I am not a licensed therapist or mental health professional. If you are suffering and need treatment please seek the help of a professional. This post may contain affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Have you ever wondered why you keep ending up in the same type of toxic relationships? They can be romantic, friendships, even workplace relationships. We can find ourselves drawn to the same type of people over and over again, even when we desperately want to know how to move on from the past.
That’s the thing: It’s difficult to move on from the past when we keep repeating it.
Why is it so tough to know how to move on from the past?
Psychology suggests that our brain might be the culprit for this habit. One theory about self defeating behaviors is that our brain wants to repeat a cycle, but this time with a different (better) outcome. Sort of like, “Let’s try this again and hopefully it works this time so we can let it go.”
I first heard this theory years ago on Jillian Michael’s podcast. Michael’s, famous from her time on the Biggest Loser, explained that she had a complicated relationship with her dad growing up, where she couldn’t count on him. It taught her to be crazy independent. That made it difficult for her to move into future relationships with a healthy interdependence. She wanted to be in charge and call the shots. Only when she evolved into someone who could foster a “give and take” in relationships was she able to maintain long term connections.
This desire pushes us towards repeating our past so that our insecurity can be resolved. Let me tell you, this won’t end well. We’ve all heard that quote that says “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”, right? Repeating a toxic cycle over and over again will result in heartbreak, pain, and despair.
Not where we want to be.
So what’s the answer to how to move on from the past? We have to fix the hole within us that reacts that way. It’s time to evolve, not repeat.
For example, in my life that meant taking a year off from dating after my divorce. There was so much work on myself that I needed to do. Of course I’m not perfect in my new relationship 2 years later, I’m still evolving and growing, but I was able to heal to a place of not choosing another toxic relationship. That cycle isn’t in my brain’s file of things to fix anymore.
A possible objection to this theory…
“It’s all about blaming your parents, therapists just want to teach you to blame your parents.”
Let me explain the difference between that and what I’m suggesting.
While I don’t particularly like the word “blame,” there is a certain amount of who we are that was taught to us by interacting with our parental figures. They were our first model of what love looks like, and how a loving relationship plays out.
And, of course, they were human. Even the very best, most supportive parent is going to mess up. I consider myself a very intentional parent and yet I mess up all the freakin’ time. So we all mess up our kids in our own unique ways and we were all messed up by our parents in their unique way.
That’s why we all have cycles and patterns that we need to work on. Some people have trauma and abuse to work through, which I think should be called “blame” without a doubt. But even absent of trauma, everyone has work to do to help heal the unhealthy patterns we grew accustomed to in our family.
Our own happiness depends on our decision to work through the reality of who our parents are as humans. Then we must move on from there, taking the part that is our responsibility to heal in ourselves. We need to move through acceptance, forgiveness, and then growth can move in.
It could be in your past
Another aspect could be that you have a toxic relationship unresolved in your past. This can be a person you need to make peace with or a place. Sometimes that involves a difficult discussion or visit, although sometimes that’s not possible, safe, or wise. Make sure to talk it over with a therapist or trusted friend first!
If it’s not possible to directly address the person, it can still be worked through. I sound like a broken record, but a good therapist will have many tools to work through it with you. Processing verbally can be a huge weight off your back as long as it’s somewhere safe. Journaling can also be valuable!
One thing to note: there is no set timeline for this process. It will be radically different for each person and optimally will be done under professional guidance. Professional therapy is especially crucial if there is trauma to work through, as this might not be safe to work through independently. Click here for help knowing how to find a therapist.
As we do the work, our eyes are opened to see the destructive patterns we learned in our past. We begin to see how they have played out to our harm. It is such a relief and a surprise as we begin to connect the dots and see why we’ve made the decisions that we have. It’s also the key for how to evolve and move on from the past.
When that revelation starts, it can change the direction of your life – for the better. In fact, hopefully it does! You want to evolve and grow, not keep repeating your past over and over again.
At the end of the day, it’s really important to realize that just saying “I’m going to move on from the past” isn’t going to cut it. You can’t use willpower to just magically forget it. It will catch up with you and it will sabotage the good you have going on.
So face it, do the work, find the safe space to heal, and then you will be ready to move on.