By Karen Young
We humans know how to fight for the things that are important. We fight for relationships, for people, for jobs, for things to stay the same. But here’s the thing – they don’t always fight as hard to hold on to us.
One of the greatest sources of hurt is holding on to things that are trying to let go of us.
The harder we hold on, the more it hurts. The problem with this is that we have nothing free to grab the things that will be good for us when they come our way.
If you’re in the midst of a knock down, you will get through, but first you have to release your grip on whatever it is that’s holding you back. You can’t know the possibilities that lie ahead until you open up to the world and let it show you – which it will.
Think of it like being in a boat that’s sinking.
You know you have to let go of something but you can’t. You won’t .
If you’re honest, you know that the things that are weighing you down are dead weights, but you do remember a time, once, when it felt good to have them around. That was a while ago though and now you can’t actually remember the last time they brought you joy – real joy that you could relax into because you knew there was plenty there.
Meanwhile, your boat keeps sinking and with all of that weight on board, there’s no way it’s moving any closer to land.
I could tell you the heartache and sadness that comes with letting go is part of your ‘journey’ (though I won’t because I actually hate that word when it’s used like that). I could tell you that the lessons you’ll learn will set on track for the life you deserve.
I could tell you all of that, and it would be true, but I also know from having been brought to my knees before, that none of that seems to matter when your knuckles are turning white from holding on.
Here’s what I also know about letting go:
The most terrifying part is just before you loosen your grip.
Once you let go, momentum will take over. For a while it might be bumpy, but that’s all part of the re-align. Once you’ve made the move away from the things that are hurting you, the things that will be good for you will find you.
It might take time but it will happen. It can’t help but be that way – we’re all wired for balance and have everything we need for that inside us. Here’s how to stay strong during the let-go.
Make the decision.
The hardest thing about letting go is making the decision and feeling okay about it. The ‘what-if’s’ will kill you and talk you into tightening your grip every time. That doesn’t mean they’re right. Set a time limit (‘If I’m still unhappy in six weeks …’) or a condition limit (‘If this happens one more time …’).
There are some questions to ask yourself to sure up your resolve:
• Do I feel bad more than I feel good? If yes, it’s time to let go.
• What has to change for me to feel happy and secure? Have I ever seen this before?
• Is this person, job, relationship is capable of giving me what I need?
• What do I get from staying? Is it something real? Or something long gone. When was the last time I got this?
Change ‘Can’t’ to ‘Won’t’.
There’s a difference between giving up and knowing when to let go.
Giving up is ‘I can’t’. Letting go is, ‘I won’t.’ The difference is subtle in sound but enormous in impact.
Giving up comes from a place of defeat. ‘I don’t have the capacity or the ability to do this. I’m spent.’ Letting go, on the other hand, comes from a position of strength.
It’s a decision to cut yourself from the things that weigh you down. Fight for them, and fight hard, but know when to stop.
You’re not doing something wrong. You’re doing something brave.
If you’re questioning whether or not to let go of something that’s been there a while, it might feel risky and it might feel wrong. It might even feel selfish. But it’s not any of those things.
It’s brave. Really brave.
If you’re at the point where you’re hanging on to something that doesn’t feel right any more, or that’s hurting you, one of the bravest and strongest things you can do is to listen to that, especially in the face of the clamor that keeps giving you reasons to hang on tighter.
There’ll probably be a few of those reasons, but that doesn’t make them good ones. It probably makes them habits – and you don’t want to ruin yourself over a habit.
Know what’s stopping you. Then move it along.
What’s holding you back from letting go?
Are they your reasons or someone else’s?
If you’re stopping yourself from letting go because of ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ and ‘what will they think’, stop right there. Some people might have a problem with you letting go and moving on, it’s true, but it’s most likely because you’re doing something that they themselves are too scared to do.
Taking flight by letting go of the things that weigh you down can have a way of triggering those who are weighed down, themselves. But don’t let that stop you. When you’re flourishing, there’ll be nothing left for them to say.
For the most part, people tend to be generous and want to see others happy. They either won’t care at all about what you do, or they’ll have great respect for your courage and will be willing you on.
The three choices.
If you’re unhappy, you have three options:
• change what you need (sometimes that means letting go of expectations – not always easy to do);
• change the environment in which you’re trying to have your need met (either by leaving the one you’re in or by looking elsewhere); or
• accept that you just won’t be happy (but be honest – can you really live like that?).
That’s it. There’s no other options.
The only person who can make that decision is you. If you’re at the point where you feel unhappy more than you feel happy, it’s likely that one option will be a stand out. Make the decision that your days of wishing for more than you have are over and decide that nobody will limit you.
If you’re not getting what you need where you are, the only way to change that is to move on. And that’s completely okay.
Don’t expect change.
Your best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
Though people change over time, they change according to their own path, not someone else’s. People can change but only if it comes from them. If it comes from you, it will be temporary. The energy it takes for anybody to change is enormous and can’t be sustained long term unless the motivation comes from within.
It’s okay to fall apart for a while. It really is.
Letting go can feel like rubbish – not always – but mostly. If it was easy to let go you would have done it ages ago, and it wouldn’t have felt like a letting go, it would have felt like a ‘transition’.
Accept that the road might get bumpy for a while but that’s not a sign to turn back. Sometimes the only way through is straight through the middle.
Trust that you’ll be okay. Because you will be.
We’re wired for survival, both emotional and physical. When we hang on so tightly to something the energy we could be using to move forward is stuck with the job of hanging on.
Once you let go, that energy that was holding you back will start to move you forward. It might not feel like that for a while – letting go can be hard – but trust the process and remember the reasons you made the decision. Good days are coming, and you will see soon enough why your brave move was such a good one for you.
What you’re scared of is already with you.
We hang on because we’re scared of what might happen. If you’re hanging on to something that is trying to let go of you, it’s like that you’re already feeling something like what you’re scared of feeling if you let go.
Fighting to keep something that’s not fighting to keep you is a sad, lonely, insecure and frightening place to be. You’re most likely already feeling the very things you’re scared of feeling.
The difference is that you can’t do anything about it because rather than being able to use your energy to regain balance and move forward, you’re using it to maintain a status quo that probably doesn’t deserve to be maintained.
Let go, and let the momentum take over.
Hanging on is all about resistance. Let go and you’ll initiate a momentum towards rebalance. It might take a while, and it might get worse before it gets better, but there are new possibilities waiting for you when you are ready to be open to them.
Have an anchor.
Often when you let go, you’ll remember things as being better than they were. What the strongest evidence you’ve had that it’s time to let go? Was it a conversation, a feeling, a(nother) disappointment? Remember that. Hang on t it and remember it every time you feel the pull to hang on again.
Cry. Go on. It’s good for you.
Research by Dr William Frey PhD, a biochemist at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis found that tears of sadness contained stress hormones and other toxins that build up during stress. Other studies suggest that crying encourages endorphins, the body’s natural ‘feel good’ hormones. Reflex tears, on the other hand are 98% water.
Feel it fully.
You’re going to feel sad, angry, maybe confused or scared. Whatever it is that’s in you, has to come out of you. Feel what you’re feeling fully. Put it on paper. Have a cry in the shower. Turn up the music and let it out. Do what you need to do to release the energy. Then you can move forward
What can you learn?
About yourself, your expectations, the people who are good for you and the ones who don’t work so well. No experience is ever wasted.
Learning from your experience is the best way to make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes, find yourself in the same type of relationships or around the same sort of people. With the learning will come closure and movement forwards.
We’re all here to grow and flourish and we all deserve to be happy.
Having to let go of things that were once important is part of life – a painful part, but normal nonetheless. None of us stay the same. We grow constantly. That doesn’t mean that everything in our lives will grow in the same direction or at the same rate.
Letting go is one of the hardest, but one of the bravest things we can do.
With everything we leave behind, there is so much more waiting ahead. Be able to be ready with open arms when it comes.
About Karen Young
Karen is a psychologist, mother, Huffington Post UK contributor and founder of Hey Sigmund the website that brings the science of psychology to the art of being human.