Painful endings can be tough on the heart and soul. Break-ups, lay-offs, sudden losses, or unexpected life changes can throw us off center and make us feel unsure about ourselves and our future. When someone or something pulls the rug out from under you, you may find yourself drowning in a caldron of emotions, anything from grief and remorse to anger, fear, or blame.
Whether you’ve experienced a recent loss or are struggling with an ending you’ve never come to terms with, you can move forward more quickly by finding effective ways to release regrets and uncover the hidden gift that the ending always brings.
Here are 10 important ways to honor endings so you can open the door to new beginnings.
Uncover Hidden Regrets
Refusing to let go of long-standing regrets or grief is like trying to water your garden with a hose that has huge holes in it. Only a tiny trickle of water can come through. Sometimes we aren’t consciously aware that we still harbor energy-draining regrets. Admitting to past or present events that pull on your attention and energy is an important step toward freeing yourself and moving on.
Tip: Identify where energy leaks are coming from so you can reclaim your full energy. Ask yourself: “What incidents from the past still come to mind from time to time and make me feel angry, resentful, or unhappy? Do I feel like a victim? Do I secretly blame myself for contributing to someone’s harmful behavior or allowing them to act out and hurt me or others?”
Accept Endings As Natural
When we are faced with an uninvited ending, it’s often our impulse to lash out at others or blame ourselves. That’s because we buy into the false belief that there is something wrong with endings—that they are unnatural. Take a cue instead from sages the world around who tell us that endings are a natural part of life’s cycles of change and transformation. Endings, in fact, can help us grow.
Tip: When you see an ending headed your way—whether the end of a job, relationship, or way of life—resist the temptation to greet it with bitterness. Instead, know that for some reason you need to turn off the road you are traveling on and take another route. Don’t continually look back or hang your head as if you are being punished. Expect that your new adventure will, in its own time, reveal its reward.
Choose The Present, Not The Past
Saying goodbye to even the most unhealthy situations can make us feel sad, angry, or ashamed. Yet holding on to those emotions keeps us anchored to the past. There is nothing we can do to change what has already taken place. Our job is to fully engage with the present moment, which is where we must be to take the next powerful step on our journey.
Tip: Remind yourself that letting go is a step-by-step process. It can be challenging, but trying to move forward while chained to the deadweight of the past is far more difficult. Be patient with yourself. Don’t ignore your feelings, but don’t allow yourself to get hijacked by them either. Acknowledge the pain and then determine to move on.
“He hurt me, she betrayed me, he cheated me”—those are all snapshots of what may have happened to you at one moment in time. By retelling and reliving that old, sorry tale, you are acting as if that moment describes the whole story of your life. It doesn’t. You get to choose how the rest of your story will unfold.
Tip: Claim your power to create a new story. Choose to stop dwelling on the past and talking about the people who hurt you. Ask friends to also stop bringing up those memories. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your life right now and the wonderful things you are looking forward to welcoming into your life.
Depersonalize The Situation
Studies show that empathy and depersonalizing hurtful events can help us forgive more quickly. Empathy doesn’t mean that you approve of someone’s hurtful behavior, but putting yourself in another person’s shoes will allow you to become more objective and therefore deal more effectively with the issue at hand.
Tip: Ask yourself: “Even though I don’t approve of what that person did to me, can I see what may have caused him or her to do it?” You may not be able to relate 100 percent to people’s behavior but recognizing the pain and fear that drove their actions will help you distance yourself from their immature behavior and rise above it.
Look For The Lesson
We have all experienced a painful ending that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Perhaps it freed you to pursue something better, taught you an invaluable life skill, or led to your life’s work. No matter how unpleasant an incident, you can gain something from it. Also keep in mind that when we don’t learn our lessons the first time around, we magnetize similar situations until we do. The sooner we learn the lesson, the more quickly we can move on to more fertile ground.
Tip: If you find it hard to let go of an incident, or you want to make sure you don’t encounter the same problem again,ask yourself these key questions and write down the answers: What insight, information, or invaluable lesson am I meant to gain from this experience? What did I learn about myself or about the others involved? How can I apply what I learned to the rest of my life?
Actively Seek Resolution
If you regret something you did in the past, you don’t have to let those events constantly crawl through your mind and burden you. Instead, take action so you can feel right about moving on. Come to closure by being proactive rather than letting regrets plague or paralyze you.
Tip: Look for a way to make things right. Find the person you hurt and apologize, even if the event took place years ago. Replace something that was lost or destroyed as a result of your actions. If you cannot resolve an issue directly with those involved, offer your good will to others in need. For example, if you cheated or hurt someone, volunteer your time or resources to support the elderly, jobless, or abused.
Create A Ritual of Release
Taking a physical action to honor an ending can help you release it once and for all. Get creative and plan a ritual or activity that allows you to express your feelings and is personally meaningful to you. Let this ritual mark the passing of an old era in your life and the initiation of a new one.
Tip: Hold an object—a stone or shell, for instance—and visualize your feelings about a painful incident being transferred into it. As you offer affirmations or prayers of your choosing, cast the object into the ocean or off the side of a mountain. Or try writing a private letter to God. Pour out your feelings on paper and ask for help in letting go. Consciously surrender the situation with a prayer of gratitude on your lips. You can also burn the letter (as long as you can do it carefully and safely), watching it and all vestiges of your attachment to the situation go up in smoke.
Say A Powerful Affirmation Everyday
Giving personal affirmations that reinforce your intention is a powerful technique for letting go and moving on. Your affirmation should be short, simple, and easy for you to remember and say aloud. Always couch your affirmation in the present tense to describe what you want to take place (not what you don’t want to happen).
Tip: Every morning when you awake and before you go to sleep, speak a simple affirmation like one of the following, tailored to your own situation and needs: “I am honoring myself today by opening my heart to a beautiful new beginning,” “Today I make decisions that bring me greater peace and joy,” or “I am grateful for the magnificent blessings that are coming my way right now.” As you say your affirmation, supercharge it with gusto and passion. See and feel what you are saying with your whole mind and heart.
Learning to let go is just one half of the equation of honoring endings. Forging your new beginning is the other half. As philosopher Henri Bergson said, “To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.” To help you envision your new, improved future, you can work by yourself or with a coach or mentor, but be sure to take quality time to shape and focus on your new vision. Remember, what you focus on you will energize; and what you energize will become a reality.
Tip: List, in very specific terms, what you want your life to be like. Start by asking yourself questions like these: “What are the most important qualities (kindness, generosity, support, honesty, etc.) I value in my interactions with others? How do I want to be treated? How do I want to treat myself? What do I want to accomplish and how do I want to give my gifts?” Find pictures in magazines that reflect the kind of life you want to live and the people you want to spend your time with. Paste these images on a poster board and place it somewhere private where you will see it often.
Patricia Spadaro adapted this from her book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving (Three Wings Press, 2009). For more information, visit her at www.PracticalSpirituality.info.