People live in the past for many reasons, but most often their reluctance to embrace the present is based on a traumatic past event or the belief that the future will not be as good as the past was.
If you are feeling depressed, self-loathing, or scared of change, there is a good chance that you are living in the past. Fortunately, there are signs that will alert us to our attachment to the past and steps we can take to have a happy and fulfilling present and future.
Generally speaking, depression occurs when we are not mindfully engaging with the present. We feel like we lack something and are unable to produce or find the missing quality in our lives.
Perhaps we are mourning a past loss or are feeling guilty for something we have done or failed to do years ago. The past holds our attention instead of the present moment or plans for the future.
2. Holding onto Childhood
If we are hanging onto our childhoods, it may be for two, very different reasons.
We may interpret and perceive our childhood as an idyllic time, one that can never be replicated or bettered. Perhaps we were adored by a parent or excelled at school and no longer feel that we have the same value.
We spend too much time reminiscing over our younger days and fail to live and thrive in the present moment.
Conversely, we may have experienced a traumatic event when we were children that we cannot let go of. Often children do not have the skills to process a negative event and remain stuck emotionally at the age the event occurred.
3. Self Blame
Sometimes it is difficult to live in the present moment if you feel guilty and blame yourself for something that happened in the past.
Whether or not it was your fault, blaming yourself for something that happened long ago can keep you tethered to the past. Getting stuck in an emotional loop of self-blame keeps us from progressing, even if we have done everything in our power to right the wrong we committed.
Bitterness is another feeling that can keep us stuck in the past.
If we were wronged and are unable to forgive and move past the event, we may become bitter. Harboring resentment toward someone or something keeps us fixated on that particular event and we re-live the negative experience every day instead of acknowledging the present and the future.
We can become so accustomed to feeling bitter about the past that it starts to become easier to stay in that negative state instead of moving on.
5. Comparing Everything to the Past
For many, strong and frequent feelings of nostalgia may be an indicator of being stuck in the past.
When we compare everything to how things were in the past and the past always comes out the winner, we are still living in that time gone by.
Even though the past might have been a better time for us for many reasons, we need to realize that as time goes by our perception of past events can become faded and memories may selective and skewed. Things might not have been as good as we remember them to be.
The constant comparison between then and now keeps us stuck in the past.
6. Scared of Change
It is easy to fall into a routine. It keeps us motivated and organized. However, by doing the same thing every day, year after year, our subconscious can trick us into believing we are “safe”. This feeling of “safety” can keep us from having new, profitable, and beneficial experiences.
If we are scared of change, we are essentially living in the past, where predictability and familiarity are the desired outcomes.
Similar to feeling bitterness, vengefulness can also indicate that we are stuck in the past.
If we were treated poorly and have not processed the event properly, we may be focused on seeking revenge for what happened.
Living in a vengeful state is not healthy and keeps us tied to the event, preventing us from moving on and living in the present moment.
8. Low Self Esteem
Low self-esteem generally results from a past experience causing emotions that have not been properly dealt with. Perhaps an overly critical parent in childhood caused us to feel a low sense of self-worth or we experienced a loss of a relationship or a job we worked hard to achieve.
If we have not freed ourselves from these occurrences, we will remain attached to them and essentially to the past as well.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
― Lao Tzu
How to Stop Living in the Past
It may take some time, but we can adjust our perceptions and habits so that we no longer live in the past. In order to live in the present moment, we must practice forgiveness, responsibility, mindfulness, and gratitude.
When asked the question; “How can I stop living in the past?”, over 50% of the respondents on a Reddit survey gave the advice to “forgive yourself” and be “mindful of the present”.
If something regrettable that you have done in the past is keeping you from living fully in the present, the best remedy is to forgive yourself and be mindful of what is happening in the here and now.
Once you have forgiven yourself, letting go of the past and building a promising future will be much easier.
Here are some great tips for forgiving yourself.
When we are able to take our focus off blaming others for past transgressions and accept responsibility for fixing our issues we can move on from the past.
Even though the issue may not be our fault, and it doesn’t seem fair, it is always our responsibility for getting ourselves back on track.
We need to learn to replace our blaming behaviors with thoughtful, intentional actions that move us in the direction we need to go – forward!
Here are some ideas to help you take responsibility for your life and get out of the past.
It makes sense that the more time we spend in the present moment, the less time we will spend dwelling in the past.
When we are practicing mindfulness, we are noticing what is happening around us right now. We are paying attention to those in the same room, listening to what is being said, and noticing qualities of our immediate environment.
Mindfulness is a skill that requires practice but once it is mastered, there are many benefits to enjoy – including cutting ties with an entangled past.
For some excellent ideas on how to practice mindfulness throughout your day, check out this article.
Using gratitude to re-frame your past experiences is a great way to stop living in the past. If you are bitter, vengeful, or have low self-esteem because of a past negative experience, try and see some good in it.
“What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.”
Growth and learning are things that we can be grateful for. If we can look back and feel gratitude toward the transgressions against us or the wrongs we have committed, then we are can recognize how much stronger and wiser we are as a result of going through those experiences.
Here are some great tips on how to practice having gratitude for all of your life experiences.