How to Overcome a Bitter Past

Written by
Michael Wells

How to Overcome a Bitter Past

Written by
Michael Wells

How to Overcome a Bitter Past

Written by
Michael Wells
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QUESTION
"How do I forget a bitter past?"

Don’t forget it, re-frame it.

Whatever happened, those events, like all the events of your life, are important. They teach you, they shape you, they are part of you.

The Pain Frame

The reason you’re feeling pain about the past is because of how you’re viewing it. Most likely, these thoughts are running through your head right now-

  • I was harmed, in some way
  • Bad people caused me harm
  • What happened to me was unjust, or unfair- it should not have happened this way.
  • I didn’t deserve it

All of those things are a perspective, or a “frame” through which you are viewing those past events.

The thing to understand here is that 100% of your emotional pain is caused by your frame, not by that past event. That past event is gone, and it can’t hurt you anymore. What can? Your emotions.

So re-frame it.

The Growth Frame

Here’s a better frame.

  • Something happened that I didn’t want to happen. It created problems for me, and I suffered. But it happened anyway.
    Life isn’t always “fair,” and I shouldn’t expect it to be. Instead, I’ll make the best of it.
  • Humans are sometimes selfish, unkind, perhaps even evil. But this is what humans are. I understand humans better now, both at their best and their worst.
    I understand better now that anyone is capable of mistakes, and even cruelty.
  • I know better what is most important to me. These are my core values.
    I need to consciously shape my life and my relationships around my values.
  • Even though the course of my life, and my relationships changed unexpectedly as a result of the bad event, new doors opened. I met new people, found new situations, discovered better friends, adjusted my priorities.
    None of those great things would have happened if the past had gone differently.
  • Life is life, and I should make the best of it.
    Even when its bad, there are moments of joy to be found, and better times ahead.
  • There is a lot in my world I don’t control...
    But I can learn, have more realistic expectations, and make better choices.
  • I've learned a lot about myself, the things I want, and people I don't connect well with. As a direct result of these experiences...
    Tomorrow will be far better, and happier.

What's the Difference?

There are a few simple, and fundamental underlying differences between these frames. Can you spot them?

Here are the three differences that I find most important...

What your expectations are

The "pain" frame I've described above is also known as the "victim" frame.

For someone in the pain frame, the expectations were that the pain should not have happened. That they were wronged. That someone owes them. They feel anger, disappointment, frustration, and resentment.

In the "growth" frame, expectations are different.

People are people. No one is perfect, including me. No one owes me anything, and we're all just trying to figure out life, relationships, and happiness.

Life comes with no guarantees. It is an adventure, not a destination. There will be good moments, and bad ones, and they are all valuable. I'm trying my best, and constantly learning.

Every experience I have - good or bad - teaches me how to have better experiences tomorrow.

Where your attention is

In the "pain" frame, all of your attention is on the pain itself. You focus on the "wrongness" and unfairness of it, and the fact that it "shouldn't be."

You feel like if you hate it enough, it should just go away. But when your attention is only on the pain, that's all you'll be aware of, and it will become your whole world.

In the "growth" frame, your attention is on the learning experience. You treat everything - especially painful experiences - as a teachable moment. You are learning what you like, and what you don't like. You learn to adjust your expectations and make better choices in the future.

And then, because the pain has served its purpose, you can simply let go of it and move forward into a better life.

When in time your are focused

In the "pain" frame, your attention is on the past. It's on things that have already happened.

Like depression and grief, this fixation on the past can be paralyzing. It makes you feel stuck, because literally there is nothing you can do to change it.

In the "growth" frame, you can see this. Changing the past is not the point. Learning from it is.

In the "growth" frame, your attention is on what you can do right now, and in the future.

Developing Your Growth Mindset

Understanding these differences is the key to a growth-oriented mindset.

Let's distill those into three main actions;

  1. Accept that whatever happened, happened. You wishing it didn't won't change it. You thinking it's unfair won't change it. You fighting reality, or holding onto fantasies, or blaming others... none of these will improve your situation.
  2. Focus on what you can learn. Who you are, and what's important to you. What matters the most to you in your relationships. What you can watch out for next time, and what choices you'll make differently.
  3. Apply your new wisdom to the future, and move forward in your life.

With practice, you can learn to let go of your disappointments more easily, and move forward in life towards what you want.

You’ll be surprised how easily your feelings change when your perspective does.
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First published on 
April 27, 2021
. Last updated on 
December 17, 2021

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