Morning friend, I was reading in the book of Job and came across this passage: “He rescues the poor from the cutting words of the strong, and rescues them from the clutches of the powerful. And so at last the poor have hope, and the snapping jaws of the wicked are shut.” Job 5:15. Three things came to mind as I read these words of the Lord.
One, God himself validates the reality of the painful effects of emotional abuse on one’s soul, spirit, and body and doesn’t ignore it. He doesn’t say “Don’t let it bother you.” He doesn’t say, “You’re overreacting” or “Too sensitive.” He rescues them.
Second, if you are a counselor, coach, pastor, or people helper reading this, we are to do likewise. I’m dismayed at the number of women who tell me that their husband will use cruel words even during their counseling session and the counselor never speaks against those behaviors nor validates the victim’s pain.
Third, all of us need to speak up against sin, oppression, cruelty, and abuse. Perhaps you read the story recently of a woman publicly raped on a subway train in NYC and no one said a word. No one called 911. I hope if I’m ever faced with that kind of situation, fear or apathy would not get the best of me. I hope I would be like our Father and speak up, call 911, and if necessary risk my own well-being for the welfare of another.
Today’s Question: I’m plagued with hurt, anger, guilt, and regret over my past. Mistakes I made, ways people hurt me, my own stupid choices. I know it’s important for me to move past it. I know it’s only hurting me to stay in this stuck place, but I don’t know what to do. I tried counseling, but it didn’t help. I’m swimming in my emotions and I feel like I will drown soon. Can you give me some specific things to focus on?
Answer: I’m so sorry you’re struggling but thankful you reached out. You are not alone. There are times when we all struggle to let go of our past. Every mistake, sinful action, wrong word, and poor choice is rehearsed again and again. Or, when our painful childhood or hurtful and/or abusive marriage is long over, we still continue to feel angry, hurt, and stuck in the memories and negative emotions about what happened to us. We don’t know how to move on.
You asked for some specifics so let me give you five things to work on. They will help you move the past into the past and keep it there.
1. Acknowledge the truth of what happened.
You can never move beyond something until you first honestly face it. Whether it is your own past failures or the sins of someone else, you can’t fix or forgive something that “didn’t’ happen,” is “no big deal,” “not really a problem,” or “someone else’s fault.”
Sometimes we don’t want to face the truth about what happened because we don’t want to face the strong emotions that accompany admitting that reality. It feels easier to shut down and turn off or blame someone else. But you already know that doesn’t work to put it in the past, it just keeps it front and center in your heart and mind.
Instead, write down the facts of what happened as best you can recall them. Don’t whitewash it or make it pretty. Commit to telling yourself the unvarnished, raw truth.
2. Allow yourself to feel your feelings.
Some people are afraid to feel their feelings because they’re afraid of what will happen. Your feelings are powerful and important, but you do not have to act on them, you just need to respect them and acknowledge their presence.
Sometimes the wisest thing to do is not to act on your feelings especially if they are destructive to yourself or to others. Could it be that some of your deepest regrets are around acting out some of your most painful or negative emotions in unhealthy or sinful ways?
Instead, process your strong emotions in a journal, meaning write them down. Name them. Let yourself feel where you feel them in your body. Breathe. Give yourself permission to feel your feelings even a little bit and even express them in constructive ways. For example, art can help you express with big black strokes your pain, red for your anger, maybe a tiny speck of green for your new growth. See what comes up. Share your feelings with a trusted friend. Look at them with curiosity and ask yourself what they are trying to tell you? Write it down. For example, maybe your anger is telling you that you have to get stronger so that people don’t get the best of you. Maybe your grief is telling you that you loved someone who didn’t love you back and that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong or are unlovable.
3. Release the things you are not responsible for.
[Tweet “Sometimes we take responsibility for things that are not our fault.”] For example, if you were abused as a child, you may have believed the lie that you deserved it. If only you were a better kid, your parents would have loved you or taken better care of you.
But the truth is, there is no perfect kid and good parents love their children unconditionally. No child deserves abuse even when he or she misbehaves. A parent loves, nurtures, instructs, and disciplines their child but not in cruel and abusive ways. When parents (spouse or others) abuse, there is something wrong with them, not you. We don’t get love because we’re lovable. We are loved because someone chooses to love us (or chooses not to love us). It’s not a reflection of our value or worth, it’s a reflection of where the other person is at.
4. Take responsibility for what you can change.
In our journey to break free from our past, we must learn to take responsibility for our present, our future, and ourselves. Ask yourself if you use the excuse of your past to not grow up or handle yourselves now in a mature or godly way?
For example, maybe you act helpless, refuse to try new things, or avoid owning the problems you now create in your present relationships (such as being passive, being an enabler, allowing yourself to be a repeat victim, or even justifying your own abusive behavior towards others).
Write this important truth down: You can’t alter what happened to you, and you can’t change other people into what you want (or wish) them to be. The only person you can change is you.
Here are a few things you can work on changing:
a. You can change the way you see yourself: The truest thing about you is what God says about you, not what you have been told, or even what you think or feel. [Tweet “Don’t give the past the power to determine your present worth.”]
b. You can change the way you think about your past and the meaning you give it. Joseph is a man who had every reason to allow past events to destroy his present and future life. (Read Genesis 37 to 50 for the story).
Joseph squarely faced the truth of what happened to him and vented his powerful emotions. He didn’t blame himself for what his brothers did to him, but he did take responsibility for his own thoughts about it. He continuously submitted his life to God, and we hear him explain this to his brothers when he said, “Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good.”
Look for strengths that have developed in you in spite of, not because of what happened to you. Don’t allow Satan to warp your thoughts about how to think about yourself or what’s happened to you. Satan tried to ruin your life in the past. Don’t give him ground in the present to rob you of your future.
c. You can change the way you respond to what happened in your past and what happens in the present. It’s true that people provoke or hurt us, and this tempts us to sin, but how we respond to what they do or don’t do is our choice. Choose wisely.
Our lifestyle patterns and interpersonal styles are influenced by what happens to us, but more than that, they are shaped by what we do with what happens to us. Determine that you are going to grow and get healthy so that you are not disabled or destroyed by your past.
5. Work toward forgiveness
Forgiveness is NOT excusing the offender or minimizing the offense. Forgiveness is your decision to cancel the debt this person rightfully owes you. Don’t stay stuck in your past because the other person refuses to make amends, say their sorry, or change their destructive ways. Don’t give this person in your past one more ounce of control over you than he or she has already had thus far.
[Tweet “Understand that it is not the sin from your past that wields the fatal blow to you. It’s your unresolved anger, self-pity, bitterness, fear, shame, and resentment that continue to poison your body and soul.”]
A person finds healing through the process of forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness. That is why God is so insistent that we forgive. He doesn’t want past sins to ruin our present and future lives.
Forgiveness takes time, but it never starts with a feeling. It requires a decision. Decide to forgive even when you don’t feel forgiving.
Faithfully walking through these five steps will help you live more fully and freely now. God wants that for you, my friend.
I’m going to be doing a free webinar on December 7 on Moving from Victim Mindset to Owner Mindset. I highly recommend you join my email list to get details sent to you.
Friend how have you let go of your regrets, mistakes, or failures from your past?
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Wallowing in regret and looking backwards is self abuse. It keeps us stuck. We need to give ourselves permission to enjoy life as Jesus taught us, with joy and in abundance. I think focusing on the past is a waste of the present.
Do an exercise like writing down your regrets on paper and tossing them in a bonfire. Write on rocks and toss them over a bridge or throw them with vigor into a lake. Let it all go!
Seize today. Chose you today. Smile. Stand up straight, laugh and feel the wind, sun and energy around you. Choose joy.
Can you also forgive you self? This was the hardest thing for me to do and I was the last person I forgave. But I could not love the person God created me to be, could not release the past and step both feet firmly into the bright and joyful future He had for me, until I did. Mark 12:31
Absolutely true, Susan! Sometimes forgiving ourselves is the hardest thing to do. The Lord helped me to realize that the reason is that we think we should be better than we are, (at least that was true for me). When we realize that our fallen nature is why Christ died for us, and that He already knows our condition and paid the price for us, then we can be free of the past.
One of the things that really helped me was advice from a Catholic priest. I was married in the Catholic church so his words carried weight fir me. He said:
“He broke his vows the first time he layed a hand on you. You are free to leave the relationship.”
I have said these words to myself over and over again. They keep me grounded in the truth.