Menu
Announcement: Want to share your story in the next Tiny Buddha book? Learn more here!

Letting Go of Your Past to Create a New Future

“As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.” -Eckhart Tolle

I grew up in what looked like a happy, all-American household—eight children, a dutiful housewife for a mother, and a father who was both a janitor at my school and a member of the Knights of Columbus and American Legion.

However, in the background, terror lurked. My father, verbally and physically abusive, terrorized us every day. Even after growing up, taking back my life and moving across the country, I still wore my victim story like a badge.

“I am so screwed up because of my father,” was the subtext of everything I ever shared about my childhood.

Some years ago, I was having lunch in Los Angeles with my friend Paul, going over all the horrible things that had happened to me in my life.

Suddenly Paul said to me, “Laura, how long are you going to tell that story and be a victim of that story?”

I was shocked. I responded, “You don’t understand!  This man—my father—tried to ruin my life!” and, “You don’t understand what hell I’ve been through!” and, “You just don’t understand!”

He said, “I understand. I just want to know how long you are going to tell the story.”

Fortunately, beneath my initial reaction, I knew he was right. It was in that moment that I realized I’d been going through my life thinking I was earning purple hearts for having the worst childhood story.

The truth was that my story was holding me back from healing. I had this sad core belief that my story made me friends by getting people to pity me.

In reality, my defining myself only by my pain was actually pushing people away. My suffering was leading me nowhere.

If you’re suffering, I ask you: Where can this suffering lead you? What is the opportunity? What can you learn?

Any time you hold resentment, you hurt yourself. While you outwardly blame a person or situation, inwardly you beat yourself up for being a part of that relationship or experience.

Whether you yell at yourself for getting involved or only ask yourself why you didn’t do things differently, you are still blaming yourself. You are giving yourself the message that you are not to be trusted.

When we choose not to forgive, we remain stuck, unchangeable, and unmoving. It’s as if we’re chaining ourselves to our past and the people who harmed us, which prevents us from moving forward and out of old patterns.

Not forgiving is like tying one end of a rope around you and the other end around a tree. The rope represents the situation you won’t forgive, and the tree represents the other person. No matter how many times you tell the tree to apologize, you are still tied by the rope.

If you try to walk away, you can only walk so far before the rope stops you. If you have a dozen grievances, it is like being tied to a dozen trees, which is exhausting.

Are you going to stay there and yell at the tree? Are you going to circle the tree at rope length? Or will you let go of the resentment and untie the rope from around you?

It’s taken time, practice, and patience, but over the years I have untied myself from my trees, including my father. That doesn’t mean I’ve run away; rather, I’ve removed the ropes of resentment that hold me to those human trees in order to create new relationships with them.

Start untying yourself from your trees, one by one. The resulting freedom will allow you to venture into the world, adventurous and happy. Every day is an opportunity to begin again. Each moment is an opportunity to begin again.

Begin now.

Photo by aithom2

Avatar of Laura Fenamore

About Laura Fenamore

Laura's Body Image Mastery programs are celebrated by thousands of women who have released their excess weight and reclaimed their self-esteem. She's chronicled her own weight loss journey in her book, Weightless: The Be Good To Yourself Diet. Laura is a frequent contributor to First for Women, Ladies Home Journal, and the Dr. Pat Show. Learn more at OnePinky.com.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Rivergirl

    Hmmmmm…. OK. So this is something I tend to do. In fact, I’m catching up with a small group of dear, old friends next month.  I haven’t seen two of them for twenty years and I have already started preparing my “hi, lovely to see you” speech. I even anticipate throwing in some words along the lines of  “yes, this is my situation, and I’ve been dealing with this and this…..” and well, yes…. pausing for sympathy. I’m thinking that it’s about time I stopped all this, especially when there are lots of great things I can talk about. I guess, the choice is mine!

  • Dasha

    so well expressed!  yes, you must have really found ways to move on.  good for you, and thanks for the reminder.

  • http://www.davidsfinch.com David Finch

    The hardest thing to do is let go of your past. Even if we have painful moments, our identity is so wrapped up in our past… It’s all we know… It’s who we think we are. Letting go and moving on has a fear factor because of the unknown. However, hearing the success stories of others has a way of helping letting go and moving forward.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  • http://hanofharmony.com/ The Vizier

     Hi Laura,

    It’s true.  There is always a lesson we must learn from our suffering.  Everything happens for a reason and unless we learn the lesson, we will continue to suffer.  Life does not give us suffering for no reason.  Adversity is meant to shape us and to develop our capacity for greater things ahead.  

    It is always important to focus on the solution instead of the problem.  This way, we can keep moving forward no matter what challenges we face.  Also, by seeing the bigger picture and the deeper meaning in any situation, we will understand what we have to do and learn.  Then letting go, forgiving and moving on comes naturally without too much effort.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

  • Gary Sanders

     “In the end, just three things matter:

    How well we have lived

    How well we have loved

    How well we have learned to let go”


    Jack Kornfield

  • Dianna

    Wonderful post…thanks for sharing your story.

  • Sarah

    This is really speaking to me today. Perfect timing. Thank you. 

  • Sarah

    This is really speaking to me today. Perfect timing. Thank you. 

  • Cyndi Pauwels

    I came across a fantastic quote on this topic just recently:

    “Memory can so fix us in the past that we turn to salt – and all we are good for is preserving something that used to be.” – Daniel Aleshire 

    Certainly hit home!

    Cyndi

  • Dianna

    Cyndi… this is truly the best quote I’ve ever read on “the past”.  Thank you for sharing!  It is certainly one that I’ll add to my list of quotes.

  • Harshi

    Thank you…I really needed this :)

  • brh0303

    I have been working on this very issue.  I have recognized that I use the same victim story as a result of abuse I suffered from my father. I also hold grudges which is something I learned from my father; just recently I made amends with two very special people in my life with whom I was holding grudges and had not spoken to for years.  It feels good to let myself forgive and move forward. It is a process, and learning who “I” am without the baggage I carried from childhood into my adult life will take time.  I hope once I feel ready, I can fall in love again and have a healthy, successful and loving relationship. I am ready to “exhale.”

  • http://twitter.com/CraigRuvere Craig Ruvere

    Wonderful
    post Laura. I also came from a group of family dynamics which I was
    “tied” to for decades and believed I not only deserved but needed to
    continually support. Then one day I realize I deserved better. That my life was
    actually worthy of being surrounded by those who knew how to treat and respect
    me.

    This article
    is also timely for another reason. The other day I left a job after only a
    month. For some it might seem like a short amount of time, but once it became evidently
    clear that the CEO was not a person of character, I knew it was time to go. She
    used her position of power to make me feel like less of a worker and ultimately
    less of a person with hateful words no one deserves to hear.

    Be it work,
    family or friends, everyone deserves to be treated with the utmost respect. We
    are all special, worthy people in this world and need to surround ourselves
    with people who truly knows what it means to treat people with kindness and
    compassion.

    All the best
    to you!

  • http://www.tasmanianminimalist.com/ TasmanianMinimalist

    Wow, thank you for your openness and honesty.

    In a way this post is very pertinent, but in another way as you read on, your post and my comment are the extreme opposite to one another, but it did remind me of something that travelled through my life at one point.

     My ex used to tell anyone who would listen about the terrible, terrible childhood he had. Each time he told it, it grew worse, and more dark in intensity as he aged. It turned out that it was all fabricated and untrue. Revealing a much darker side to his psyche. He used this story to gain sympathy for years until I asked a similar question to your friend and all he could do was say ” I pick up terrible people who use and abuse me “. Unlike you however, he couldn’t consider his actions as the story was just that…a story….and none of it had happened.

    You are a very strong courageous and open person, I salute you for taking your circumstance and using it for personal growth and teaching.

  • jsah

    Paul sounds like a very good friend! Not everyone has the guts to say something as truthful and caring as that. :) 

  • Debra

    Yet again you inspire me,Laura.Same story/abusive alcoholic father also,but in
    recovery what helped me alot was finally
    allowing the TRUTH,of my parents did the
    best they could with what they knew! I also did things when I was younger that resembled my dads behavior,and personality,after swearing I would NEVER
    repeat his destructiveness.I have practiced honesty,ability to own my short
    comings and behavior,and say I am sorry.
    Looking back on what I had done,guess
    what I was doing my best with what I knew.Because of taking time to find out
    who I am what I believe to be true,becoming extremely humble,I have such an awareness of how our most painful life experiences,can bring us such
    insight/grace.So now as I go through difficult,painful times I do have that faith
    which has been built on these last few
    years that blessings do come out of our
    pain,we only have to be open and willingly to look at things from a different
    perspective.

  • Laura

     thank you David. I appreciate your kind words! xo, laura

  • Laura

     love this gary. i feel so blessed to live and teach close to jack kornfield and I have worked with another great Jack, Jack Canfield, creator of Chicken Soup for the Soul books. peace, laura

  • Laura

     i love that quote Cyndi! thank you for sharing it.

  • Laura

     thank you Debra for sharing your truth and for your willingness to heal. love it.

    blessings, laura xo

  • Jo

     Thank you for explaining so eloquently what I have been feeling for a long time – as a victim of sexual abuse as a child and carrying that hurt  into my adulthood, as well as carrying blame for others for failing to prevent what happened.

    Now I am in my late 30s and I look around and see old friends who have so much in their lives – a career, a partner, children, happiness – that I have unwittingly denied myself through my own actions, feelings and deep-set beliefs about events that I had no control over…

    I feel like I hit the ‘pause’ button on my life YEARS ago and only just realized. I don’t tell others about what happened – most of my friends don’t know; but I have been ‘wearing’ my past like some sort of shield to deflect anything like that ever happening again. Unfortunately for me it also meant deflecting the rest of life too – the good things that my friends have that I hid away from.

    I have been working hard at facing up to what happened to me and moving on. I find forgiveness difficult, I’m not sure that I understand what it is to forgive someone. I can’t say to this person ‘that’s okay, it doesn’t matter, forget it’, (I can’t bring myself to even look at this person or talk to them – I’ve avoided them for many years) but I am beginning to understand that I need to forgive for my own sake – and then I can begin to untie that rope…

  • Laura

     jo, it takes alot of courage for you to share as you did. forgiveness is a process, not a pill and if I can support you with that process at all, feel free to contact me. I would be happy to talk to you. A Course In Miracles is my spiritual practice and it really helped me understand the concept of forgiveness very deeply. i hope that helps. xo, laura

  • Laura

    thank you so much for sharing your truth. and you too are strong, courageous, and open. takes one to know one!  xo, laura

  • Laura

    thank you so much! xolaura

  • Laura

    yes the solution!!!!!!!!!!!!! is where it is at. thank you for your comment and love. blessings, laura

  • Laurie

    This is just a message I really needed to hear today. I have a childhood friend that is a big tree. I am not tied to many treed, but I am tied to this tree with many ropes. And yesterday I was reminded of one of the bigger ropes. I have been trying all day to think of how to cut this rope. It is a very very thick rope, but I am hopeful that I can do it.  Your post has just, let’s say, sharpened the blade that is cutting the rope. Thank you.  :)

  • Tobias Michel

    So beautiful, thank you. Just fits to my thoughts this morning, again.

  • Pingback: Wednesday Links: The Self-Awareness Edition

  • Annie walker

    This brieft insight has given me pause for thought, i am now 52 and can look back on happy and sad times and regrets. I accept full responsibility for my own actions, but still have problems forgiving myself, and I know its true that you can not move forward till this situation is remedied. Their is so much in this universe that I never had time before to think about. Now i want to…..

  • http://nochnoch.com/ Noch Noch | be me. be natural.

    Thanks for this story. I agree we shouldn’t be victimizing ourselves. it’s a fine line between sharing our story and playing victim
    Noch Noch

  • TFJ

    I have found Brene Brown to be an inspiration. She talks about how you cannot selectively numb emotions. She has done TED X talks on this. It has been very true in my life and I know exactly what you mean about being on “pause”. I am really working to look at and accept all emotional states and just the awareness and effort have helped me tremendously. Best to you. :)

  • http://twitter.com/CheloRanieri Marcelo Ranieri

    I think I have a tree of my own. It’s my past as a student back at school. 
    I’ve always been this kind of very lazy student. I made my homework, but I rarely studied for an exam and I never paid much attention in class. I made it through high-school, nonetheless, but with terrible grades. 

    As soon as I got into university in 2008 I decided that I had to change once and for all. I made progress, that’s undeniable. But almost every day I had to face my past. It was like having this little voice telling me that I shouldn’t try that hard, because, after all, I managed to survive until now with a minimum effort.

    The truth is, I still have issues with this part of my life. I’m about to begin my last year in university, and I keep facing this every time I have an exam or an important assignment. This situation always makes me feel very guilty and I would really like to let go of this and stop victimizing myself. I wouldn’t like this to chase me forever.

  • Taylor

    Laura,

    Love your post. It’s so great that you were able to work through your “story” so beautifully. I have dedicated my primary work to teaching people how to forgive. It’s important and needed now more than ever in life. Great job!

  • http://www.radicalreminders.blogspot.com/ Radical Reminders

    Thank for this post! It’s very timely – either things have a way of coming up in pairs (or threes) or we better attend to things when we’re ready or when we’re primed. Either way, I am reading this post just after a conference where I attended a great talk on “narrative therapy,” a style of therapy that focuses on *how* we tell our stories and helps to reframe those stories in ways that make us active agents in our lives. For example, a woman who says “my husband left me for a younger woman” and “my husband broke our wedding vows and I refuse to be with him because of this” feels very different but may very well be the same story.  Your story is one of strength, courage, and resilience, not just of the suffering in your family history.  Thank you for sharing your story and for reminding us of the importance of reconstructing our own narratives. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Yancey/100001417982872 William Yancey

    Wonderful insight, as I am also tied to a similar tree looking for a way to get free and stop holding myself back with my resentments. thank you

  • Sandy

    The way you have written it, it makes you feel how easy it is to forgive. I want to be the same and leave the past where it was. I have my own worries related to my married life. Although I have been able to forget and forgive my past.. I havent been sble to do the same with my husband’s. He being open about stuff, mentioned to me ablout everything before we got married but I havent been able to come over it in the past one year. He’s been extremely helpful and tries to comfort me whenever possible. but i start finding his past in whatever he does. Please help me to forgive and come over this feeling! 

  • Raquelleegalford

    The example Paul sets is what defines him as a very good friend to her.  I had a similar experience with my best friend.  I was angry at him at first, how dare he say something like that to me, then when I thought about it I knew he was right.  I made a conscious decision to not be a victim anymore.  Each of us has had difficult circumstances and very tragic experiences in our lives.  It is how we allow those events to define us that speaks of who we are.  This was a great blog and I took many things away from it.  How lucky I am to have a friend who cared enough about me to open my eyes to change. 

  • Jim Gray

    I find this great reading and exposure to life’s wisdom and teaching for us to know when, where and what to do with ourselves and loved ones

  • http://twitter.com/GenusUnknown genus:unknown

    Why would you go back and establish a new relationship with your father? Even if you no longer hold onto the pain and anger, what good can come of keeping an abuser in your life? People like that don’t deserve loving families.

  • Stylingfuture

    I am still tied to my ex (of four years on/off). But I will keep trying to untie that knot… :(

  • http://twitter.com/mg555 Meditationguru

    Nice post and great insight!
    “As long as you make an identity for yourself out of pain, you cannot be free of it.” This quote is 100% true!

  • Tamsyn

    I find it so difficult to let go of my past. My mother was never there for me as a child, and as a result I have found myself getting extremely attached to therapists throughout my teens. Now at 21 I am finally starting to realise the emotional neglect and abuse I suffered. However, it’s extremely difficult for me to let go of my anger and resentment – why? Because my past is still my present. This woman is still having a hold over me, is still exhausting me, using me as her own mother, confidant, counsellor. She is draining and frustrating. I know I have some responsibility for letting her continue having this grip over me. But it’s very very difficult not to be angry at someone, or resentful, or infact hateful of someone (which if I am honest, I feel, hatred towards her) when they are still doing the things that caused you so much hurt and pain in the first place. Any suggestions on how to move forward? I’m trying very hard to sit with the anger and the pain but I just don’t see a way through this.

  • Lisa

    But HOW are you supposed to let it go? Everyone says, just let it go, but there’s never any practical steps for doing it. Am I just supposed to work through the feelings, accept them, and not blame myself for what happened? Because I don’t, at least not intellectually. Emotionally, however, is another story. I know I have survivor’s guilt, and it’s darn near impossible to separate the abandonment issues from the abuse issues. I would so love to get rid of this albatross around my neck, but I also can’t just forgive the people who hurt me so badly as a child. What practical steps can I do to get to that point?

  • Lisa

    Dealing with a parent like that is so draining, I know, Tamsyn. Have you heard of the book Toxic Parents? It really helped me with my mother when she was still alive.

  • Kyriela

    How do I actually do the letting go? Everyone says to let go, and untie trees and things like that. What are the steps? Meditation? Counseling? Both? Can someone point me to practical advice?

  • Kyriela

    I feel exactly the same way, I don’t know how to do the actual letting go that everyone advises me to do.

  • http://twitter.com/lori_deschene Lori Deschene
  • Bob

    Lisa, you stated so well what I feel about my internal struggle. I’m in the middle of re-reading letters, old journals and listening to cassette recordings from over 30 years ago in an effort to look for the positive, learn from the “mistakes” and re-shape my view of what happened and why. It is a real paradox to let go of the past if it’s what you identify yourself with because it’s all you have. Intellectually we understand that “letting go and moving on” in theory will provide greater peace but making that a reality is such a challenge. So, how do we accomplish that objective????

  • Amy Dorey

    Know how you feel, in mid 30′s myself, can’t stop thinking about events frm childhood. See other people getting on with their lives and im just stuck, feel such a mess. I’ve been coping fairly well, attending yoga classes and running eating healthly, but slipped into negativity and depression. I have never talked to people about personal things, shut my feelings away, have talked to doctors/therapists. Know i have to move on no one else can do it for me, i try writing things down. Have approached subject with other involved but denies it, said im not angry but think i am
    Very hard as family member love them but finding it hard to forgive, has family of own now and i don’t want to cause upset there. Know not fair on me but guess for the best. Guess forgiveness is a hard process think you’ve got there and up it comes again !! Wonder who i may have been if events didn’t happen been a big cloud in my life, guess have to accept whats done is done im ok now, but should i have more therapy or is it best to just leave it, as i’ve read theres always more stuff to deal with and frankly i ‘ve had enough !! May be its easier to move on than i think, thats the big problem i guess THINKING !!!

  • Zubair Gexton

    Laura your story is interesting i hope you will be happy now : extra-baggage