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3 Ways to Let Go of a Negative Experience

let go of a negative experience: ball and chain

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Want to liberate yourself from a bad experience? Try one or more of these expert-recommended methods.

Some people seem made of oilcloth: Negative experiences just run off them, little rivets of shame or anger or embarrassment that fall away easily. Others are more sensitive, soaking up experiences like sponges. If you are one of these people, it can be difficult to stop ruminating over a negative experience. Troubling dreams, tense bodies, headaches, GI issues, substance abuse, and more may result.

For advice on how to let go of negative experiences, let’s look at the wisdom of three thought leaders.

Turn to Personal Growth

Why is it so hard to let go in the first place? According to the teachings of self-help guru Tony Robbins, “Information with emotion makes an indelible impression.” That is, once we have attached strong emotions to something that impacted our lives, especially if it caused us pain or suffering, it can be especially hard to let go of.

Robbins urges us to use hurt feelings to take the opportunity to work on personal growth. Think about the areas in your life you want to improve, and focus your energy, both physical and mental, on those. It’s a distraction from the negative thoughts and is also empowering. You’re working on you—never mind what happened last week or last month.

Forgive for Your Own Sake

If you are waiting for an apology or putting blame on someone else, you are basically stuck. You may or may not ever get an apology, after all. The solution? Forgiveness, according to John Grohol, Psy.D., the founder of PsychCentral. He wrote about forgiveness this way: “Forgiveness isn’t saying, ‘I agree with what you did.’ Instead, it’s saying, “I don’t agree with what you did, but I forgive you anyway. … I want to move forward in my life and welcome joy back into it. I can’t do that fully until I let this go.”

If you can frame it this way, forgiveness becomes a self-care method, instead of a gift you might begrudgingly bestow upon someone else “when you are ready.”

The Art of Stopping the Video

    Oprah Winfrey calls it the “mind tape.” Over her many decades of listening to people during interviews, she observed a common pattern. She writes, “One of the great tragedies of human behavior I’ve witnessed: seeing grown men and women who can’t stop playing the mind tape from an event that happened days, weeks, sometimes years ago.”

    When you start to think about the negative event, picture your brain like an editing suite. Do you really want to replay this experience? Why not pop in another scene, and work on the here and now.

    Winfrey also notes that this takes practice. It can be helpful to remember that letting go is something to be practiced and worked on, rather than a fatal personality flaw. Take the opportunity whenever you can to practice this skill.

    Want more? Read about detachment and five affirmations for letting go.


    About the Author

    Kathryn Drury Wagner

    Spirituality & Health’s Wellbeing Editor, Kathryn Drury Wagner, is based in Savannah. She’s been a contributor to the magazine for many years, and she loves sharing ways to build a healthy, mindful, and sustainable lifestyle. 

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