write a new story about what happened and the role it played in your life.
If something bad happened and it was your fault; if you’re riddled with guilt and fear, then do something about it. Don’t let the past eat at you. It’s okay to forgive yourself and to seek forgiveness from those you’ve wronged.
It takes a strong, brave person to admit their faults. To hold up their hands and sincerely say, “I was wrong” and correct the situation.
Be that person.
Save yourself from the pain of a mistake or a past decision/action. Don’t say that you don’t deserve it. Everyone can seek redemption if they see their sins for what they are. You may not be forgiven, but knowing you tried to right a wrong can be incredibly life-changing.
And if you are someone who was wronged, forgive the person who wronged you. Not because they deserve it (from your perspective); not because you’re a good person. But just because in forgiveness, we free ourselves.
Healing is about going through your internal murky waters and purifying it in the hope of taking away the power that your past has over you.
Trauma is very difficult to heal from, I know; I’ve seen the remnants of it in the eyes of people I know and love. But there is a way to heal those wounds, even if it still leaves behind scars that remind you of it now and again.
As I say, it’s all about tending to open wounds so that they can no longer cause you so much pain.
Advice on how to heal from your past:
- Stop poking the wound: in order for a wound to heal, you must stop touching it. We must try to stop revisiting what happened in the past. Stop giving it power. Stop talking about it and acting like you’re still a victim of that circumstance.
- Seek professional help: if you are struggling with trauma of any kind that is plaguing you often, I recommend that you seek help from a medical professional.
- Confront the fear: some situations require you to confront a problem, person, situation, place, or phobia in order to take the power away. It’ll be scary and uncomfortable, but if appropriate, it may be time to take a deep breath and face the fear of your past so that you can move on.
- Acceptance: this is a big one for me. I know that with some things, you can’t face a fear or fix a problem. Instead, it’s just about accepting what happened, forgiving yourself for it, and taking actionable steps to move past it. To decide not to keep reading over the same chapters and start writing new ones.
- Feel it: some things need to be felt. Some people run from their past and don’t realise that the emotions from it are chasing after them. Instead, be brave and allow yourself to feel what needs to be felt, accept what it means, change your view on what happened, and heal.
- Decide to move on: at the end of the day, sometimes there’s nothing left to do but to decide, once and for all, to move on. To decide that the past can’t dictate who you are or what you’ll do anymore. To decide to choose differently, and be free from the shackles of what happened back then.
A bullet wound won’t heal with a simple bandage placed over it.
You can’t change what has happened to you or what you have been through. You can’t go back and correct a mistake. There are no Timeturners here, I’m afraid.
But you can choose to look at what happened differently. You can make a better decision with the information you now have and the person you are today. You can decide to stop opening the same wounds, and finally stop revisiting it in your mind or your conversations or whatever else.
You change the past by deciding that those doors are closed now, and you are able to choose differently for yourself this time.
You can be stronger, smarter, braver, and kinder than you were in the past. Meaning that you choose better, act better, and get through whatever comes your way.
Workbooks to consider downloading to help you through feelings of the past:
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.