How to Make Peace with the Past


How to Move On and Get Different Results in Life

By Mary R. Dittman, M.B.A.

Regret.  We all have at least one relationship we look back on and wish we’d done things differently.  Or wish things had been different.  Or wonder what we could have done or not done to cause things to turn out differently.

Sometimes, that regret is hard to shake because we keep repeating our mistakes.  We start to feel like it’s just the same heartache over and over.  Actually, that’s valid.  Sometimes we truly are experiencing the same heartache, just with different people, because we are doing the same things over and over.

One of the best ways I have learned to make peace with the past is to use a tool from Alcoholics Anonymous: the Fourth Step.  In the Fourth Step, the alcoholic makes a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of herself.  This is where you write down everyone you’re resentful towards, why you are resentful, then how the resentment or situation has affected you. 

For example: I’m resentful at my ex-boyfriend because he cheated on me.  This affected my self-esteem and self-worth.  

Up to this point, it feels great - you’re identifying everybody who has hurt you and what they did.

The second part is more difficult.  You go back through the list and determine your part in it - what you did to contribute to the situation.

For example: I contributed to this situation by ignoring red flags; knowing he cheated on the last 3 women he dated but thinking he would change with me; jumping into a serious relationship with someone I didn’t really know very well.

Even if the problem is only 1% your fault, you still can take responsibility for your part.  This is important because the only thing you change is yourself.  You can’t even get another person to understand how you feel.  All you can do is look at your part and do it differently next time.

When you are a child, you do not do anything to create, contribute to, or participate in your own abuse or neglect.  But as an adult, you are   for what happens in your life.  

And, the answer isn’t, “I’m just a terrible judge of character,” or “I just attract jerks,” or “There’s something wrong with me - my picker’s broke.”  Those are excuses that absolve us of taking responsibility.  The problem isn’t that I attract jerks, the problem is I give them my phone number and try to have a relationship with them.

When I looked back on my past relationships - including relationships with family and friends - I was able to identify some patterns.  Some of my patterns included not being honest about what I wanted; not setting boundaries; not speaking up for myself when I was treated poorly; making excuses for inexcusable behavior; wasting time in relationships with men I was not attracted to; wasting time in relationships with men who told me they weren’t interested in marriage when I knew I wanted to get married.

Identifying these patterns helped me see that my singleness wasn’t a random event or part of some divine plan for me to be alone or even just the result of bad luck.  I’m single because I have had patterns of behavior that have been guaranteed to keep me single!  A Course in Miracles says that “the ego’s dictate in love is to be ever seeking but never finding.”  I believe that!  The ego is the part of us that sabotages us.  Marianne Williamson says the ego is our self-hatred disguised as our self-love.

When I was able to see clearly that I wasn’t an innocent victim who had back luck and just kept getting hurt, I was able to see what I needed to do differently.  And, when you do different things, you get different results.

I’d like to be able to tell you things changed and I met my Mr. Right.  That hasn’t happened for me, but I also haven’t met anymore Mr. Wrongs.  Actually, I’ve met Mr. Wrongs, but I haven’t given them my phone number or gone on any dates with them!  And, if I ever do meet a Mr. Right, I know what NOT to do!

I spent a lot of years confused and not understanding why I was single.  Sometimes I would feel like God was mad at me, or I was just destined to be alone.  Today, I understand that my singleness is a result of my own behavior.  I don’t beat myself up about it - I was doing the best I could.  My motives were pure: I just wanted marriage and family - that’s a normal, healthy desire for a woman.  The problem was, my actions didn’t support that outcome.

This realization also means I’m not afraid of dating.  I used to think that I would do all the right things, but men just randomly would leave (which is possible - you can’t control anyone else’s behavior) or the relationship would just unexplainably fall apart.  That’s scary - you can do all the right things and still get your heart broken.  Today I realize that my participation in a relationship is going to yield an outcome.  Maybe it will be an outcome I like, maybe not, but how I participate is within my control.

Today, I am able to feel peaceful about my singleness, because I can see the patterns that got me here and I can choose to NOT repeat them.  I don’t look back on relationships and feel confused as to why they fell apart.  I can identify my role in every one of them and I know what I need to do differently.

To me, that’s part of a One-Derful Life: being happy and peaceful WHILE I’m single, even though I’m not happy ABOUT being single.  I would prefer a relationship, but as long as I’m single I want to be happy and have peace.

Question: Have you taken responsibility for your role in your singleness?

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