Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Erin Olivo, Ph.D.
Erin Olivo Ph.D.

How to Put Painful Experiences Behind You

Try these 3 strategies to help heal and ultimately move on from pain.

Adobe Stock
Source: Adobe Stock

If you’re like many of my patients, you’ve suffered something traumatic in the past and want to know how to get over that painful experience.

Moving through the experience and finding a way to heal and ultimately move on with your life can be a great challenge, and getting help from a trusted friend, therapist or member of the clergy can be an important part of the healing process.

Here are three strategies you can start using today to begin to put your pain behind you.

Don’t make the past your present.

We often bring our past hurts into the present moment by giving our thoughts about it too much airtime. But what many people don’t realize is that you don’t have to drag it with you into today. You can’t make yourself forget about the past, but you can choose how often you allow yourself to dwell on it.

Your feelings of loss and sadness about what happened might very well be a real part of your present experience and I’m not suggesting that you just push away the feelings (that only leads to other problems like addictions).

It’s important to learn how to self-soothe and ask loved ones for support when you’re feeling pain. But it’s also important to remember that giving memories or thoughts too much airtime can actually act as a trigger for distressing emotions and ultimately contribute to your suffering.

This is the perfect time to practice mindfulness so you can observe your thoughts and emotions in a more distanced, accepting way. To learn how to start a mindfulness practice, read this post.

Rewrite the story you tell yourself.

If you let your past define you, you’re limiting yourself both in who you can be and what you can experience in the future. Your life is a constantly changing, moving experience. Each day offers new thoughts, feelings and experiences that continue to shape who you are and how you view yourself and the world.

One powerful way to harness this is by taking time to rethink the “story” of your painful life experience, this time casting yourself as the survivor not the victim. Be sure to focus on the strengths you realized and the lessons you learned from the experience.

Don’t let myths about healing get in the way.

I’ve noticed time and time again that my patients who are struggling with a painful past experience often buy-in to several common myths about healing. Believing these myths can stall recovery, and keep you stuck in your pain and suffering.

Have you mistakenly been telling yourself any of the following false beliefs?

· I can’t ever be whole again, this damage is permanent.

· If I let go of my anger/hurt that means the perpetrator wins.

· I can’t move on until I get an apology.

· I need someone else to fix this/me.

· I don’t deserve to feel better.

· If I just ignore this, it will eventually go away.

You can’t change what has happened in the past but you can change how you respond to those painful experiences. Your life is what is happening to you right now. You, and you alone, have the power to change what this next moment’s experience will be by choosing how you respond to painful thoughts, memories and feelings.

If you’re suffering and finding that it’s impacting your ability to move forward in your life, you don’t have to manage this alone. Ask a trusted friend or doctor to help you find a therapist in your area or you can find immediate resources here.



To stay updated on Wise Mind Living visit

Follow Erin on Twitter

Like Erin on Facebook

© 2015, Erin Olivo, PhD

About the Author
Erin Olivo, Ph.D.

Erin Olivo, Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor of medical psychology at Columbia University.