Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

How To Move On from Old Wounds: A Guide to Healing

We’re all occasional victims of mistreatment. Most of these incidents will barely register. But sometimes someone will treat us so cruelly, that our wounds still hurt months or even years later.

Some of us struggle to understand how someone could be so mean to us that we get stuck in a circle of pain for decades. And that’s a shame. Because when we’re lost in old hurts, all the marvels of life escape our attention.

We all understand that life’s too short to waste on being sad and angry. And yet sometimes we can’t help ourselves. Why is it that we continue to grasp onto some of our grudges so tightly?

Because we created a monster.

We experience tragedies all the time. Our lives often turn out radically different from what we wanted. But when we take something too personally, our anger and disappointment don’t go away after the offense ends. 

Our negative emotions stick around because we believe someone meant to hurt us. It wasn’t an accident. We reckon they acted out of contempt or selfishness.

It’s the very reason why so many of us are concerned about narcissism nowadays. Although narcissists clearly exist, data shows less than 7 out of 100 people suffer from the disorder.

But that’s not what most internet psychologists and YouTube videos suggest. Today, we figure that almost anyone who acts against our wishes is self-absorbed and nasty. Believing ourselves righteous and superior, we accuse them of being narcissists.

But that’s misunderstanding what we are. 

All people largely act out of self-interest. It’s what we do. But that’s typically not what people believe. Especially those who like to cling to past slights.

Clingers assume that when someone severely hurts them, the offender meant to do so. Or at the very least, that they’re a poor excuse of a human being.

And when that same person makes us lose something we dearly wanted—such as a stable financial future, a loving and faithful partner, or a nurturing and supportive parent—we turn them into a villain. 

The boss who let us go because we were too expensive to keep on meant us no disrespect. But we took it as an insult. The partner who slept with our friend didn’t hate us, she just didn’t have the courage to end our relationship earlier. But we took it as an insult. The parent who abandoned us as a baby didn’t think we were unlovable, they just couldn’t handle taking care of a child. But we took it as an insult.

These are all tragedies. And we shouldn’t minimize these events. But that doesn’t mean we should dwell on them either. Focusing on hurt only makes it more painful and last longer.

If we want to move on from our grievances, we need to understand and accept three things. 

Firstly, people aren’t malicious. They’re imperfect. Even the most well-meaning individuals will cause harm to others. Sometimes via unhelpful coping mechanisms formed in childhood. But mostly it’s fear, fatigue and stress that compel people to be unskillful and do unkind things.

Knowing how foolish and self-absorbed we are every day, we shouldn’t expect others to be any better.

Next, we’d be wise to accept life is unfair. It comes with positive and negative experiences. And it’s naive to only expect good to come our way. We should hope for good things to happen, but assume most of our dreams will never come true. 

That’s not pessimistic, that’s the reality for most people on this planet. And if we don’t feel this to be true, it’s merely a sign that we’ve led very privileged lives. 

Lastly, we want to realise that we’re responsible for our feelings. Whenever old scars have the power to make us feel bad, it means we believe life should shape itself around our demands. That’s why certain letdowns can hijack our emotions even years after they transpired: we take disasters as a sign that the universe is conspiring against us and all that’s good.

This is why we demonize the people who were most intimately involved in our misery. It fits our idea of a righteous world. But all we’re really doing is justifying our rage and sorrow, and perpetuating our suffering.

If we want to let go of our resentment, we need to make peace with our dashed hopes. And that starts with embracing life’s hardships:

Good-natured people can be wicked. Hard work can go unrecognised. Romantic love isn’t the end to our problems. Generous people aren’t immune to hardships. Parents are under no obligation to be nurturing. And people don’t owe us any kindness.

How many grudges we hold onto largely depends on whether or not we judge certain problems to be normal or excessively cruel. If we see life as a challenge, it’s much easier to let go of unkindness, abandonment and betrayal.

We can’t end cruelty. But we can let go of past hurts and put our energy into finding love and beauty.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach