Is Letting Go of Your Past the Solution to Your Problems?

by Kalinda Rose Stevenson

Stress and the Pain of Your Past

The worst pain isn't the pain you feel at the time,
it's the pain you feel later
on when there's nothing you can do about it.
They say that time heals all wounds,
but we never live long enough to test that theory.
Jose Saramago
Will letting go of the hurts and pains of your past relieve your current stressed-out state of mind? Why is letting go of your life history so difficult? (The following excerpt is from Stress Relief That Works.)
Worst Pain

Stress and Your Past

What's the connection between your current stressed-out state of mind and your life history? If you've done any sort of personal development work, you've probably heard that you must let go of the hurts and pains of your past to be free. Here are three examples of such counsel:

Deepak Chopra claims:

In the process of letting go you will lose many things from the past, but you will find yourself.

Mary Manin Morrissey claims:

Even though you may want to move forward in your life, you may have one foot on the brakes. In order to be free, we must learn how to let go. Release the hurt. Release the fear. Refuse to entertain your old pain. The energy it takes to hang onto the past is holding you back from a new life. What is it you would let go of today?

Jack Kornfield claims:

To let go is to release the images and emotions, the grudges and fears, the clinging and disappointments of the past that bind our spirit.

Let's begin by acknowledging the wisdom of these three claims about letting go of the pains, hurts, and fears that bind you to the past and blind you to other possibilities for your future. You can't move forward if you're chained to the past just as a thoroughbred racehorse chained to the starting gate can't move forward when the bell rings.

The words "let go" express the belief that you can set yourself free by deciding to be free. You might have heard, read about, or even seen a demonstration that letting go is as simple as letting go of the pen you're gripping tightly in your hand. "Just release your grip. Tip your hand to the side. Let the pen fall to the floor."

It sounds simple enough. Just "let it go." However, letting go of the pains of your past is not as easy as letting a pen fall to the floor.

Resistance to Letting Go

Consider this statement by Thich Nhat Hanh concerning resistance to letting go:

People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.

The astonishing verb choice "prefer" captures both the essence of what so many self-help teachers say about resistance to letting go and why such language is so tone-deaf concerning people who are stuck in suffering as a result of traumatic experiences.

If you consider these words according the root meaning of the word resistance, Thich Nhat Hanh claims that resistant people are taking a firm stand in opposition to letting go of their suffering. Why would suffering people do that? Do they really "prefer" suffering that is familiar because they're afraid of the unknown?

Let's consider the claim that someone "prefers suffering" because it's familiar. The root meaning of the word prefer is "put before." Usage can range from formal usage such as "preferring charges"in a court of law to informal language about liking something more than something else. In common speech, you might say that you prefer chocolate ice cream rather than vanilla, coffee rather than tea, and baseball rather than basketball.

The significant question is: What exactly are you supposed to let go? Your feelings? Your memories? Your identity? Deepak Chopra has no list, just the assertion that you will find your self if you let go of things from the past. Mary Manin Morrissey's list includes hurt, fear, and pain. Jack Kornfield's list includes images, emotions, grudges, fears, clinging, and disappointments. A list of words doesn't do justice to the power of these words as lived experiences. As words without context, it's all theoretical. These statements also omit the most stress-inducing word of all — trauma.

[Original Post October 9, 2015]

If you are feeling stressed-out and want to read the whole book, Stress Relief That Works: How To Think Your Way from Stressed-Out to Peaceful is available on Amazon in either Kindle or paperback versions. Click Buy Now From Amazon to get your copy right away!

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