Note: This post was co-written by Ashton Rose and Rebecca Letterman.
Have you ever heard the phrase “just let it go?” Or how about “just move on,” or “just get over it.” Of course you have! These phrases are incredibly common in our world, especially around the topic of trauma and negative experiences. But the truth is, they can be harmful, and invalidating to the experience of the “it” in question.
Now, the word “just” is the key word here. Letting go and moving on aren’t bad— in fact, they can be an essential step in dealing with your trauma or negative feelings. But trying to just move on, without doing any work, usually means one thing: repression.
Repression is never good for you, and more often than not, it will come back to bite you. All it does is push those feelings deeper down, make them harder to deal with, and sometimes make them stronger.
So instead of just moving on when you have gone through something traumatic, or have some other negative feelings, you should move through. Today, we’ll explain what that means, and how you can use it to help you in your own journey.
We will never stop talking about how helpful therapy can be (I mean, it is what we do, right?). And in this case, talking to a therapist can provide you a lot of help with moving through your feelings, so you can reach the point of healthily letting go.
Some people may think therapy is easy. That all you have to do is go and talk about your worries for an hour. But when it comes to processing trauma, this isn’t the case. It requires work and effort; vulnerability and strength; honesty and looking inward.
Therapy won’t just help you for that hour, either. Some of the practices you learn in therapy can be useful both in and out of the therapeutic space, and you can use them to move through your feelings rather than just moving on. These include, but certainly aren’t limited to, writing letters, journaling, meditation, yoga, dancing, running, walking, and art.
The problem with repression
When many people say they are letting go of the past, what they mean is they are taking all of their feelings about that event or circumstance and cramming them into a neat little box. You can then pretend those feelings aren’t there; but they can, and will, show up again at the worst of times.
Carrying around that box just causes you more harm long term. It allows the wound to grow, and the more it grows, the more the feelings will spill out, causing mood swings, life issues, and lack of happiness. And, even if you don’t realize it, carrying around that box is exhausting.
This doesn’t mean repression is always bad— just 99% of the time. Temporary repression, for just hours or days, can help you get through something until you’re ready to deal with it. And after a traumatic experience, your brain may subconsciously repress feelings or memories to protect you. But in either case, after so long, you’re going to have to move through those feelings.
Start with acceptance
The first step in moving through your feelings is to accept them for what they are. This may involve changing your mindset. Your instinct is to reject these feelings, because they are so negative. But to move through them, and be closer to healthily moving on, you need to accept them for what they are.
You can’t change the past, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can work through your feelings. This article, which has a lot of good information on the subject, shares a great quote from Eckhart Tolle:
“Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.”
I’ll repeat the most important part of that: always work with it, not against it. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and move in the direction they tell you to. Eventually, you can reach a point where you have more control over that direction.
Now that you’ve accepted your feelings for what they are, and the past for what cannot be changed, it’s time to move through those feelings. Sadly, there’s no cookie-cutter way to do this— the journey is different for everyone. But your goal during this will be the same: to move through the pain, and get to the other side where you are able to not have those negative feelings taking up so much precious space inside of you.
For some, this process could take a week. For others, it could take months, or even years. It depends on a lot of things: the depth of the trauma and negative emotions, how long it’s been since the event (ie, how long you have repressed feelings), and your own life circumstances.
It’s important to understand that this will take a long time, and to give yourself as much time as you need. You should also go about this process carefully— make sure that your emotional safety is being maintained. Give yourself whatever supports you need, or even might need, before you begin.
After however much time it takes, and a lot of hard work, you will eventually reach a point where you can let go. However, you will never truly be letting go or moving on— this is something you will carry with you for the rest of your life.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t let go at all. What you can do is reach a point where you are able to let go of those negative feelings enough to say: “I will no longer let this hold me back.”
You will be accepting these negative feelings and events, acknowledging the space they take up inside of you, and then slowly, carefully, reshaping them to take up less space, and to be less overwhelmingly negative. It will take time, but in the end, it can help you live a much happier life.
When you think about how to let go, remember: your goal is not to just let go. It is to move through your feelings, so you can let go enough to say “I will no longer let this hold me back.” It is reaching a point where you can regain more control over your feelings, and give them as much space as you feel appropriate.
This process certainly isn’t easy— nothing involving trauma is. And it may take a lot of time, hard work, and tears. But in the end, it will be better for you, and help you to live a more fulfilling life.
Do you have questions about moving through your feelings? Other tips to share? We’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below or tag us on social media (@llctherapeutic on Twitter and @therapeutichealingjourney on Instagram).