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Letting go of Past Hurts and Failure

by Tony de Gouveia

At this time of year as we plan for the months ahead, many of us come to the realisation that we have many old past issues, pain, hurt and feelings of failure that hold us back, so that we cannot move forward freely and realise our potential because of this baggage that we drag around with us. As the saying goes, when you bury something, you bury it “alive”. We often choose to hold on to negativity, painful memories, sad stories, and useless “what ifs’’ which create the 3 Rs- remorse, regrets and resentment . Why do we do this to ourselves?

If we are honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that sometimes to some extent there are indirect benefits(secondary gains) if we hold on to these because they give us a sense of identity, a sense of the injustice done to us that we can recount and obtain sympathy; or even just because they become so much a part of our persona(victim role ) that we’re familiar with and comfortable carrying that baggage.

So the question is how do we let go of these past hurts and failure?

Letting go is extremely difficult, but possible. It’s essential if you want to make the most of your potential and your future. In my nearly 30 years experience as a therapist and coach there have been two key ways which I have found to be effective in assisting my clients to move on and let go of their past hurts. The first is via the use of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy(CBT), specifically Rational Emotive Therapy(RET) and the second being what I call Release therapy, known as “Releasing practice”(Carrington).

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychotherapeutic approach that addresses dysfunctional emotions, maladaptive behaviors and thinking processes. The premise of mainstream cognitive behavioural therapy is that changing maladaptive thinking leads to change in emotions and in behaviour. Rational Emotive therapy(RET) a specific form of CBT works on a simple ABC formula,
A representing the activating event (the hurt or failure, breakup etc),
B being the negative, attributions self talk we make about the activating event
C is the emotion or feeling that arises from the negative self talk perceptions interpretations etc made at B.


Recently rejected by a boyfriend.
Feeling sad and disappointed
“I should have been able to prevent this if I was good enough.”
“If I was a worthwhile partner then this wouldn’t have happened.”
“I’m unlovable”
“I can’t handle feeling this way”
“I’m never going to find someone”
Socially withdrawn
Ruminating about why this happened

At this point the CBT therapist will assist the client with the next phase(D) which the Disputation of the above negative self talk, ideas, beliefs according to certain criteria eg the alternative new thinking must be realistic, improve ones quality of life and relationships and need to help one achieve ones objectives. The new self talk needs to facilitate emotional control.

Looking at the self-talk in the above example one can see that the woman concerned’s self-talk about herself as a person is very negative, self doubting and un-affirming(negative self concept). The objective of the therapist would be to assist the person concerned to change/reframe the negative self statements eg “I am good enough, what happened wasn’t only due to me; it may take some time but I can find somebody else” etc

In summary, with CBT one essentially reframes the experience(the hurt, the loss) so that the persons involved in it can move on and learn from the experience.

The second approach to letting go of hurts as mentioned earlier is the Releasing practice(Release therapy) which is another more symbolic but direct way of letting go of past hurt. The person is encouraged to allow the problem(incident, hurt, loss or failure) to be represented by a common small object like a tennis ball, stress ball or beanbag. They are then challenged by the therapist to “let go” of a part (fraction or percentage) of the problem by “letting go” of the ball. This “letting go” process is coupled to a “Releasing signal” which then can be activated when the tennis ball, stress ball or beanbag are not available.

Please note that the above is a process which is hardly ever immediate or instantaneous and usually requires a therapist familiar with the technique and how to apply it and deal with both conscious and unconscious blockages to letting go/releasing eg by releasing in increasing percentages or fractions . Thus in this approach, one is encouraged to “go with” the problem to regain emotional balance much like an experienced driver turns his cars wheels into the skid in order to get out of it.

An example is when your mother is taken ill on a weekend. You are frightened about her undiagnosed condition. To cope with your anxiety, you do a release practice/therapy as above, which allows you to perceive the reality of her situation better. You now recognise more alternative possibilities to help that you weren’t able to “see” when you were overwhelmed by your feelings. You can now assist your mother more effectively and your newfound calm is conveyed to her . She too will benefit from your releasing.

To conclude, for personal growth it is beneficial to learn to let go of the past and the above methodologies can assist you to do so.

Tony de Gouveia is a Clinical Psychologist in Private Practice at the
Akeso Clinic in Alberton
(011) 907-2811/ 082 4565046

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