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Grief, trauma or betrayal may feel overwhelming at first, but it is possible to let past hurts go.

Past hurts, thankfully, are not frozen in time. The mind’s processes can eventually allow us to find comfort, healing, and a new perspective. However, these processes don’t always happen spontaneously, and if they don’t, those old emotions will continue to painfully trip us up. It’s never too late to work on past hurts. You may have pushed them aside, believing you had no time or strength to conquer them, but later it will become obvious they need to be dealt with: you may find you overreact to people or situations for no apparent reason, feel anxious about a change in life you want to achieve, or suffer a relationship breakdown. These signals can be great motivators to processing old pain. Here are five ideas on how to start.

1. Say it loud

Painful experiences produce overwhelming emotions, and often our instinct is to bury these feelings and avoid talking about the experience. Unfortunately, this stops the brain from healing. A study in Psychoanalysis Culture and Society Traumatic confirms the importance of the well-documented concept of “giving voice” to pain, and forming a declared narrative about what happened.

2. Don’t deny

Talking about painful experiences is critical for healing, but choosing the right company to keep while you’re doing this work is even more important. Being with people who also bury painful emotions will ruin any attempts you make to process yours, because anyone using denial will unconsciously try to prevent others around them talking about trauma and so triggering their agony. If someone close to you seems to be pressuring you to stay silent, reduce contact with them.

3. Practise peace

Learning to calm frayed nerves can be extremely helpful in accelerating the healing process. The best way to calm intense emotions is to learn to be mindful: the art of bringing your mind into the present and focusing only on what is around you right now. Download “The Mindfulness App” from the App Store and practise daily.

4. Be creative

Joining art therapy-type groups can be immensely beneficial. Much research shows the psychological benefits of creating art, blankets, quilts, collages or pottery that tell the story symbolising the painful experience. One study, published in Agenda, describes the collective healing experienced by African women who used embroidery to share their experiences of suffering violence.

5. Have a commemoration

With the modern-day emphasis on the individual and the belief we need to be capable of coping by ourselves, we have lost some of the most powerful ways to heal. Indigenous cultures around the world have much to teach us about the wonder of ancient ceremonies where people come together to find empowerment and healing. From ceremonies of renewal involving reverently touching ancient artefacts to the use of plants for ceremonial healing of sexual issues, the combination of togetherness and a belief in a greater power bring immense healing. For a contemporary version, gather close friends and throw flowers into the sea to symbolise that you are moving away from the hurt, or have a group tree-planting ceremony to focus on new growth.

Counsellor Nichola Marsonet is the author of IVF and Ever After: The emotional needs of families (Rockpool Publishing).